I'm fortunate to work with a number of companies that represent the "best of the best" in their respective industries. As a result, I'm frequently asked what best practices set them apart as a high-performing employer. My response: a sincere commitment to making employee well-being a top priority. Although this may be an easy statement to write into an annual report, it's much more difficult to actually build a culture that supports this objective over the long haul, regardless of the state of the economy.
People collectively make up organizations, and these same people, regardless of the industry they work in, face similar challenges. After all, at one time or another we've all felt pressed for time, faced challenges balancing it all, and struggle to do our best… for ourselves, our families, and the companies with whom we've committed to grow. These factors impact our behaviors and decisions. The following outlines some of the employee wellness program best practices that can help you build a workplace culture that supports employee well-being.
BEST PRACTICE NO. 1: LEADERSHIP
Leadership heavily influences and sets the tone for a supportive health culture (5), and employees are much more likely to participate when they know both senior and midlevel managers actively embrace the importance of a healthy lifestyle, volunteer to be health champions (6), share their personal experiences and wellness goals, and sincerely encourage employees to get involved.
We also know that direct managers wield a tremendous amount of influence on employee morale, workload, and job satisfaction. Because of their positions, direct managers can serve as positive motivators and role models. However, we need to be careful not to assume that managers are knowledgeable or even confident speaking about wellness (2). Before we can expect direct managers to be supportive, we need to provide them with training and time to learn. We need to meet individually with managers to learn about their current perspective on wellness, customize wellness solutions, making them relevant to the manager and their direct reports, and encourage managers to pilot programs so they gain first-hand experience with wellness services. As a side benefit, you'll improve your chances of gaining management buy-in.
BEST PRACTICE NO. 2: COMMUNICATIONS
Busy and distracted employees are confused by the plethora of wellness messages they're exposed to on a daily basis and don't know what information to trust. We can help them make sense of it all by differentiating wellness communications with a distinct brand. It's important to develop and deploy a wellness communications strategy that represents both internal departments and external health and wellness partners. Working together will help assure that we're not limiting our effectiveness by competing for employee attention.
BEST PRACTICE NO. 3: INTEGRATION
Employers are striving to reduce silos that may exist between internal departments and external partners. It's important to bring together all available health improvement resources, understand each other's roles, and engage in joint planning to assure each is focused on a seamless end-user experience that gets employees to the right resource at the right time.
In my experience, employers who understand the power of an integrated approach stand out as role models. They clearly communicate the expectations of a shared vision and objectives, gain buy-in from those involved, reward improved coordination between programs and consistently reevaluate opportunities to improve the end-user experience.
It's imperative that all health and wellness resources are identified and aligned to maximize positive impact. This is a situation where less is not always more. Comprehensive health improvement teams are typically composed of representatives from health plans, health risk assessment, pharmacy benefit management, employee assistance, safety, disability/absence management, nurse line, online heath portal, lifestyle behavior change programs, chronic condition management programs, maternity support, food services, onsite fitness, corporate communications, and wellness champions.
BEST PRACTICE NO. 4: INFLUENCERS
How can employers help employees engage in healthier actions more often? It is done by focusing on influencers that impact the worksite culture. People understand that they are the ones who are ultimately responsible for achieving their wellness goals. We know it also is important to help people identify what they want, understand their own barriers, set small and specific achievable goals, learn and practice skills to help when faced with tough choices, and receive clear and timely feedback on their approach.
An additional consideration is that if individuals are to make a sustainable positive behavior change, it's important to be surrounded by people and an environment that supports the change (1). Viral marketing (employees interacting with coworkers) are important influencers that are often overlooked. To help build support for healthy behaviors, consider how you can enlist and leverage the support of company opinion leaders, peer support groups, and coworkers. Helping employees unite for the larger cause and recognizing the impact they can have on others can be powerful. Consider how this is exemplified when groups support each other by taking walks during breaks, making healthy snacks available on their desktops, and working with catering to ensure that healthy options are ordered for meetings.
Taking advantage of environmental opportunities to influence positive behaviors often can be done behind the scenes. Examples include building designs, policies and procedures, and visual cues that impact behavior:
BEST PRACTICE NO. 5: DATA COLLECTION AND EVALUATION
I can't begin to express how often I've heard the statement "only what is measured can be improved." To clarify a bit, unless we collect meaningful data, our ability to extrapolate meaningful information (including outcomes) will be hindered. Data collection and evaluation are often a last consideration, an afterthought, when developing wellness offerings. This is quite unfortunate, as meaningful data allow you to identify information that can increase program enrollment (as it helps you to better understand what employees need and want), invite employees into a program that is right for them, customize communications to be more relevant to the employee, coordinate information and care plans across provider organizations, and communicate progress back to senior leadership and other key stakeholders, a key factor for program sustenance.
Lastly, I'd like to encourage you to use the many industry scorecards and resources that have been made available to us by the International Association for Worksite Health Promotion, the Health Enhancement Research Organization, National Business Group on Health, Wellness Council of America, and the National Committee for Quality Assurance. These tools provide an inventory of employee health management best practices, can help you assess the quality and comprehensiveness of your program, guide you in your strategic planning process, and help you benchmark your program against others as you continue to evolve your wellness programming efforts.
1. Edington, Dee W. Zero Trends. Health as a Serious Economic Strategy.
Health Management Research Center; 2009.
2. Health Enhancement Systems. Management Support: Inspiring Wellness Leadership
. White Paper. Health Enhancement Systems; 2009. Available from: www.HealthEnhancementSystems.com
3. National Business Group on Health. The Employee Mindset: Views, Behaviors and Solutions.
Hewitt Associates; 2010.
4. Patterson K, Grenny J, Maxfield D, McMillian R, Switzler A. Influencer
. McGraw-Hill; 2008.
5. The Change Agent Workgroup. Employer Health Asset Management Roadmap.
The Change Agent Workgroup; 2009.
6. The Health and Productivity Advantage. 2009/2010 North American Staying@Work Report
. Watson Wyatt Worldwide, National Business Group on Health.
7. The Vitality Group. Creating a Next Generation Health and Wellness Program
. White Paper. The Vitality Group; 2009.