Employers counting on wellness programs to bend the benefits cost curve must include strong communication plans in their strategy if they hope to achieve their goals. Those who shortchange this crucial step risk wasting their investment of precious resources in a tight economy.
That’s a key finding in a new white paper by benefits provider Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Co., Well on the Way: Engaging Employees in Workplace Wellness. The researchers used proprietary and industry research and case studies to show how wellness initiatives can help employers control increasing health care and benefits costs, and the role of benefits communication in driving the effectiveness of these programs.
A growing number of employers are implementing programs that successfully reduce employee health risk factors and better manage chronic illness—the primary drivers of health care costs. And employees value these programs: Nearly 90 percent of employees say the range of a company’s health and wellness benefits is important in their choice of an employer, according to the 2012 National Employee Wellness Month Employer/Employee Survey, cited in the white paper. Yet these employees still might not participate in wellness programs because of lack of information.
You Can Build It—but They May Not Come
Most employers cite weak employee engagement as the biggest obstacle to changing their employees’ health risk behavior, the white paper reports. But more than half of workers say they don’t know enough about their company’s wellness programs to participate in them. A June /July 2012 Colonial Life survey found 52 percent of workers whose employers offer wellness programs say they’re only somewhat or not at all knowledgeable about them. Lack of knowledge is higher among younger workers, less educated workers and lower-paid workers.
“Just offering a wellness program and expecting a majority of employees to participate—the ‘if you build it, they will come’ scenario—is prone to failure,” said Steve Bygott, assistant vice president of marketing analysis and programs at Colonial Life. “Communication that clearly delineates the benefits of participation to employees is the first step to long-term engagement in wellness programs.”
Champions and Personalized Communication
Often, barriers to engagement can be overcome through championship of the program by the CEO and co-workers who are identified as health ambassadors by their enthusiastic participation in wellness initiatives, the white paper suggests.
Beefing up communication through one-to-one benefits counseling also can help drive participation in a company’s wellness offerings as well as improve understanding and appreciation of the entire benefits package, the white paper points out.
“Companies of all sizes can use wellness programs to improve employee health,” said Bygott. “By focusing on communication that addresses the needs and desires of key employee groups—particularly younger, less educated and lower paid workers—employers can successfully engage more program participants and enjoy greater benefits.”
Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.