Wellness programs have become markedly more prevalent in recent years, with many more employers relying on these programs as an important complement to their benefits strategy, and an effective tool in managing the health of their employees and their productivity and benefits plan costs. However, many smaller or mid-sized organizations, though definitely interested in employee wellness, struggle with how to best integrate an effective approach into their benefits offering.

In our own practice, we find that the barriers these organizations most often come up against include:

  • A lack of hard evidence to support the unique health risks of their employee group
  • The presence of a number of independent wellness or health initiatives without an integrated approach or overall strategy
  • A desire to implement a wellness strategy, but not knowing where to start
  • Mobile employees or multiple locations

For employers of any size contemplating wellness programming or the development of a wellness strategy, a very important starting place is an analysis of their health data. This can mean gathering information from multiple sources if the employer has several insurers in place as well as a different employee assistance program (EAP) or disability management provider.

A comprehensive look at this data with a comparison to benchmarking data will give employers a good understanding of what their health issues are, how much these issues are costing their organization, and which disease categories on which to focus their preventative strategy in order to give them the greatest impact.

A second key step for employers is to take an inventory on what wellness programs and resources they already have in place. Programs like a walking club, gym membership discounts, healthy weight programs, social committee activities like a softball or golf league, facilities or equipment like bike storage or standing desks, and resources like health and wellness information from their insurer or EAP provider can all be bundled together and presented under a wellness umbrella as one offering.

Employers can also provide their employees with a one-stop “hub” where links to this information are housed, so that health and wellness information can be searched and accessed 24/7 with ease. This hub goes a long way to increasing employee appreciation and engagement, and definitely increases uptake and participation.

In organizations where the workforce is located in multiple sites or where there is a high degree of mobility, scalability with a small number of potential participants in some of the locations can create challenges. When identical programming in every location is difficult due to logistics, employers should offer programs that are equitable, but are not necessarily equal. Flexibility, then, in this scenario needs to be integrated into the wellness strategy, and programming should include elements that:

  • Leverage technology like web-based tools to allow employees to access elements of the program remotely.
  • Use an extended provider network to provide programming elements. For example, special arrangements could be made with local pharmacies to provide blood pressure screenings to complement onsite screenings at other locations.
  • Develop creative ways for people to engage differently in the same programs. A face-to-face lunch and learn at one location can also be provided as an online webinar option for those working more remotely.

Leadership support is a critical factor for the success of a wellness program regardless of the organization’s size. While leadership participation in wellness initiatives is certainly important, support should also include demonstrable commitment through an ongoing budget to support the strategy and the program’s elements as well as the inclusion of health and wellness in the organization’s overall business strategy.

Taking a baseline measurement at the outset and continuous evaluation along the way tangibly demonstrates the return on investment for employers of all sizes, and illustrates both the effectiveness of the program and opportunities to improve results. This can include a change in communication strategy, a need for increased promotion, change in the incentives offered or perhaps a tweak to programming that addresses the same health issues.

As organizations of this size generally do not have a resource dedicated to wellness alone, employers can leverage available expertise in order to craft a wellness strategy, select or source the most effective program elements, and implement and promote the wellness offering in an efficient and effective way.

Kim Siddall is a vice-president and local practice leader at Aon. She has more than 20 years of experience in the health and benefits industry. These are the views of the author and not necessarily those of Benefits Canada.
Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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