The Evolution of Employee Wellness Programs

By Javier Simon | January 05, 2017
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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 giving them.”

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.

NEXT: Awareness drives participation