In 2013, McKesson Canada Corp. launched a wellness program in an effort to reduce benefits costs and expenses resulting from decreased productivity and engagement and increased turnover and absenteeism.
In launching the program, which included mental-health training for managers, health risk assessments and biometrics screening, the company aimed for a 3.8 per cent return on investment over five years. So far, it has seen a return of 4.5 per cent, based on savings in benefits costs and factors such as reduced absenteeism and turnover, during the past three years, says Mélanie Ladner, manager of wellness and human resources shared services.
It was important to measure employees’ well-being both before and after implementing the program, says Ladner. In its case, McKesson used the health assessment tools and information on benefits costs. “We were going to invest $3 million on wellness over a five-year period,” says Ladner. “No company will give you that investment if you can’t prove the impact.”
Tools to measure
So for companies considering wellness programs, what tools are available to measure well-being?
There are two approaches, says Kim Tabac, talent partner at Deloitte Canada. One is a more reactive approach that involves looking at indicators such as the average number of sick days taken, the duration of short-term disability leaves or the cost of prescription drug claims.
But that approach only tells part of the story, says Tabac.
“It only tells us about the people already sick. Where we really want to focus is on ensuring that we’re doing a better job of helping people stay well.”
Employers can use several measurement tools, says Christy Strain, senior associate for health strategies and solutions at Aon Hewitt. They can ask employees to fill out standard health-risk assessments that examine their health and detect areas where they can make improvements and participate in biometric screenings that measure employees’ physiological health.
Employers can also focus on specific health areas and ask employees to complete engagement and psychosocial surveys, says Strain. Such tools can help employers get a baseline measure of their employees’ health and see how indicators change after they implement wellness programs, she says.
While surveys are direct and easy to undertake, they tend to be subjective because they ask employees to report on their health themselves, says Strain, noting there are other indirect resources employers can use to assess well-being.
Health challenges can measure well-being and spur change, according to Strain. Some companies use technological platforms or wearable devices such as Fitbits to measure health indicators before and after a challenge, she notes. “You can customize them to ask anything you want and to drive behaviour and then, after the challenge, you can see how well people are doing in different areas.”
Other ways of measuring well-being include food purchases in the cafeteria. “Are people choosing healthy foods or are the hamburgers busting off the shelves? These aren’t as obvious but they can be tracked and show how employees are doing,” says Strain.
Managers can also be a key source of information on employee wellness, particularly through performance reviews. “We’re starting to see more organizations ask their employees to set wellness goals as part of their performance reviews,” says Strain.
A potentially controversial way to measure well-being is sentiment analysis, which involves’ using employees’ social media or online activities to get a sense of their current state. While Strain says the idea of sentiment analysis does arise occasionally, she notes employers are leery of the privacy implications. “Most employers are acutely concerned about the perception of confidentiality by employees and are often reluctant to offer programs or services that may appear to collect personal or sensitive information that could become available to the employer,” she says.
Jann Lee is an associate editor at Benefits Canada.
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