5 Ways to Keep Your New Year’s Resolution (and Wellness Program) on Track

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5 Ways to Keep Your New Year’s Resolution (and Wellness Program) on Track

One week into a new year and you are probably already sick and tired of hearing about the latest diet trend or exercise regimen that is “guaranteed” to make your New Year’s resolution to “get healthy” stick this time around.

Most medical professionals will tell you that (unfortunately) there is no silver bullet to a “healthier you”, and as it turns out, a good old fashioned healthy diet and consistent exercise routine tends to be just what the doctor ordered.

So what does all this talk about New Year’s resolutions have to do with HR and building great workplaces here in Northeast Ohio?

Well according to ERC’s 2015 Wellness Practices Survey, at three-quarters of local organizations, the connection is their formal wellness program. Take the analogy one step further, and you’ll quickly discover that wellness programs often suffer from the same plight as New Year’s resolutions—the best of intentions, but lacking in follow-through when it comes time for implementation. Despite becoming an almost standard benefit at many employers over the last several years, some wellness programs and individual wellness focused activities are now suffering from a lack of participation and interest on the part of the employees.

In fact participants in both the 2013 and 2015 ERC Wellness Surveys cited “effectively educating and incentivizing employees to participate in wellness programs” as the most common barrier to creating a successful wellness program at their organization.

To help both employers and employees make the most of what can be and should be an important piece of overall employee wellbeing, participating organizations in ERC’s Wellness Surveys offered the following advice on creating (or reinvigorating) a successful wellness program.

1. Offer wellness activities/programs that employees find useful.

This particular struggle is most easily addressed if met head-on at the program’s inception and can be as simple as a survey of employee’s interests in a list of potential activities under consideration. Understanding the basic demographics of your workforce can also help inform what types of programs make the cut. Gender, age, shift work (who will actually be around if you are offering programs on-site during the day), etc. are all useful statistics to consider, but don’t get too overzealous and start trying to dig into specific health related needs—HIPPA can get messy quickly.

By starting out with wellness activities that employees want to take part in, you are already ahead of the curve.

But don’t worry if you already have a program in place, it’s not too late to start taking your employee’s interests into account. In fact, a quick survey of your employees every couple of years to make sure the programming is still relevant isn’t a bad idea either.

2. Make the programming accessible—both geographically and intellectually.

If your organization is on the larger side or draws employees from a diverse geographic footprint, make sure the activities are easily accessible to as many individual employees as possible. Your employees are probably juggling a family life, the stress of work, and any number of other time intensive activities.

In short, their time is valuable, so partnering with a gym with only one location far on one side of town may not see the best results. Instead, consider offering reimbursement for a gym of the employee’s choosing or make the investment in an on-site gym or fitness classes.

Online programming can be an easy option, but make sure it is providing useful information that isn’t too overwhelming or too basic. One the one hand if the online articles, tracking mechanism, or lectures are overly technical and scientific employees might be turned off, but by the same token presenting overly simplistic information won’t do your employees any good either.

3. Use the resources you already have.

Many health insurance packages include an array of free resources that you the employer can pass along to your employees. All you have to do as the employer is promote them. But that is sometimes easier said than done—now someone has to be tasked with sending out the email reminders or monthly newsletters to help get employees on board. If financial resources are not available to create a new position (e.g. Wellness Coordinator) delegation or committee work can be helpful in prevent overloading a single individual with wellness related administrative tasks. Of course if all else fails, and you are determined to create a robust, successful wellness program, just ask for help. You may find that you have a multi-talented staff that is more than willing to share their kick-boxing expertise or vegan baking skills with their co-workers.

4. Get full buy-in on all levels.

As with most new initiatives, it is critical to get the full support of the top management team. Buy-in from the top can definitely be helpful when budget season rolls around, but when it comes to wellness programs, a more visible buy-in can be hugely helpful as well. Having the CEO out there trying to get to his or her 10,000 steps during lunch can be a great motivator and even a fun way for employees to interact casually with other employees that they may not typically encounter on a day-to-day basis. And of course keep in mind that the importance of buy-in goes beyond these specific activities to the bigger picture of what you are trying to achieve with your wellness program. If your end goal is to fully indoctrinate your organization with a culture of wellness, engaging employees at all levels is particularly important.

