Pay Attention to Your Wellness Programs

The 2012 Healthiest Employers Employee Benchmark Report on wellness programs is out, thanks to Healthiest Employers LLC. It’s a pretty well-done report, too. I thank them for creating it. The report provided some very useful information, some of which can’t simply be distilled from the bar graphs prominently displayed with each question’s results.

The first, and most telling, part of this report can be found on the fourth page: 

We began asking employers of all sizes if they knew how their wellness programs compared to other employers their size. Amazingly, only a few had done any comparing at all, and … typically took the form of calling a friend to ask what they were doing.

Somehow, I’m not surprised. The report goes on to say that most employers didn’t do much in the way of statistical analysis to see how their programs compared to similar-sized employers. Seeing that many employers are heavily driven by numbers for costs, revenues, and profits, you’d think they’d do more analytics to see how well their employee programs work. A C-level executive will gladly spit out how much they brought in during the last quarter, or the amount of money they saved by doing such-and-such. Yet, many seem to not share specifics about how their programs work. Maybe it’s because they don’t know much about the programs and are just informed on the basics.

That assumption, if true, speaks volumes about their dedication to the cause. How’re they supposed to talk specifics if they don’t know anything relevant about the programs they sign off on putting in place?

How awesome would it be if your district manager and the district manager down the street met for lunch and had the following discussion about their wellness programs?

“It’s been going quite well. We just had 40% of our employees participate in the last 90-day fitness challenge, and on average they dropped their body fat by 3.2%!”

“That’s amazing! Ours went pretty well too, but only a third of our people got involved. It still worked out great, we had an average loss similar to yours and the contest winner dropped over 9%! I even dropped 6%. How’d you get so many people to participate?”

Having leaders dedicated to the cause, more invested in the program’s (and by extension, their employees’) success, makes employees across the organization more likely to participate. The higher up the leader is in the organization, the easier it is for the participation to trickle down. It’s a simple leader-follower situation.

Those who involve their employees as people rather than task completion personnel tend to have higher levels of employee participation, according to this study (by Mitonga-Monga, Coetzee, and Cilliers, 2012). (pdf) The same should apply for wellness programs. If as a leader you aren’t invested in your people, your connection to the program suffers. Your employees will notice, and they won’t be likely to take part. You won’t have any idea of the success your program is having, either on a general or statistical basis.

Know how your employees are progressing. How are they improving? Did Strategy A for the San Francisco office work as well as Strategy B in New York? How many people reduced their insurance claims? How many went off medications (and how many meds were dropped per person)?

The more you know, the better your program will succeed. But knowledge requires paying attention and getting involved.

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