The rise in health care costs has led many employers to find new ways to help employees stay healthy and productive while simultaneously reducing health care costs associated with preventable chronic diseases. A trend to address this issue is the growth of workplace wellness or health promotion programs. To gain insight into the best practices that are driving the most successful workplace wellness programs across the country, national nonprofit Transamerica Center for Health Studies (TCHS) partnered with the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies (IHPS) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to release “From Evidence to Practice: Workplace Wellness that Works,” an evidence-based, straightforward workplace health promotion guide for employers.
TCHS partnered with Dr. Ron Goetzel, a senior scientist and director at IHPS, who led the research project and worked with his Institute team to develop a series of actionable steps to help guide employers in designing and implementing a new workplace wellness program or evaluating an existing program.
“To do this the right way, employers must address both the individual risk factors affecting their employees and the organizational factors that help or hinder employees’ efforts to reduce their risks and get healthier,” said Goetzel. “The strongest workplace wellness programs are building a culture of health that interweaves individual health needs with the overall company goals, and are backed by senior leadership.”
Here are five workplace wellness program best practices that have been successfully implemented by various employers, as highlighted in the report:
- Administer a baseline survey to assess employees’ physical activity levels, dietary preferences, general health status and interests in health and wellness options. For American Cast Iron Pipe, employees take a Health Risk Assessment (HRA) to determine their health risks and set appropriate goals. Following the HRA phase, employees are placed into one of four well body clubs and incentivized and supported by the wellness team and leadership throughout the year to meet their health goals.
- Identify a senior leader who will support and participate in the company wellness program to demonstrate the importance of making health and well-being a priority. Seth Goldman, co-founder and TeaEO of Honest Tea, created the company with health in mind and offers an array of wellness and fitness classes on-site.
- Make bold choices to implement changes and create a culture of healthy employees. Cleveland Clinic created a smoke-free environment in 2006. The company updated policies, including zero tolerance for smoking on their campus and covering all costs for employees who smoked to participate in tobacco cessation programs.
- Implement smart incentives to reward positive behavior and results by dedicated employees. Medical Mutual of Ohio upped its maximum wellness incentive from $50 to $350 in 2010 and then from $350 to $1,000 in 2014. Participation rates rose to 90 percent for Medical Mutual’s health assessment and 70 percent for its full wellness program.
- Dedicate communication to widely share program updates and evaluations to assess the success of the program. The University of Michigan attributes part of the success of its employee wellness program to effective communications through a variety of channels, including a robust and interactive online presence.
Employer interviews showed that workplace wellness programs are most effective when they are clearly tailored to the goals and needs of specific populations and provide sufficient opportunities for employee engagement and input. The new guide produced by TCHS and Johns Hopkins includes steps to address a variety of factors affecting different populations of employees and the workforce at large.
“The solution of the declining health of the United States worker lies inside companies. If we can invest in employees, we can solve a local, regional and national problem. The healthcare industry doesn’t own the solution, the insurance companies don’t own it, our companies do,” said Garrick Throckmorton, Assistant Vice President of Organization Development, Allegacy Federal Credit Union.