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Forging a Path to Employee Wellness

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For years, employers have strived to engage their employees in their personal wellness and drive them meaningful behavior change that leads to healthier lives.

And while every employee likely wants to be healthy and avoid expensive medical treatments and chronic diseases, most lack the knowledge, motivation or tools to be successful. As such, employers run the risk and cost burden of operating with a less healthy, less productive workforce. Combined with absenteeism and presenteeism, rising medical costs continue eating away at many companies’ profit margins.

Benefits professionals and HR managers understand the issues at hand and have used traditional wellness programs as vehicles to improve employee health and wellness. Unfortunately, these programs have generated poor engagement.

While participation may have been reported in the 10% to 80% range for some organizations, that number drops to single digits when you look at true behavioral impact. Further, these programs are largely ineffective at facilitating employee engagement, but it’s not the programs that should shoulder the responsibility. Rather, the onus is on those who control their development and deployment.

The solution to these ineffective wellness programs lies in a company’s ability to change how employees view the programs as well as in the tools and challenges presented. For a wellness program to be truly effective, it must leverage modern health-care technology and be structured around the specific needs of a given company’s workforce, then personalized for each employee. Given that the average annual health-care cost for a single family of four is $26,994 (a 4.3% increase from 2016), according to the Milliman Medical Index, it will be more important than ever for employers to focus on engaging employees with their wellness program in order to lower health-care costs.

Creating a Culture of Health and Wellness
It is important to remember that technology is merely a component of how employers must modify their wellness strategies. While tech can serve as the foundation of a program, there also are important institutional and cultural aspects to consider. By doing so, companies can establish a true workplace culture of health and well-being, and improve not only how employees work, but also how they live. A company’s culture gives employees a framework for building and establishing a daily routine, interacting with co-workers and, most importantly, delivering improved understanding of the organization’s values and principles.

When health and wellness are part of a company’s culture, they affect employees’ behaviors not only while they’re on the job, but throughout the entire day. While it’s true that different employees will have different needs and views of health, the culture a company establishes will influence the attitudes and actions of most employees.

In today’s world, creating a culture of health is an employee-centric initiative. It helps both a company’s brand and image when the culture is seen as a reflection of the organization’s commitment to employees.

The Convergence of Health Care and Mobile Tech
In the past, wellness programs focused on trying to help employees prevent the development of chronic conditions. Certain employers would encourage yearly medical screenings and doctor visits to detect the conditions early, but all this did was identify the health issue once it had set in.

Traditionally, this same approach was seen in the health-care sector. Today, medical professionals are shifting from a reactionary approach to medicine to a preventive approach. By encouraging patients to stay healthy and live healthy lives, certain conditions can be prevented before they ever occur — before an expensive medical treatment is even necessary.

Only around 19% of employers are encouraging employees to use mobile apps for condition management and health-risk reduction, according to Willis Towers Watson. This is a drastically low number that needs to change in order to drive increased engagement and improved health.

With advances in mobile communication and medical-device technology, providing employees with tools to manage their health has become significantly easier and economically efficient. Wellness programs allow employers to track and monitor data on a large scale. They also can deploy meaningful health-care technology on an enterprise scale and make it available to employees via their smartphones. These programs also can — very economically — be deployed to employees’ families, thus supporting everyone’s efforts to live healthier lives and avoid expensive chronic illnesses.

As mentioned, these tools don’t necessarily need to be confined strictly to health care. With a holistic approach to wellness, employers are better able to engage employees in the areas where they need the most support, regardless of their specific challenge.

For example, providing employees with a personal app for emotional and financial management or other service demonstrates the employer’s continued commitment to employees’ success in all aspects of life. Also, because stress is a major cause of chronic disease and illness, and because financial matters are the No. 1 cause of stress, taking an integrated approach positions a company in the right place to support its employees.

Only by developing wellness programs with these factors in mind will employees truly begin to take control of their wellness and make meaningful behavioral changes toward leading healthier lives. And that’s not only for themselves, but for their families as well.

By taking a comprehensive view of employee health and using a program that is equipped to support a holistic view of well-being, employers will begin attracting and retaining employees. In turn, organizations will reap the benefits of a healthier and more productive workforce, while also lowering costs, absenteeism and presenteeism.

About the Author
Dinesh Sheth is founder and CEO of Green Circle Health. Follow him on Twitter (@GreenCircleH).

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