Workplace wellness programs are still being studied as far as whether they are effective, with some employee management teams reporting success and others saying that they haven’t seen their expenses reduced. It may be that the type of wellness program has more to do with its success or failure, so that leadership in each company must look closely at what sort of program employees would benefit from the most.
A study by RAND corporation found that about half of all businesses with 50 or more employees have wellness programs. According to the New York Times, most medium-to-large companies spend about $521 per employee on making sure workers stay healthy. Additionally, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that most companies believe their program is working effectively. What is ultimately difficult to gauge is whether this is true or not.
One of the problems with wellness programs is that it’s impossible to know whether someone would have gotten sick with – or without – something in place that encourages employees to exercise or eat right. According to the New York Times, the research may show that wellness programs do not work – or they at least cannot be proven to reduce illnesses.
Engagement a major factor in health programs
A more optimistic report comes from a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, according to Human Resources Executive Online. The research was collected between 2007 and 2011. It looked at 13,627 UPMC employees who were enrolled in the company’s MyHealth chronic-disease management and wellness program. The study also examined 4,448 workers who were employed at another healthcare organization with a different program that did not study chronic diseases and did not help employees manage their health in the same active way as MyHealth.
The study found that MyHealth managed to reduce the annual payouts for medical costs by anywhere from $3,000 to $250 per year per individual. Those who shifted from high risk to medium or low risk saved the most money, but even those who moved from medium risk to low risk also reduced health expenses.
In an interview by HRE Online with Michael Parkinson, who conducted the study, reported that the takeaway is that engagement with each employee is crucial for a proper medical benefits program to succeed.
“[Incentives] are not a silver bullet,” Parkinson said to HRE Online. “They have to constantly evolve to reflect higher levels of engagement.”
Coaching as a way to reduce health costs
A separate article by HRE Online cited the increasing number of companies that are hiring coaches to help with their medical programs. These coaches work directly with employees on their health and help them reach attainable goals quickly. One such coach helped an employee to quit smoking in about half a year.
According to HRE Online, these coaching programs are the ultimate form of an engaged health initiative. Additionally, the programs appear to reduce the cost that employers pay out in the form of health insurance or missed working days.
“In a benchmarking call I recently had with a few employers, their perception is that face-to-face coaching is working,” said LuAnn Heinen, an NBGH vice president and wellness expert, to HRE Online.
Personalized service means that employees receive help directly for their exact medical needs, which is a better solution than programs with more generalized health goals for entire departments or companies. Each employee has his or her own health problems, which require specialized approaches that coaches can directly address.
“From our [employee] surveys, we feel people wanted more personalized advice,” said Dr. Andrew Crighton, Prudential’s chief medical officer, to HRE Online. “We needed a different model, one that included encouragement and goal setting.”
Although this is more involved than more traditional approaches, it may ultimately save money and hold greater benefits for companies in the long run.