Guest Column

How to measure the real value of workplace wellness programs

September 28, 2018
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Over the years, wellness has become an essential tool for attracting and retaining top talent. We’re seeing more employees, especially younger generations, expecting wellness to be a standard part of an employer’s benefits offerings. One survey of 2,000 U.S. workers featured in the Harvard Business Review showed respondents would choose a lower-paying job if it offers better benefits — health, dental and vision insurance, plus other benefits like flexibility and work-life balance.

Employers who offer well-being programs and are truly interested in the health and well-being of their employees understand workplace health isn’t the absence of disease but the ongoing pursuit of holistic well-being, which goes far beyond just physical health and also must include attention to the emotional, financial, physical and social health of an employee. It focuses on the whole of an organization and each individual employee. The result is a happy, engaged workforce that measures much higher than numbers on a scale.

Wellness programs that only focus on weight loss or smoking cessation miss the mark when it comes to making employees truly happier at work and in life. For this reason, well-being is a better approach to maintaining and improving the overall health of employees and our communities.

For employers, it’s important, not only to make this shift in thinking from physical wellness to holistic well-being but also to look at new ways to measure and evaluate the success of their well-being programs to justify the investment.

Historically, employers measured wellness programs based on return on investment. Wellness programs were created with one purpose in mind: stem the rising costs of health care through reduced or stabilized medical insurance premiums. And while this was an interesting, and at times, successful endeavor for large employers, wellness programs that focused solely on the physical health of their employees had little to no impact on the midsize to small employer. The result was a lack of confidence in wellness programs to change the trajectory of chronic disease and, at the same time, offer any real investment value.

Today’s employers are using value of investment (VOI) to measure success, according to a report from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. This method accounts for abstract or intangible benefits of employer wellness offerings, such as higher employee engagement and satisfaction, decreased turnover, improved absenteeism, increased productivity and stronger recruitment. Half of the 700 employers surveyed were using at least one of these VOI measurements to track success.

In addition, 52 percent of the employers surveyed indicate their No. 1 reason to offer wellness is to invest in and increase employee health and engagement.

Companies that are more likely to embrace VOI are radically changing the overall focus of their wellness programs. This most often begins by establishing a clear company culture that supports all areas of an employee’s well-being. Plan designs are evolving to include physical, emotional, financial, social and occupational well-being.

Priority Health is taking this conversation one step further. We are asking our clients to consider a different kind of VOI — value of the individual.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Midwest region’s average annual employer cost per employee (including wages, benefits and paid time off) was $64,542.40. Replacing an employee lost to chronic disease can cost up to 150 percent of their annual salary. An individual smoker can cost an employer $6,000 each year in additional medical costs and lost productivity.

A VOI that centers on value of the individual can inspire companies to rethink their wellness programs with individuals in mind. There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution because every organization has unique well-being needs and interests. That’s why it’s important to work with wellness experts who can help create a specialized plan for your business.

Earlier this year, Priority Health rolled out the innovative Wellbeing Hub — the first free tool of its kind in Michigan that offers all Priority Health members a personalized, comprehensive, digital wellness experience. Wellbeing Hub recommends programs like medication therapy management, financial management, stress management and more to members based on their individual health needs and activities. We also offer employer groups the ability to purchase enhanced well-being programs through our proprietary PriorityWell packages. PriorityWell allows employers to tailor their well-being programs to support the outcomes they desire, reporting to help measure success and expert consulting.

When your most valuable resource — your employees — are happy and healthy mentally, physically, financially and socially, so is your organization.

Miki Kobane, CHWC, CIC, CNS is the director of wellness at Priority Health. She oversees the development of strategically designed wellness programs and has more than 35 years of experience in employee benefits, human resources and the health and performance industry.

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