A majority of U.S. companies offer some sort of workplace wellness initiative, and increasingly they are looking to discover whether their efforts are effective.
A new guidebook, Program Measurement and Evaluation Guide: Core Metrics for Employee Health Management, provides some insights that go beyond trying to deduce return on investment (ROI) based on health claims data.
The guide was developed by two nonprofit organizations—the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) and the Population Health Alliance (PHA)—and involved the participation of subject matter experts from over 40 organizations across industry segments.
“Measuring return on investment can be costly for many employers, and health management research has shown that there are other, equally effective and more accessible ways to evaluate program effectiveness,” said Jerry Noyce, president and CEO of HERO, in a news release.
The guide recommends using seven metrics to evaluate wellness program success:
• Financial outcomes, including the directly monetized claims savings and the monetized impact of wellness on hospital claims and health outcomes. This is important because wellness programs save money, rather than generate revenue, which is what ROI traditionally measures, so a straight ROI analysis for wellness programs isn’t always applicable.
• Health impact, including the effect of wellness programs on the physical health, mental/emotional health, health behaviors, health status and overall risk status of a workforce.
• Participation, from overall program participation down to more finite measures, such as percentage of people who are eligible for a specific program (based on health status) and how many enroll, and the degree to which they participate.
• Satisfaction, including both employer and employee/participant satisfaction with the wellness program and a recommendation for specific ways to capture this measurement.
• Organizational support, which encompasses the degree to which an organization commits to employee health, including the deliberate steps it takes to support health (i.e., programs, policies and procedures), cultural support for employee participation in health improvement, and management participation and support.
• Productivity and performance, including how to measure the impact of health on factors like time away from work and employee performance.
• value on investment(VOI), which is a financial analysis that better reflects the broader savings potential of wellness programs, rather than an ROI measure designed to calculate revenue rather than savings. The guide provides a framework for constructing a VOI analysis.
HERO and PHA hosted a March 5, 2015, webinar, available for playback, on how to effectively apply the metrics described in the guide to evaluate wellness program success.
Leveraging Wellness Best Practices
In related research, the latest annual HERO Employee Health Management Best Practices Scorecard report, a collaboration between HERO and HR consultancy Mercer, provides evidence that workplace wellness programs can work—if they are well designed and well executed.
Companies with programs incorporating more evidence-based best practices saw slower growth in health-related costs over a three-year period than companies with programs using fewer best practices, according to studies noted in the report.
Specific practices that support the effectiveness of wellness programs include having a formal strategic plan, company leaders who actively participate in programs, and a volunteer network of “wellness champions” to provide peer support for wellness initiatives.
Studies in the report are based on analyses of employer data collected through the HERO Scorecard—a free, online tool that allows employers to evaluate their employee health management efforts and to benchmark their program and outcomes against companies of similar sizes and industries.
The report, which includes data from both 2013 and 2014 analyses, show the prevalence of the following health-promotion practices among employers that had completed the scorecard:
• Make healthy food choices available in the workplace (60 percent of employers).
• Implement tobacco-free workplace policies (57 percent).
• Use tracking devices and wearables, such as pedometers, glucometers and automated scales, to transmit biometric data directly to a data repository for people with congestive heart failure, obesity and/or diabetes (46 percent).
• Use some sort of social media or social challenge to increase employee engagement and participation (44 percent).
• Enable employees to use their smartphone or mobile device to engage with the workplace wellness program (39 percent).
• Allow employees to take time for physical activity during the workday (36 percent).
• Allow employees to take time to reduce stress during the workday (28 percent).
Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.