0909klbgblMany of us have seen or heard about the var­i­ous well­ness pro­grams referred to as “participation–based” pro­grams. These par­tic­i­pa­tion-only pro­grams con­tin­ue to be the start­ing point for many orga­ni­za­tions when they enter the world of work­place well­ness. Par­tic­i­pa­to­ry pro­grams typ­i­cal­ly include a few indi­vid­ual and team-based activ­i­ties, offer a lev­el of elec­tron­ic or onsite sem­i­nar edu­ca­tion, and offer employ­ees bio­met­ric screen­ing and per­son­al health risk assess­ments. Orga­ni­za­tions may even award prizes, hold draw­ings, or offer giveaways.

These pro­grams are typ­i­cal­ly cre­at­ed with the goals of pro­mot­ing and encour­ag­ing health­i­er lifestyles for their employ­ees and their fam­i­lies, reduc­ing health­care costs of the orga­ni­za­tion, or sim­ply because own­er­ship feels it is the right thing to do.

Fast for­ward a few years, and the same pro­gram is being offered. In most cas­es, employ­ees have received some edu­ca­tion and had fun, but the orga­ni­za­tion has yet to meet its orig­i­nal goals or expe­ri­ence a real cul­ture change. Employ­ees still seem to be lead­ing unhealthy lifestyles, pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and morale seem low­er than ever, and health­care claims con­tin­ue to sky­rock­et. So why do you even have this well­ness program?

In my eight years work­ing as Well­ness Pro­gram Man­ag­er for a mid-sized ben­e­fits con­sult­ing firm, I have been a part of and have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of the pro­grams. I have learned from mis­takes made ear­ly on, and I val­ue shar­ing those expe­ri­ences with those I have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­sult with. I share first­hand exam­ples from my own company’s pro­gram, as well as the expe­ri­ences of my clients and oth­er busi­ness part­ners. A pro­gram set up suc­cess­ful­ly – with the right sup­port, tools, part­ners, and ini­tial incen­tives – will absolute­ly reap the reward, and your orga­ni­za­tion should rec­og­nize a true cul­tur­al change.

These are the key fac­tors that I believe con­tribute most to the suc­cess of a well­ness program.

1. Secure senior man­age­ment com­mit­ment and participation.

It is easy for busi­ness own­ers to say they want a well­ness pro­gram, but it is a dif­fer­ent sto­ry when they actu­al­ly embrace the con­cept, sup­port the process, and engage in the pro­gram them­selves. Own­ers of orga­ni­za­tions have come to me for help in imple­ment­ing a well­ness pro­gram. They assign one per­son to be in charge of the pro­gram, typ­i­cal­ly some­one whose time is already lim­it­ed, and for one rea­son or anoth­er the pro­gram stalls. If the top lead­er­ship of the orga­ni­za­tion is not sup­port­ive or engaged, it could take any­where from six months to five years try­ing to get a sus­tain­able well­ness pro­gram off the ground. The pro­gram may not even take off at all.

I have seen these pro­grams fiz­zle for many rea­sons, includ­ing a shift in busi­ness objec­tives, lack of estab­lished goals, or lack of par­tic­i­pa­tion or role-mod­el­ing from man­age­ment or own­er­ship. It can be rec­og­nized ear­ly whether a pro­gram is going to suc­ceed by the sup­port it has from its lead­ers. Think of a suc­cess­ful pro­gram much like the game “fol­low the leader.” Good lead­ers and own­ers should not only spon­sor the pro­gram, but should also be active­ly engaged and sup­port­ing it, lead­ing by exam­ple. When employ­ees see own­ers and employ­ers par­tic­i­pat­ing and sup­port­ing the pro­gram, they too will “fol­low the leader.” Once you have back­ing from the peo­ple who invoke change with­in your orga­ni­za­tion, lay­ing the ground­work for the pro­gram will become a smoother process.

2.  Sur­vey the orga­ni­za­tion and gath­er aggre­gate data to estab­lish need and risk areas.

Once you have built the foun­da­tion, it is a good time to col­lect and gath­er data to deter­mine need and eval­u­ate aggre­gate risks in the orga­ni­za­tion. Of those orga­ni­za­tions that cre­at­ed the par­tic­i­pa­to­ry pro­grams we dis­cussed ear­li­er, how many of them do you think actu­al­ly asked their employ­ees first what they want­ed or need­ed in order to change unhealthy behav­iors or lead a healthy lifestyle? What lifestyle-relat­ed claims is the orga­ni­za­tion expe­ri­enc­ing that might be able to be con­trolled with inter­ven­tions? What health risks exist with­in the orga­ni­za­tion? Orga­ni­za­tions typ­i­cal­ly roll out the pro­gram before they gath­er the data, and then look back and won­der why their par­tic­i­pa­tion in their pro­gram was so low. Log­i­cal­ly, it is because the employ­ees didn’t want or need it or see the value.

