3 Wellness Program Challenges and How to Fix Them

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As wellness programs have become a regular part of “the cost of doing business” (although ideally these programs will eventually yield a net reduction in the cost of doing business over time), it is still somewhat unclear what a “typical” wellness program should (or does) look like.

With over half of wellness programs set up and facilitated using internal staff, and no clear template to guide the way, developing, implementing and maintaining a wellness program is no easy task. Using data from the 2013 ERC Wellness Practices Survey, we outline some of the key pain points and take a closer look at what Northeast Ohio employers are doing to overcome these challenges.

Metrics

Despite the prevalence of these programs, less than a quarter of these organizations report tracking the impact these programs have on their health insurance costs.  In fact, 76% of organizations with wellness programs indicate that they are “unsure” whether or not their wellness programs has had any impact on their healthcare costs overall. Without a clearly documented business case in favor of these wellness programs, presenting a strong argument to top management for the implementation or continuation of a wellness program can be a struggle.

For those that do attempt to track savings, the most common method is simply looking at trends in their healthcare premium increases from year to year. Depending on the carrier, some organizations are able to approximate the benefits of their wellness program in a general sense based on reports of the group’s usage that are provided to them. Others have constructed more complex systems to track and correlate this information about the group’s uptake of wellness related programs or preventative services usage, with reductions in the prevalence of factors such as chronic conditions for the group, long term absences and on-the-job injuries.

Buy-In

Employers report that “buy-in” at all levels is a major stumbling block for wellness programs. Even if management “buys-in” by allocating funds to a wellness program, some employers still struggle to engage the general workforce and get strong results. In fact, when asked what resources they need most in order to have a successful wellness program at their organization, the most commonly cited resource was additional education/incentivization of employees in order to improve participation and results.

According to the 2013 Wellness Survey, 25% more employers are opting to address this challenge using “participatory” incentives (46%) over “outcomes based” incentives (21%).

Participants provided an extensive list of the incentives they offer to employees at their organization ranging from direct monetary benefits, to additional reduction in insurance premiums, to the ability to earn additional PTO in return for completing exercise challenges. Several organizations indicate they operate on a “points system” that allows employees to accrue points throughout the year for their participation in a wide variety of qualifying wellness related programs. In some cases these “points” qualify the employee to be entered into prize drawings and in other instances, they can be redeemed for cash.

Everyone’s Doing It

With the “wellness” trend going strong at employers across the country, it comes a no surprise that locally 86% of organizations either currently have a wellness program or plan to implement one in 2014. While these programs are somewhat more prevalent at larger employers, many smaller organizations fall into the “plan to implement in the next 12 months” category, a shift that will bring these small employers with 50 or fewer employers more in line with their larger counterparts in terms of wellness.

In short, wellness programs have become a fairly mainstream benefit that many job applicants have come to expect from a prospective employer. In fact, a number of participants indicate that while they have a somewhat successful wellness program in place, they are challenged to constantly find new ways to inject the programs with creativity and fresh new ideas.

Locally, about a quarter of organizations are turning to outside wellness vendors or consultants to design and implement a strong program that is unique to their organizational needs. Others are beginning to expand the definition of a “wellness program” to be truly holistic, adding perks such as chair massages, free healthy luncheons, and convenient on-site fresh produce delivery for their employees.

By thinking outside the box of fitness center memberships and health screenings, these employers are identifying wellness related needs that fit their workplace culture and ultimately, set their program offerings apart from their competitors.

View ERC's Wellness Practices Survey Results

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

View the Results