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TechnologyAdvice Guide to Employee Wellness Programs
Although research estimates that about 75 percent of employees have access to an employer-sponsored wellness program, participation remains low1. While employee buy-in for health risk assessments (HRA) is nearly 50 percent, participation rates for other wellness programs are significantly lower:
- Fitness programs: 21 percent
- Lifestyle change or health management: 19 percent
- Weight-loss intervention: 11 percent
Companies are losing money on preventable health expenses-- which is why health and wellness programs are so critical. When employee wellness programs are successful, the business benefits are significant:
- 28 percent reduction in sick leave absenteeism
- 26 percent reduction in health-related costs
- 30 percent reduction in workers' compensation and disability claims costs2
- 66 percent of employees involved in workplace wellness programs are extremely or very satisfied with their group employee benefits
- 67 percent of employees engaged in worksite wellness believe their employer cares about their health
- 87 percent of job candidates consider wellness programs when choosing an employer3
How to Compare Employee Wellness Programs
Employee wellness programs aren't new by any means. However, increased healthcare costs and diminishing worker productivity are making their success more important than ever. Though many traditional employee health initiatives are largely ineffective, there is hope: digital corporate wellness programs. More and more companies are reaping the benefits of embracing technology and incorporating game-mechanics that increase user engagement and reward participation.
Offering a wellness program can make employees happier and save companies money, so increasing employees' participation is paramount. Traditional programs can lead to low motivation and low engagement rates when they lack milestones, positive feedback and reinforcement, and social encouragement.4 Applying game elements to non-game contexts-- in this case, employee wellness programs-- is one way to increase engagement. Of the top 100 companies in the U.S., 70 are adding gamification to their wellness programs.5
Gamification can help make the most of wellness programs by engaging where others fail:
Less than one in five employees will participate in wellness programs that do not offer rewards-- four in five will participate when incentives are offered.6
2. Social support
Participants in online health communities are more likely to change behavior when they receive encouragement from friends online.7
Providing employees with progress metrics, custom recommendations based on their needs, and giving positive and timely feedback creates a feedback loop that lays the foundation for habit-forming behavior.
People are motivated to manage their own health. The biggest reason employees cited for not participating in wellness programs is because they can make the changes on their own-- but in actuality, few do.8 Successful wellness programs give employees tools that enable them to make meaningful changes autonomously.
Corporate wellness programs should include the characteristics above, as well as a variety of the following features:
- Health assessment
- Wearables integration
- Educational content
- Personalized Goals
- Coaching or recommendations
- Social network or support
- Brandable interface
Most wellness programs are deployed as a monthly, subscription-based SaaS (Software-as-a-Service). Though most vendors offer turnkey solutions for quick implementation, most can be customized to meet your company's unique needs.
Common Applications for Wellness Programs
Modern technology brings a lot of convenience to our lives, but the automation of numerous work tasks has left many workforces largely stagnant. Office-based companies with massive workforces have huge potential to change the state of the current health crisis.
Enterprise businesses have the power to reframe how thousands of people view health, thanks to their massive reach and influence on employees. Corporations are in a unique position to shift the lifestyle of employees through small daily habit change.
Gamified employee wellness programs for enterprises vary, but one prominent feature is a company specific social network with a customizable user interface. Sometimes called a social wellness platform, these networks allow employees to assess and manage their health, share their goals and progress, integrate with fitness trackers, and give coworkers virtual high fives for their progress.
The amount of midmarket employers adopting health and wellness plans grew 12.5 percent in 2013-- double the rate for any other size employer.9 HRAs are the most common offering, though physical exams, incentives, coaching, and online portals or social networks are increasingly popular.
Many midmarket employee wellness programs offer similar functionality as the bigger enterprise solutions, though you'll tend to see a reduction in some features at this level.
Additionally, instead of providing a full online social network for companies, many of these vendors substitute social integration with existing platforms like Facebook or Twitter.
Though wellness plans for small businesses are often less complex than their larger counterparts, this allows them to gain the benefits larger companies experience at a reasonable cost-- and with little or no IT help.
Most vendors in the small business arena are web and mobile-friendly, and offer integration with popular fitness trackers. Game elements, social features, and incentives remain prevalent at this tier. For small businesses, simple solutions, like the company-wide walking program detailed below, can be just as effective as a customizable enterprise solution.
Small businesses should focus on scalability to ensure the program can keep up with a growing workforce.
How to Create Executive Buy-In
To ensure successful adoption and long-term ROI, it's important to get buy-in from stakeholders in the company, especially leadership. They should agree with the need for an employee health and wellness program, as well as understand the value it will add. Below are some talking points for making the case with key executives:
CIOs and IT managers:
CIOs and IT managers aim to identify the technology that best meets an organization's current and future requirements. Your IT department can help you create a shortlist of providers to evaluate for long-term viability. Chances are they'll be concerned with the logistics, like whether a program leverages wearable technology and if so, how that impacts current BYOD policies. Integration with current systems and robust security guarantees is also important, so involving your IT team early on is necessary. Be sure to discuss benefits such as little required investment in new infrastructure or hardware, as most wellness programs are cloud-based.
