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Organizational and Leadership Support Are Key Drivers of Wellness Program Outcomes

The benefits of improving employee wellbeing are many. That’s why employers continue to invest time and money to improve personal and workplace well-being. But what good is a wellbeing initiative if employees don’t participate?

Holding out for a HERO

Organizations are eager to uncover the secret sauce that drives participation and engagement in workplace wellbeing initiatives and to understand how to ensure initiatives improve health and business outcomes. A recent study from the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) sheds some light on the best practice areas that give employers more bang for their wellness buck.

While past research has shown that incentives can encourage people to complete simple behaviors, such as taking a health assessment or biometric screening, what has always been in question is whether incentives lead to longer-term behavior change. 

The HERO study, which included data from 812 companies composed of more than 4.7 million employees, found that:

  • Organizational and leadership support are the most consistent predictors of participation, health impact, and how supportive employees perceive their employers to be. 
  • Incentives are an effective predictor of participation in both health assessments and biometric screenings.

Where the dollars belong

Researchers were careful to caution that while best practice areas like employee communications, comprehensive programs, and strategic planning still matter and should not be overlooked, companies should not expect the same level of outcomes if they don’t invest in organizational and leadership support.

Organizations that want to enhance their focus in these key areas can consider the following activities:

  • Connect employee health and wellbeing initiatives to broader business results, such as increased revenue, profitability, overall success, and sustainability. 
  • Develop a formal, written strategic plan for health and wellbeing.
  • Use employee wellness champions or ambassadors to promote health and wellbeing.
  • Support mid-level managers and supervisors in their efforts to improve the health and wellbeing of their teams. 
  • Provide regular updates on program performance to leadership, employees, spouses, and program partners. 
  • Implement workplace policies that encourage healthy behaviors, such as allowing employees to participate in fitness or stress management activities during the workday, and offering healthy dining options at company-sponsored events.
  • Consistently communicate about wellbeing to all employees in targeted ways.
  • Invite employee participation and feedback on wellbeing initiatives.
  • Encourage leaders to participate in programs, servingas role models for work-life balance. 
  • Offer financial incentives for specific activities, such as completing health assessments or screenings.
  • Allow benefit-eligible spouses/partners to earn incentives. 

Ultimately, companies can do a lot of “stuff” in an effort to improve workplace wellbeing, but this research demonstrates that, while a comprehensive wellbeing program is an employer’s best bet, investing in leadership and organizational support along with a smart incentive strategy are must haves for achieving optimal outcomes.

Jessica Grossmeier, Ph.D., Vice President of Research, Health Enhancement Research Organization & Steven Noeldner, Ph.D., Senior Total Health Management Consultant, Mercer, [email protected]

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