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Ask Jennifer Turgiss: Questions from our National Employee Wellness Month Webinar

June 28, 2013 / Corporate Wellness

Earlier this week I moderated our webinar, Strategies and Tactics to Create a Healthy, Engaged Workforce, as part of National Employee Wellness Month.

Along with panelists from WorldatWork, The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, Strategies to Overcome and Prevent Obesity Alliance, and Jarden Corporation, we examined a number of ways companies can educate and motivate employees to increase their overall wellbeing.

We fielded questions from participants during the hour-long webinar but couldn’t get to them all. I wanted to leverage this post to respond to answer a few of them and continue the dialogue on workplace health.

Have some questions of your own? Feel free to use the comments section below.

What evidence supports the role of incentives, social, and games in driving long-term behavior change? Which major studies have recently reported on this?

The debate over the most effective approach to healthcare incentives has become the center of discussion recently. On one end you have the “Carrot” approach, rewarding employees for participation. On the other side, the “Stick,” penalizing employees who chose not to.

Recently, CVS made news across the country by telling its nearly 200,000 employees who use its health plan to report their weight, body fat, and glucose levels to the insurer, or pay a $600/year penalty (seen as a $50/month increase on their health insurance).  Some say it’s “technology-enhanced discrimination on steroids,” while others feel it’s a wake up call for more employees to start taking their health more seriously.

While CVS’s policy might appear over-reaching from a publicity standpoint, we conducted a survey of HR managers finding nearly 75% almost or completely agreed with this type of policy.

On the whole, employers see value in a balanced strategy for healthcare programs to succeed that include incentives, games, and social elements. The “Carrot” approach by itself will not lead to a healthy and more productive workforce.

We’ll be issuing the findings from our survey with an infographic later this summer. Keep your eyes peeled.

We have offered numerous wellness programs and don’t get the employees that really need it or have difficulty keeping them engaged in it. What is the best way to get employees excited and keep them motivated? 

Every company’s culture is unique and so are its employees. The important thing to focus on is creating a workplace where employees are motivated by their peers. Those less inclined to participate can be influenced and driven by coworkers.

According to our recent survey on the Business of Healthy Employees, 57.5% of employees said their participation in a wellness program had a positive impact on their coworkers.

This impact isn’t limited to the workplace. Employees participating in wellness programs report a positive influence on family, friends, and children. Many employers are taking advantage of the influence of participation by making health and wellness available to those outside of work, offering benefits to employees’ family members.

Peers have a significant role in motivation, suggesting that improving peer communication provides continued benefits. In the same study, about 56% of employees report being supported by peers on their journey toward health and wellness, and 81% say they feel better as a result of participating.

What strategies work for companies with multiple sites? For those who are on-site?

Companies with high levels of enrollment, engagement, and sustained participation in their wellness programs are more likely than those with less-successful programs to have a defined champions program — a network of employees across multiple office sites within the organization, promoting wellness programs and actively rallying their peers.

It’s crucial that company executives and managers lead by their actions and not just their words. Employees need to know that an organization’s leaders are behind its wellness programs, regardless of which office or worksite they’re working in, and that they encourage employees to participate. Involving senior management in your champions network gives them a clear way to do just that.

Does the ACA play a role in reimbursement for healthy incentives?

There are a number of reasons why companies should look at taking advantage of the ACA provisions.

Starting in 2014, employers can raise the total amount of financial incentives offered from 20% to 30% of the organization’s health care plan costs. The ceiling goes to 50% for smoking cessation programs, allowing organizations to raise the financial incentives offered to employees who participate in the program. This can lead to increased savings while gaining the positive return on investment.

Only 25.8% of the organizations surveyed in the Business of Healthy Employees survey indicate having any plans to take advantage of the wellness provisions offered in the ACA. This is partially due to either a lack of understanding of the benefits offered (15.9%) or lack of desire to take advantage (19.3%).

Ideally we’ll see the number of companies taking advantage of these incentives increase as we near January 1, 2014.

How do you get people to want to make a change?

The goal for any wellness program is to achieve 100% participation, but it has to start at the top.

It’s well known that healthy behaviors — getting enough regular physical activity, eating
a healthy diet, and avoiding tobacco — can help prevent chronic disease and reduce healthcare utilization. While many employers encourage employees to participate in wellness programs by explaining that a healthier workforce can cut costs for all parties involved, some are putting their money where their mouth is to increase program participation.

Companies attaining high levels of engagement over a prolonged period of time are ones whose executives and managers make overall wellbeing paramount in the daily lives of their employees. According to the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA), organizations that successfully garner senior-level support for their wellness offerings have healthier employees and better work environments.

Organizations with high-performing wellness programs have a culture of health that’s embedded in their overall corporate culture. Perhaps it’s even part of their mission statement. Those companies are the ones managing to sustain engagement from employees who are motivated and rewarded for making long-lasting lifestyle changes.

Once again, thanks to everyone who participated in this week’s webinar and to those who asked such great questions. While we were unable to answer every question asked during our National Employee Wellness Month webinar, please feel free to share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below to keep the conversation going.

Jennifer Turgiss has over 20 years’ experience in senior management roles at national and global health and wellness organizations. Largely responsible for getting Virgin HealthMiles off the ground, Jennifer joined the company in 2005 and is currently VP, Health Solutions. As a client champion, Jennifer leads the development and implementation of client best practices and oversees all client-based analytics projects. Jennifer is a social and behavioral scientist. She has an MS in Exercise Physiology from the University of Colorado and a doctorate in Public Health from Boston University.

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