Wellness Education Programs Need Engagement to Succeed

Wellness programs, even the most robust and well-designed ones, are not likely to change employee behavior unless employees are engaged in the process. Savvy companies make engagement a top priority when it comes to educating their employees about wellness.

Take Humana Inc., which offers a data-driven wellness and rewards program to its employees and clients. In a multiyear study of Humana employees, the company found that those engaged with HumanaVitality had an average of 6 fewer hours of unscheduled absences compared to those who were not engaged, as well as lower health claims costs.

Specifically, health claims costs dropped 6% in the first year of the study and 10% by the third year for engaged members, compared to a 17% increase among unengaged members by the third year.

In addition, engaged members who did not have chronic health conditions were more likely to use health care for preventive care, such as for routine checkups and screenings. Meanwhile, employees who were not engaged in the program had 56% more emergency room visits and 37% more hospital visits compared to those who were engaged.

Under the program, members have personalized plans to promote a healthy lifestyle. Each member earns points for taking steps to improve his or her health and for achieving certain milestones. The points can be used for a variety of purposes—for example, rewards from major retailers, fitness equipment and personal electronics, and charitable contributions.

Engagement in employee wellness programs is also a high priority at Pharmaceutical Product Development, LLC (PPD). “As a company dedicated to helping biopharmaceutical clients develop life-changing medical treatments, PPD believes strongly in supporting employees in their efforts to lead healthier lives,” said Ed Murray, executive vice president of Human Resources.

Noting that PPD recently ranked fourth on a list of the 25 Healthiest Employers of the North Carolina Research Triangle, Murray said, “This award recognizes that support for PPD’s wellness programs is an investment in the health of our employees and our company. Our philosophy is simple: Healthier, happier employees are more productive, engaged employees.”

PPD employees learn about wellness through online wellness tools and health education resources in addition to worksite wellness programs that encourage employees to make healthy lifestyle choices based on their numbers (e.g., blood pressure, cholesterol). “Sustained engagement in these programs provides the greatest potential for employees and their dependents to live healthy and productive lives, and supports PPD’s objective of maintaining ongoing competitive and affordable healthcare benefit offerings,” the company explained.

Here are some tips to help engage employees in your wellness program:

First, know your target audience. Make sure your wellness program targets the majority of your employee population—that is, employees who are generally healthy but who may have one or two problem health areas. If your program zeroes in on the health issues of only a small percentage of your workforce, overall engagement levels will suffer.

Second, offer meaningful incentives and rewards. Give employees a reason to participate in your wellness initiatives. Measure changes in body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, cholesterol level, blood sugar, smoking habits, and individual activity level. Recognize milestones and successes.

Third, provide wellness training. Educate employees about the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle and about the wellness initiatives offered by your company; employees will not participate or be engaged in your wellness program if they do not understand how it works.

Fourth, find ways to continuously communicate and promote wellness, such as in company newsletters, e-mails, and meetings.