5. Incentivize, when you can.

Even with all the struggles and barriers to participation discussed above, many organizations are running very successful wellness programs. If better health isn’t enough of a motivator, money is bound to do the trick. Keep in mind that there are specific limitations as to how much and how the monies are distributed for each individual and for different types of activities. Cost can also be a strong disincentive against certain behaviors, most notably tobacco usage. The Affordable Care Act provides a detailed breakdown of allowable incentives and disincentives should you choose to go down the path of incentivizing your wellness program. If you aren’t quite ready for the monetary commitment, remember that food or other small non-monetary incentives can help improve the effectiveness of your programming by bolstering attendance at lectures or participation in fitness challenges.

Much like the New Year’s resolution you made a week ago, setting your organization’s wellness program up for success can seem overwhelming. But with the help of the advice above and a little extra hard work and perseverance in 2016, you too can get to the gym 4 days a week and get your employees to show up for the nutritionist you’ve booked for that lunch-n-learn next month.

View ERC's Wellness Practices Survey Results

This report summarizes the results of ERC’s survey of organizations in Northeast Ohio, conducted in September of 2015, on practices related to health care and wellness.

View the Results

Health Care Trends for 2012

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Open-enrollment and budgeting season are upon many organizations and the trends are similar to previous years: rising costs, shifts in plan design, increased emphasis on wellness and health management, and greater employee accountability – but with a few positive surprises. Here are some major health care trends that had effects on organizations in 2012.

Health care costs are still rising, but are slowing.

Several studies conducted by Mercer, Towers Watson, and Segal, have found that health care costs will continue to rise in 2012 by approximately 5.4-7.6%, but there is solid evidence that costs are slowing from the past few years. 

Cost-shifting to employees is slowing from past years.

As a result of lower increases in health care costs, experts believe that cost shifting to employees will slow as well in 2012. This trend coupled with slower health care cost increases is likely attributable to more cost sharing practices that have occurred over the past few years and wellness initiatives that many employers are using to manage health care expenses.

Healthcare utilization seems to be trending downhill.

Other positive news is that healthcare utilization is trending downhill. Employees are using fewer medical services, mainly due to wellness and health management programs and choices to postpone medical visits and procedures due to higher health insurance costs (co-pays, deductibles, etc.) and lower disposable income.

High deductible and health savings plan options continue to increase in popularity.

Employers are placing more accountability on individuals in terms of spending their health care dollars and managing their health by integrating a Health Savings Account (HSA) option in their benefits packages. Similarly, high deductible plans are quickly becoming a chosen plan design for many employers.

Greater individual accountability for health continues to increase.

In addition to modifying plan design, employers continue to offer tools to help employees take responsibility for their health including health risk assessments and screening. Many have also turned to incentives to promote the healthy behaviors they are seeking.

Employers are re-evaluating their benefits strategies.

Organizations continue to be concerned about the sustainability of health insurance costs on their businesses and are re-evaluating their benefits strategies for the short and long term, focusing on benefits that are most valuable to their employees including health care, retirement, and lifestyle benefits.

More employers are exploring narrower options and access.

More small and midsize employers are considering swapping lower premiums for narrower access to providers and changing their approach to providing benefits for dependents. Out-of-network options are also coming at a higher price. These three areas appear to be the most common tradeoffs employers are making in order to keep premium costs manageable.

Health management will remain a critical priority for employers.

Organizations aren’t planning to decrease their wellness efforts anytime soon. In fact, in 2012 and beyond, employers can expect that health management and wellness programs will increase and continue to be a priority as they attempt to control health care costs. Employers will be focusing on greater prevention of health conditions by exploring ways to integrate wellness initiatives into their benefits strategy.

As your organization plans its health care strategies for 2012 and negotiates its renewal rates, keep these trends in mind to ensure that your organization manages its health insurance costs effectively in the short and long term.

Sources: Mercer, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Segal, Towers Watson, WorldatWork