If just one theme could be picked for Human Resource Executive’s 2018 Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, it would be whole-person wellness. The 2019 conference, which will run April 24 to 26 at the Aria in Las Vegas, will undoubtedly raise the bar, elevating whole-person wellness and employee well-being with sessions filled with action-based takeaways.

The power of choice

According to the experts at the 2018 conference, instead of offering blanket benefits that check a box, employers should personalize benefits to the individual employee. That’s not to say give every single person within an organization a customized plan — instead, it’s about choices.

While many sessions targeted pieces of the overall wellness-program puzzle, one in particular addressed the five key strategies needed for a wellness plan to work, aptly titled “5 Strategies for Crafting a Wellness Plan That Really Works.” During this session, Eva Allen, director of client and customer engagement at Cigna, and Rob Thurston, president of the HR Consulting Group, told the audience that any successful wellness program needs to start with a culture of well-being — which involves a multi-year, multi-prong strategy that includes a focus on better health, engagement and savings.

Better health means employees understand and know how to utilize their benefits, while better engagement involves companies proactively communicating about wellness programs and tracking participation to find what works well and what needs improvement. Finally, better savings means organizations should be able to answer the following question: “How will this culture of well-being measurably reduce risk across my bottom line?”

From there, Allen and Thurston revealed the following five strategies that will need to be embedded into the new culture of well-being:

1. Assessment

“All the clients I’ve worked with at Cigna have said they want happy, health productive employees who … understand how to better manage medical needs.” said Allen. “And collecting all this information is just the first step.” HR leaders then need to enter a “discovery phase” to assess the organization for population health data, demographics, risks and utilization of current wellness programs. Once all of this has been determined, then it’s time to look at the best-in-class strategies needed to create an effective well-being program.

2. Innovation

Integrating technology and wellness is a no-brainer in today’s age of wearables, apps and other wellness products. This approach can also take the pressure of incentivizing wellness programs off HR leaders’ shoulders because it can all be built into one seamless integrated portal for employees and families. There are numerous apps that have truly revolutionized managed healthcare. Allen mentioned one app that takes biometric data and identifies people who are prediabetic. From there, these users are given a coach and are started on a multi-week program to get them on the path to controlling their health.

3. Mindfulness

The third strategy is all about mindfulness, which, Allen said, goes beyond instituting a meditation break during work or building an on-site nap room — yes, one of her clients actually built one! Mindfulness also involves examining existing efforts, such as employee-assistance programs, and building them out and integrating them with other care. For example, she said, a standard EAP is a good tool for helping to manage chronic stress, but it doesn’t usually benefit employees with serious mental-health concerns, such as depression and substance abuse. The EAP needs to be wrapped together with total behavioral-health support, she said, such as case managers who help with inpatient and outpatient care.

Another innovative wellness opportunity to wrap into the total behavioral-health package is behavioral-health first aid. That approach requires that leaders, wellness champions and managers be trained on what to do if an employee admits to needing help for a mental-health problem and how to effectively intervene if they sense a colleague may have a behavioral-health problem.

4. Convenience

The fourth strategy is convenience, or simply making it easy for employees to make the right health choices. This could be as simple as deciding what food will be offered in vending machines: Candy and soda? Or fruit and water? A step above that is color-coding cafeteria foods by the three shades of a traffic light: Red for food that should be eaten rarely and only in small quantities; yellow for food that should be eaten in moderation; and green, which signifies healthy food.

Allen also shared a case example from one of Cigna’s clients, Bridgepoint, which implemented an on-site wellness clinic with a well-being coordinator. The clinic alone increased the percentage of employees receiving preventative care to 75 percent, while health-assessment-completion rates reached 70 percent and the company saw a savings of $750,000 in the first year alone.

5. Motivation

Finally, Allen said, the last strategy is likely the most important of them all. “What motivates you and your employees?” she asked the audience. “Is it family, money, a combination of the two?” Figuring out how employees balance these motivations will propel well-being program usage and employee engagement, she said.

To build a true culture of well-being requires meeting all of these steps, from assessment through motivation, Allen said, adding that all multi-year, multi-prong strategies require trial and error.

“You may need to tweak something that didn’t work,” she said, “but if you have this wellness dashboard of information about your employees’ demographics, motivations, health status and overall goals, you can constantly evolve your strategy to keep it fresh and relevant and tailored to your organization and people.”