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August 24, 2012
Make your wellness programs a success

By Joan Farrell, JD, BLR Legal Editor

Healthy employees tend to be more productive, take fewer sick days, and are less likely to get hurt on the job. It makes sense, then, for employers to have wellness programs that help employees achieve a healthier lifestyle.

However, many employers launch wellness programs only to have them fall flat. Speaking in a session at the 2012 SHRM Annual Conference, Karl Ahlrichs, SPHR, explored what employers can do to ensure success. Some reasons wellness programs fail include:

  • Lack of employee interest
  • Insufficient staff resources
  • Inadequate funds
  • Failure to engage high-risk employees and spouses
  • Inability to elicit the support of upper management

But there are ways to address these problems. First, said Ahlrichs, it’s important to “overcommunicate so employees know what’s happening and why.” Instead of using a one-size-fits-all memo about a new wellness program, take a different approach to be effective, anything from e-mail to information sessions to a postcard sent to employees’ homes.

Also, programs should be rolled out in phases so employees can be eased into wellness and what may be required. That way, employees aren’t immediately faced with initiatives that may seem overly invasive.

It also helps to have a finite date for new programs. For example, an employer can offer a walking club for 3 months, so employees don’t have to make a long-term commitment, and employers can gauge areas of interest.

Negotiate with the CFO to have a percentage of the savings reserved for a wellness initiative.

For example, if conducting a dependent eligibility audit will save the company $30,000, ask to have a third reserved for a wellness program. That way, the audit provides funds for wellness while providing significant cost savings.

Ahlrichs suggests how employers can improve employee participation in a wellness program. An employer had three healthcare insurance plans, basic, better, and best. It arranged to have the same premium for each plan, instead of pricier premiums for two high tiers of coverage. Then its wellness committee came up with a list of six qualifying events for employees to complete if they wanted to be eligible for the higher tiers of coverage. The events included taking a health risk assessment, having a biometric exam, and meeting with a nutritionist if BMI was over 30.

To increase participation by covered spouses, all the insurance plans for adults were individual plans, so qualifying events had to be completed by a spouse who wanted a higher coverage tier. Communication included sending information to employee’s spouses. The results? More than 90 percent of plan participants completed all of the qualifying events required to achieve the highest tier of coverage.

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