Wellness Program 'Best Practices' Foster Success

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Feb 20, 2013
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Employers that follow best practices for workplace wellness programs were more likely to report improvements in lowering medical cost trends and improving employee health status, a Scorecard report from the nonprofit Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) and consulting firm Mercer indicates.

In an analysis of data collected from more than 700 U.S. employers, researchers found that the best practices most strongly associated with positive wellness program outcomes were:

  • Including spouses in key components of the program.
  • Promoting all wellness activities under a single brand name.
  • Having a formal, written strategic plan with financial objectives.
  • Active participation by senior leadership in wellness programs.

“As the HERO Scorecard database grows, so does our ability to test the relationships between specific best practices and outcomes,” said Steven Noeldner, Ph.D., Mercer partner and chair of the HERO research study subcommittee. “For example, while it’s not surprising that effective employee communication is one of the keys to a successful program, this study pinpoints the importance of giving the program a brand name.”

Spousal Inclusion

Extending the program to spouses also had a strong impact on outcomes. Employers that permitted spouses to participate in lifestyle coaching programs reported an average employee participation rate that was twice as high as the rate among employers that don’t include spouses (28 percent vs. 14 percent). When spouses were included in key components of the health management program, employers were also more likely to report improvement in health risk and in medical trend.

Among other Scorecard "best practice" findings:

  • Biometric screenings were used by a majority of respondents—70 percent—to alert employees to possible health risks.
  • Personal coaching—by telephone, online or face-to-face—has become one of the fastest-growing elements in health management programs.
  • Financial incentives to drive employee participation in these programs is growing rapidly—and employers that use them are significantly more likely to report medical cost savings (76 percent) than those not offering incentives (46 percent).

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.​

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