No matter how excellent your wellness program is, you won’t see a return on investment if employees don’t use it. After implementing a new wellness program, employers often see high initial participation rates and then watch engagement drop steadily over time. That’s why building a successful wellness program is not only about the benefits employees want most, but how to ensure that employees will engage with those benefits in a meaningful way.
A report published by Cigna last year analyzed more than 100 peer-reviewed studies to determine which strategies are most effective for driving wellness program engagement. They discovered that the difference an engaged workforce makes is colossal—when engagement rates increased just 17 percentage points, the return on investment was 11 times greater.
Here are the key takeaways from the report, strategies proven to boost engagement:
Leadership support is crucial.
The results showed that “visible championing” of wellness programs by senior and middle management significantly increased employee participation. Programs supported by middle management did especially well, yielding an average return on investment ten times greater than the initial investment. The most successful programs were supported by managers who regularly engaged in open communication with their employees. In order to encourage managers to engage with both their employees and the company’s wellness offering, employers should consider providing training sessions to this effect.
Be specific when addressing individuals.
Employers must approach wellness programs targeted at individuals differently than wellness programs designed for the entire workforce. The research shows that programs delivered on an individual level are most successful when they address specific health risks. Meanwhile, programs intended for the entire workforce see the most success when they keep the messaging general, promoting universal healthy behaviors and a company culture of wellness.
Identify business loss-drivers.
The most common loss-drivers are absenteeism, healthcare claims costs, and lost productivity, but a successful wellness program should address the precise needs of your organization. The data shows that programs are most effective when they are developed in response to a specific loss-driver. In other words, new programs should always be developed to meet a previously unmet need. It is also important to consider whether loss-drivers are isolated to specific groups within the organization, or if the issue is company-wide.
Monitor program success.
Surprisingly, the final takeaway from Cigna’s report was that monitoring the success of existing wellness programs is regularly overlooked. This could be due to the fact that data collected from wellness programs is often broad and disjointed, and organizations lack a standardized framework with which to measure success. To remedy this, the authors identified five different categories that can be used to evaluate a program’s impact. Selecting the most appropriate measure depends on the program in question and the data available, but the five categories serve as a helpful guide:
- Cost. The level of investment.
- Financial savings. The return on investment, from both direct and indirect savings.
- Participation and engagement. The rate of employees’ involvement.
- Health outcomes. Changes to employees’ overall health and wellbeing.
- Employee feedback. How satisfied employees are with the program.
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