The “Wellness Wave” started about five years ago, and consultants said it would be the key to capping healthcare costs and, by the way, keeping employees happy. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, however. And there are some reasons why.
The bad-news numbers on wellness come from HR consultant Hewitt Associates, which asked employers that have various wellness programs to gauge employee participation.
- Only 4% of smokers took part in employer-sponsored smoking-cessation programs.
- Just 5% of overweight employees signed up for weight-reduction programs.
- One out every 10 employees who suffered from chronic ailments such as diabetes, asthma and heart disease took part in programs designed to address those problems, meaning of course that 90% of eligible employees ignored the programs.
What did work
Why didn’t those employee-sponsored programs work? The reasons are varied and complicated. So probably the better approach is to look at employers whose programs did work, in that they got decent participation and good results.
To learn about that, HR Morning conducted its own survey of 1,174 HR managers to ask about whether they linked wellness to health care and whether they were successful. The HR execs who said they had some success pointed to health-risk assessment as the key — and getting employees to understand that assessments were in their best interests, and not just a way for the company to save money.
That matches some other research by Hewitt that indicates companies have a lot more success with wellness when it starts with a health-risk assessment, in which the employee answers questions about his or her health and gets back a report on which health problems need to be addressed and how to address them.
Compare the low participation rates above with these tied to health-risk assessments:
- According to Hewitt, 55% of workers who completed a health-risk assessment say they’re taking the recommended action.
- 35% said they plan to take action.
- Only 10% of employees don’t plan to take action to improve their health, based on the health-risk assessment feedback.
Here’s a warning, though, about what makes health-risk assessments unsuccessful: The companies that got the worst results usually:
- Required employees to complete the assessment. That is, when the assessments were mandatory, employees pushed back by refusing to follow the recommendations of the assessments.
- Emphasized the money-saving aspect. When employees perceived the assessment was just another way to increase employer profits, failure was almost guaranteed.