Your chief financial officer will want to know how much a wellness program will cost on the front-end and long-term, how it can reduce costs and grow revenue, and when your business can expect to see measurable returns. Aside from the cost of the actual system, be sure to discuss healthcare cost savings, using actual case studies like the one below that illustrate the positive effects of a health and wellness program on financials and employee productivity.
Of course your CEO will want to know about cost and technology, but be sure to show how an employee health and wellness program can improve your core business model and help you gain a competitive edge. These programs have a positive impact on longstanding HR workforce challenges (employee retention and engagement, worker satisfaction, positive culture, attracting top candidates), so be sure to talk about benefits such as improved teamwork and feelings of positivity towards employers.
Employee Wellness Program Case Study:
Company: Incapital Raises Health Awareness, Lowers Stress and Healthcare Costs10
Incapital, a finance company, implemented Keas to encourage employees to address issues that were impacting their health. The company's workforce manages high stress environments of constant change daily. Incapital had previously initiated a wellness program to improve employee productivity, but, despite their best efforts, saw low participation.
The following were key barriers to adoption:
- The internal program did not fit with the demands of the workday, and educational "Lunch and Learn" efforts netted low attendance.
- Progress was tracked with Excel spreadsheets, which made program management cumbersome and time consuming.
- Varying levels of fit and not-as-fit workers made outcome-based challenges difficult.
- The basic, employee-facing interface was not engaging to look at or use.
- There was a lack of nutrition information available for those that wanted to learn more about nutrition.
- It was difficult to communicate and engage remote workers in the company culture.
Incapital chose Keas to for their on-demand interactive content, "edutainment" style of learning, engaging and mobile friendly interface, and social network features. The program includes incentives, a newsfeed, weekly goals, quests, quizzes, and "healthy breaks". Key employee benefits achieved through Keas rollout:
- 95 percent will remain proactive in their health
- 91 percent would use Keas again
- 91 percent say Keas improved teamwork at their company
- 88 percent feel more positive about their employer after using Keas
- 87 percent say Keas is better than any other wellness program
- 87 percent would recommend Keas to a friend
Other Market-Leading Solutions:
Keas is one of the top employee wellness platforms on the market and can be customized to meet the needs of any-sized business. They're the right provider for Incapital, but the best engagement solution for your business may involve additional features or services. To find the best software for your business, compare corporate wellness vendors by using our Product Selection Tool.
When choosing an employee wellness program, be sure to ask the right questions.
What will motivate your employees? Which rewards make the most sense? What kind of feedback is important?
Don't rely too heavily on extrinsic motivators like financial incentives. Build a culture of participation to encourage employees to set goals, talk about them, and interact outside of work. Be sure your program balances competence and challenge to keep users engaged. Lastly, make sure to provide timely, supportive feedback to encourage long-term, positive behavioral change.
Above all else, an employee wellness program should be fun. Engaged employees are healthy employees, and healthy employees are less costly, have fewer absences, and are more productive. The research and buying process can be complex, so seeking out third-party help is common.
Contact one of our Technology Advisors today, or use our Product Selection Tool to filter employee wellness programs based on your criteria.
- "Health and Wellness Programs in the Workplace." The Sloan Center on Aging and Work. July 2014. http://www.bc.edu/content/dam/files/research_sites/agingandwork/pdf/publications/FS38_HealthWellnessPrograms.pdf
- "Facts on Health Promotion." Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Accessed December 12, 2014. https://www.healthiergeneration.org/_asset/xd1mnq/08-734_EWFactSheet.pdf
- Cassidy, Gary."The Role of Gamification in Health and Wellness Programs." Corporate Synergies. Accessed December 12, 2014. "http://www.corpsyn.com/knowledgecenter/articles/gamification.html#.VIsdEdLF-il
- Karim, Arshard and Praneshkumar Wahil. " How to Make Healthcare Wellness Programs More Effective?" Infosys Labs Briefings. Accessed December 12, 2014. http://www.infosys.com/infosys-labs/publications/Documents/gamification/how-to-make-healthcare-wellness-programs-more-effective.pdf
- "Why Gamification is Taking Over Wellness Programs." TechnologyAdvice. February 20, 2014. http://www.slideshare.net/technologyadvice/technologyadvice-gamification-slidesharever3
- "Wellness Awards Shrink Health Care Costs." The Incentive Research Foundation. Accessed December 12, 2014. http://theirf.org/.6078726.html
- Centola, Damon. "The Spread of Behavior in an Online Social Network Experiment." MIT. Accessed December 12, 2014. http://www.uvm.edu/~pdodds/files/papers/others/2009/centola2009b.pdf
- Miller, Stephanie. "Why Employees Participate—or Don't—in Wellness Programs." Society for Human Resource Management. January 16, 2014. http://www.shrm.org/hrdisciplines/benefits/articles/pages/participate-wellness-programs.aspx
- McGuinness, Kevin. "Mid-Market Employers Increasingly Adopting Wellness Programs." Plansponsor. April 10, 2014. http://www.plansponsor.com/Mid_Market_Employers_Increasingly_Adopting_Wellness_Programs.aspx
- "Customer Success Story: An Engaged and Cohesive Workforce." Keas. Acessed December 12, 2014. http://info.keas.com/rs/keas/images/Keas-CS-Incapital.pdf