If you build it, they may come. If you promote it, a few more may come. What is this cryptic “it”?
Wellness programs, which were a major focus here at the Health Benefits and Leadership Conference in Las Vegas. While many sessions targeted pieces of the overall wellness-program puzzle, one in particular addressed the five key strategies needed for a wellness plan to work.
That session, titled “5 Strategies for Crafting a Wellness Plan That Really Works,” was presented by Eva Allen, director of client & customer engagement at Cigna and Rob Thurston, president of the HR Consulting Group.
Before an HR leader can even think about implementing those five strategies, Allen told the audience, it’s imperative that organizations first build a culture of well-being. HR leaders need to begin building this culture as a multi-year, multi-prong strategy, she said, that includes a focus on better health, engagement and savings.
Better health means creating savvy customers who know how to best utilize their benefits, or at least understand them. For instance, does the employee know to go to urgent care instead of the emergency department for certain health issues?
Better engagement means that organizations are looking at how they communicate wellness plans to employees and are utilizing analytics to determine room for improvement and what may be working well.
Finally, she said, better savings means being able to answer the question: How will this culture of well-being measurably reduce risk across your bottom line?
“All the clients I’ve worked with at Cigna have said they want happy, health productive employees who … understand how to better manage medical needs,” said Allen.
Collecting all this information is just the first step, she said. HR leaders then need to enter a “discovery phase” to assess the organization to determine your population health data, demographics, risks, utilization of current wellness programs. Once all of this has been determined, then it’s time to look at the best-in-class strategies needed to create an effective well-being program.
Integrating technology and wellness is a no-brainer in today’s age of wearables, apps and other wellness products. Utilizing technology can also take the pressure of incentivizing wellness programs off of HR leaders’ shoulders because it can all be built into one seamless integrated portal for employees and families.
Innovation, the second strategy, is tied closely to tech, and there are numerous apps that have truly revolutionized manged healthcare. Allen mentioned the example of one app that takes biometric data and identifies people who are prediabetic. From there, these users are given a coach and are started on a multi-week program to get them on the path to controlling their health.
The third strategy is all about mindfulness, which, Allen said, goes beyond instituting a meditation break during work or building an on-site nap room–yes, one of her clients actually built one!
Mindfulness also involves examining existing employee programs, such as the EAP, and building them out and integrating them with other care. For example, she said, a standard EAP is a good tool for helping to manage chronic stress, but it doesn’t usually benefit employees with serious mental health concerns–depression, substance abuse, etc. The EAP needs to be wrapped together with total behavioral health support, she said, such as case managers who help with inpatient and outpatient care.
Another innovative wellness opportunity to wrap into the total behavioral-health package is implementing behavioral health first aid. That approach requires that leaders, wellness champions and managers be trained to know what to do in case an employee admits to needing help for a mental-health problem, or trained to effectively intervene if they sense that a colleague may have a behavioral-health problem.
The fourth strategy is convenience, or simply making it easy for employees to make the right health choices. This could be as simple as deciding what food will be offered in vending machines: Candy and soda? Or fruit and water? A step above that is color-coding cafeteria foods by the three shades of traffic light: Red for food that should be eaten rarely and only in small quantities; yellow for food that should be eaten in moderation; and green, which signifies healthful food.
She also shared a case example from one of Cigna’s clients, Bridgepoint, which implemented an onsite wellness clinic and hired an onsite well-being coordinator. The clinic alone increased the percentage of employees receiving preventative care to 75 percent, while health-assessment completion rates reached 70 percent and the company saw a savings of $750,000 in first year alone.
Finally, Allen said, the last strategy is likely the most important of them all: motivation.
“What motivates you and your employees?” she asked the audience. “Is it family, money a combination of the two?” Figuring out how employees balance these motivations will propel well-being program usage and employee engagement, she said.
To build a true culture of well-being requires meeting all of these steps from assessment through motivation, Allen said, adding that all multi-year, multi-prong strategies require trial and error.
“You may need to tweak something that didn’t work,” she said, “but if you have this wellness dashboard of information about your employees demographics, motivations, health status and overall goals you can constantly evolve your strategy to keep it fresh and relevant and tailored to your organization and people.”