When work­ing with a ben­e­fits con­sult­ing firm, orga­ni­za­tions ask for employ­ees to be sur­veyed annu­al­ly on their likes and dis­likes in med­ical and den­tal cov­er­age. It only makes sense that employ­ees also be sur­veyed about their needs in a well­ness pro­gram. The employ­ee well­ness sur­vey may include ques­tions about areas where they may want help, pro­grams they would be will­ing to par­tic­i­pate in, what would moti­vate them to engage in the pro­gram, and whether or not they are even look­ing to make any changes. Do not wor­ry or be dis­cour­aged, as there is always five to ten per­cent of a pop­u­la­tion that is resis­tant to any­thing and will nev­er par­tic­i­pate regard­less of what you provide.

Addi­tion­al data is then obtained by ana­lyz­ing your organization’s aggre­gate claims, if data is avail­able. Along with claims data, orga­ni­za­tions may also com­pile aggre­gate data through health screen­ings, bio­met­rics, health and fit­ness diag­nos­tics and assess­ments, blood work, and more.

3.  Uti­lize exist­ing tools and resources, estab­lish part­ner­ships and seek guidance.

Many orga­ni­za­tions may not be aware of the vari­ety of well­ness pro­gram tools and resources avail­able to them. First, look to your ben­e­fits insur­ance con­sul­tant. Qual­i­fied, rep­utable ben­e­fit con­sult­ing firms now have cre­den­tialed well­ness pro­gram man­agers or coor­di­na­tors on staff to work along­side you and your team. Con­sul­tants can help nav­i­gate what is avail­able to you from your insur­ance car­ri­er or third par­ty admin­is­tra­tor and are like­ly tapped into local and nation­al resources, well­ness ven­dors, and oth­er work­place well­ness tools. One of the best parts of my role as a Well­ness Pro­gram Man­ag­er is to share my pas­sion for well­ness with our clients and help them design a sus­tain­able pro­gram. If you have a ben­e­fits con­sul­tant that is not pro­vid­ing this lev­el of sup­port or staff, it is worth inquiring.

Estab­lish a part­ner­ship with a well­ness ven­dor. This is one resource that is often over­looked because orga­ni­za­tions try to do it them­selves. Sus­tain­able pro­grams have ven­dors that can design pro­grams based on need and risk, man­age day-to-day pro­gram tasks, pro­vide ongo­ing report­ing, and rec­om­mend best prac­tices for goal achievement.

Over the last few years, hun­dreds of new well­ness ven­dors have entered the mar­ket­place. I have worked with great ven­dors and ven­dors that I will not work with again. Employ­ers should not set­tle for a “cook­ie cut­ter” pro­gram. Look for a part­ner that shares a sim­i­lar view on well­ness, one who will cus­tomize a pro­gram to sat­is­fy your organization’s objec­tives. Ensure that you part­ner with a ven­dor that offers actu­al guid­ance and man­age­ment of your pro­gram. CAUTION: Many ven­dors pro­mote account man­age­ment as a top ser­vice they pro­vide, but few deliv­er. A great way to find the right ven­dor is through the part­ner­ships your employ­ee ben­e­fits con­sul­tant has estab­lished or from oth­er busi­ness refer­rals and tes­ti­mo­ni­als. When I place a client with a ven­dor, the most impor­tant thing I look for is the type of ser­vice my client will receive. Accept noth­ing but high qual­i­ty and service.

Sub­scribe to the UBA blog for part 2 in this series, which will cov­er the final steps to suc­cess­ful­ly set up a pro­gram with the right sup­port, tools, part­ners, and ini­tial incentives.

For addi­tion­al trends among well­ness pro­grams, down­load In UBA’s new whitepa­per: “Well­ness Pro­grams — Good for You & Good for Your Orga­ni­za­tion”.

To under­stand legal require­ments for well­ness pro­grams, request UBA’s ACA Advi­sor, “Under­stand­ing Well­ness Pro­grams and Their Legal Require­ments,” which reviews the five most crit­i­cal ques­tions that well­ness pro­gram spon­sors should ask and work through to deter­mine the oblig­a­tions of their well­ness pro­gram under the ACA, HIPAA, ADA, GINA, and ERISA, as well as con­sid­er­a­tions for well­ness pro­grams that involve tobac­co use in any way. With over 20 pages of com­pre­hen­sive guid­ance, exam­ples and fre­quent­ly asked ques­tions, this is an invalu­able employ­er resource.

For the lat­est sta­tis­tics from the UBA sur­vey exam­in­ing well­ness pro­gram design among 19,557 health plans and 11,524 employ­ers, pre-order UBA’s 2016 Health Plan Sur­vey Exec­u­tive Sum­ma­ry which will be avail­able to the pub­lic in late September.

Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished by Unit­ed Ben­e­fit Advi­sors — Read More