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Employee Wellbeing

The New Employee Wellness Initiative

Employee Wellness is an important aspect of modern business. Most employers offer at least one Wellness Initiative — and companies spend about $8 billion on employee wellness programs. But recent data indicates that more needs to be done to make these initiatives truly effective — just 32 percent of employees think their employer’s well-being program had led them to a healthier lifestyle, and only 56 percent of employers thought these programs were effective.

“Your program has to be more than just gym memberships and healthy snacks,” says Christine Muldoon, vice president of marketing and strategy at WebMD Health Services. “You have to provide a ‛whole person’ view of wellness.”

Whole person health

The key, Muldoon says, is the individual approach. “Wide-ranging programs (the average U.S. business offers a whopping 15 programs to support the health and emotional well-being) often lead to a confusing and impersonal experience — which can be less engaging and unsuccessful,” she notes. “Employers need to consider the multiple generations of employees they are serving — for example, 50 percent of the workforce is comprised of millennials, and emotional wellbeing is a high priority for this generation. At WebMD Health Services, we focus on five dimensions of well-being: physical, emotional, social, financial, and clinical.” 

In explaining the “whole person” approach to well-being, Muldoon uses weight loss as an example. “If you only focus on weight loss, you are missing the whole person view, the other positive results such as sleeping better, feeling happier, being more positive, and no longer having to take certain medications.” 

Daily habits

Making a wellness initiative effective can be challenging. Enter behavioral science. WebMD has developed a program called Daily Habits, a part of their WebMD ONE well-being platform that uses behavioral change techniques to ensure healthy lifestyle changes become permanent.

“People can be overwhelmed by the thought of changing lifelong bad habits,” Muldoon notes. “The science of behavior change is at the core of understanding what motivates people to make those changes. This starts with the identification of health goals along with understanding each individual’s environment, obstacles, and health status. By leveraging these insights and dividing that goal into a variety of small, manageable actions, programs can help people form healthy habits in a way that considers their personal situation — and shifts them away from those bold, broad resolutions that individuals can’t sustain and often set them up for failure.”

Behavioral science also teaches us that rewards are essential to lasting change—and the more personal the reward, the more motivating it is. “Coffee is my reward,” Muldoon admits. “If I exercise first, I reward myself with my morning coffee. Immediate rewards that are tied to an accomplishment is important to help form a habit.”

Employee engagement

Of course, to make any program like this truly effective, employees must be engaged and not merely going through the motions. “I recommend three keys to truly engaging employees in their wellness programs,” Muldoon says. “The first is leadership support: Senior leaders and frontline managers should lead by example. The second is onsite support: Onsite wellness coordinators and wellness champion teams to generate interest and sustain engagement. Lastly, don’t expect employees to interact without promotion of the program—leverage effective, consistent communications and promotional materials to reach your entire population.”

Programs like Daily Habits and health coaching are having an impact. “Behavior change is not easy,” Muldoon admits, “but effective programs can motivate people to change life-long habits. In 2019 our coaches helped participants lose over 394,000 pounds, exercise an additional 2.5 million minutes, and smoke over 8,000 fewer cigarettes. All by focusing on small, meaningful steps.”

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