Mediaplanet: Explain one way employers can benefit from implementing corporate wellness solutions?

Kurt Cegielski: Over 98 percent of employers with over 200 employees implement some kind of wellness solution, though the definition of “wellness” varies widely. That’s why the whole “does wellness work” debate is a bit confounding.

The potential benefits of wellness are many. Stronger talent retention, better employee engagement, higher productivity, health care savings—all are possible. The ability to get there, however, depends on your design and how you execute. An emphasis on short-term cost savings is probably misplaced. In our experience, health improvement is absolutely possible within a year, and savings within a couple—with the right design and a commitment to stick with it. Wellness isn’t an event; it’s a process.

First, it’s important to know what you want to achieve. Our mantra is do what works, not what’s conventional. Be wary of designs that don’t change over time that use a one-size-fits-all model that assume “if you build it they will come,” that ignore work environment, or that don’t integrate your resources. For example, many traditional programs stratify populations and attempt to recruit individuals into intervention modalities by risk level. We’ve actually found that consumer choice, paired with data-driven decision support, works much better.

Unlocking the benefit of wellness really means designing for behavior, offering choice, and adapting based on what works. It means moving toward a broader view of the role of wellness—of engaging people in health, helping them live with conditions and make smarter use of health care. A modern wellness approach brings it all together.

"Consider using creative resources—or your wellness partner—to build campaigns that are locally relevant and responsive to your culture and to what works, and that cut through the clutter. Don’t assume one size fits all. "

Josh Stevens: Corporate wellness solutions, when done well, can unify the fragmented employer health consumer experience. Over the last 10 years, innovation in health IT has led to tremendous innovation for health products and services. This has resulted in employers purchasing their healthcare services from a portfolio of vendors instead of everything from a single health plan. 

Due to health innovation, while the quality of the products and services is consumerized, and better, the discrete parts of the health benefits do not “talk” to each other, and are not in a single, unified consumer experience with one set of data.  For example, most employers today have discrete vendors for: cost transparency, online health community, online health challenges, ACA incentives, HSAs, HRAs, biometrics, and telemedecine, to name a few.

By unifying the fragmented health benefits landscape, benefits rollout, communications, incentive compliance and reporting can be streamlined, made easier, allow for double or triple the utilization of health services offered to employees today, that are under-utilized due to the fragmentation and “messiness” that prevents most employees from even understanding what health benefits they have.

Additionally, by unifying the health benefits experience into one site, one profile, one login, one dashboard for the employer, both employer and employee can take better advantage and utilize their health benefits via a seamless consumer experience. 

MP: How do you recommend employers increase employee engagement when implementing a workplace wellness program?

KC: Let’s start by defining engagement. Health engagement is really about living consciously in healthful ways each day. Engagement in a program is one way to get there, but make sure you’re measuring something meaningful as you look to increase engagement.

In our experience, there is no magic bullet, but there is a success formula. Start with data. What do you know about your population? Where are the concentrations of risk? What has and hasn’t worked in the past? We use baseline data to segment and performance data to refine our approach over time. Communicating effectively is critical too. Consider using creative resources—or your wellness partner—to build campaigns that are locally relevant and responsive to your culture and to what works, and that cut through the clutter. Don’t assume one size fits all. Use multiple channels, and don’t forget about social.

Wherever possible, make employee engagement a cultural norm across natural social groups, and with your leadership. Do that, and watch what happens with your employees. Choice matters, a lot. Offer multiple ways to engage, and don’t forget to encourage engagement outside your formal program. Are people already using an app? Wearing a device? That’s fantastic—encourage it and give credit for it when it comes to rewards.

And rewards do matter, but reward design matters more. Timing, size, predictable or random—all matter. As importantly, find ways to identify and harness intrinsic motivation. When you do that, engagement is natural and sustained.

JS: In order to increase employee engagement in corporate wellness and health programs, there are four proven methods to drive sustained utilization:

  • Make the experience fun and social. When the work of health, health management and wellness is fun and social, consumers will choose-to-use the application.  When it’s boring or feels like work, employees will turn and run, not walk. Offering a user experience familiar to users that matches what they use in their day-to-day lives (i.e. social networks, mobile applications) maximizes sustained usage and engagement.

  • Integrate wellness with healthcare. Wellness as a stand-alone has proven to be an epic fail in the marketplace. However, wellness, when deeply integrated with and wrapped around health benefits, is a proven driver of health benefit utilization and health improvement. Few programs today do this well. By integrating health benefits with wellness, these programs are designed to reduce health risk factors in a personalized way that drives meaningful health outcomes.

  • Integrate wellness with HRIS. Integrating wellness with systems-of-record, such as HRIS, as well as health benefits, allows the employer to have a unified profile for employees and for the employer at the aggregate level to gain insight about how to manage health risks and costs and benefits utilization.  Integrating with HRIS also allows the employer to better personalize and target market the health management communications to the employee so the health, wellness, and benefits experience is personalized, relevant and endemic to the employee.

  • Build a list. The average employer has emails or cell phone numbers for under 20 percent of their benefitted employees.  The irony is that health benefits are rolled out by print communications, however they are consumed by online access and mobile app.  This “digital divide” in employer health communications results in inefficient and poor ability to market and drive awareness, utilization and usage of health benefits.

MP: What is one way you like to maintain/improve your own workplace wellness?

KC: We keep things fresh, offer choice, and localize our program whenever possible. We start with data—health risks captured via our interactive health assessment and biometric data captured at on-site screening events or via our national community access network. We use data to inform recommendations, and offer each individual an array of ways to engage. Many use an app or device that they chose on their own. They can easily sync these with their RedBrick account and get credit for their healthy activity. My own Fitbit connects via my smartphone to my RedBrick account and lets me earn premium credits by staying active.

Since we have behaviorally trained, enthusiastic health coaches right on-site, you never know what you might find going on. When the weather is nice, we offer afternoon yoga, strength, and cardio classes on our outdoor patio. When it’s not, we do group walks around the skyways in Minneapolis—you can see us coming from a distance in our red track jackets. For our frequent flyers, like me, we offer digital coaching interventions on various topics. We have a whole series of family-oriented Journeys for those who want to engage their children and significant others. We’ll typically run a social challenge a couple of times a year, using different formats, and focusing on different goals.

JS: We have adopted Consumer Directed Health Plans (CDHP) and coupled with our CDHP plan design incentives as allowed under the ACA (Obamacare.) This means, like our large, self-insured clients today, we offer our employees high-deductible health plans paired with health spending accounts they can use to manage how and what they spend on health care—with the first $1500 coming out the pocket of the employee before the company pays.  

This program is designed to improve our workplace wellness. On the incentive side, we offer our employees the majority of their deductible via health “credits” that we will deposit into their health spending accounts, if they take preventative measures, and maintain their health risk profile throughout the year.   We give our employees options of activities and outcomes that are both self-reported (logging daily goal progress) and validated (i.e. tracked with a wearable activity tracker device such as a Fitbit, or health metrics obtained via a biometric screening.) 

Overall, we design our incentive activities and outcomes that earn health credits as things employees can do on a daily basis to habituate behavior change. For instance, our employees can earn points for walking nine flights of stairs to our office each day, eating the healthy food we stock as snacks, and having walking 1:1 meetings with their colleagues and the executive team. We focus on health and wellness activities that can become part of a daily routine and integrated into the workflow of our company.