A recent study by the RAND Corporation argues that the
real savings come from disease-management programs, or the kinds that help
at-risk employees avoid chronic illnesses and help chronically ill employees
stabilize their conditions. While studying 10 years of data from a Fortune 100
employer, RAND found that disease management, as opposed to lifestyle management,
accounted for 86% of hard savings in health care costs—generating $136 in
savings per member, per month and a 30% reduction in hospital visits. The firm
concluded that lifestyle programs like the ones focusing on weight management
and nutrition ultimately failed to drive significant behavioral change.
Chris Boyce, CEO of Virgin Pulse, argues that
employers may be able to overcome this obstacle by leveraging technology to
personalize the wellness experience. His firm offers clients an interactive and
customizable platform along with an app., which employees can use to pursue
specific lifestyle goals such as being more active or getting more sleep. They
can also track their progress digitally. Furthermore, the platform promotes
emotional well-being through community action, something Boyce predicts will
become even more important for employers in the years to come.
“The key is finding consumer-facing products that
change behavior and that people actually like and use,” says Boyce.
Four Seasons Financial Education also puts a digital
spin on financial wellness by offering online content,
financial calculators, and short videos centered on personal finance. Furthermore,
the firm provides clients with its proprietary Financial Health Assessment, an electronically
administered assessment that asks about retirement confidence, emergency
savings, and other finance-related questions. This is used to develop a personal,
financial-wellness roadmap for employees.
But while employers can measure the impact of a
health-related wellness programs through health screenings and analyzing employee
health care expenses, putting a gauge on workers’ financial wellness may be a
bit difficult. Freeman suggests analyzing turnover. “Have exit interviews and
ask why people are leaving. If you find that fewer people are leaving for
reasons involving pay, what that tells us is that your financial wellness
program is probably showing people how to maximize the pay their company is
Periodic third-party surveys of the employee
population may also offer some insight into the more complex benefits of
employee wellness programs, such as heightened well-being and increased
satisfaction at work. The study by Virgin Pulse offered some sobering
commentary on the matter.
The survey concluded that “employees overwhelmingly
agree that their benefits offerings make them more appreciative and loyal to
their companies.” Because of these programs, employees reported feeling
positive about work culture (90%), energetic and productive at work (78%), and
appreciated (67%). Furthermore, 65% of employees surveyed said they were both
happier and healthier after participating in these programs.
Some of the most desired perks included health club
memberships (44%), healthy food options on site (41%), and education around
proper nutrition (37%). The most used included biometric screenings (66%) and
physical-activity programs (51%).
But despite the wealth of choices available for
developing a holistic wellness program, communication
is still critical for its success. Here too, technology
can play an important role.
Awareness drives participation