August 6, 2021
In a Springbuk blog post from November of 2020, Jennifer Jones , population health practice leader, stated that since March 1, 2020, telemedicine visits increased 3800%. Employers across the U.S. have struggled to engage their employees, as in-person physician visits decreased and preventive exams went ignored. With the COVID-19 vaccine now readily available to Americans over age 12, one question employers now face is “How do we encourage our population to seek preventive care going forward?”
The Healthiest Employers program surveyed the 2021 applicants to see how finalists and high performing organizations are engaging their workforce and continuing to execute successful wellness programming.
Communication Goes Both Ways
While it sounds simple, when working with an unresponsive group the most important thing is communication. High scoring organizations, like Baylor College of Medicine, report that they use as many as 30 different channels to communicate offerings with employees including email, customized push notifications, employee handbooks, and social media platforms.
While a generic email or text message can provide an abundance of information, each employee in an organization is different and will have different wants and needs when it comes to health. If someone feels as though their needs aren’t being addressed, then they aren’t going to participate in a program, plain and simple. For employees to feel valued, they want to contribute to the program creation and the means you take to listen should be just as abundant and simple as the means you take to educate.
Allowing employees to provide feedback, input, and constructive remarks will increase program participation and include diverse groups among the population. Based on our Healthiest Employers data from the 2021 year, roughly 88% of employers consider employee interest and feedback when planning and evaluating programs for the following year.
If you’re struggling to get started communicating, start with a smaller focus group and identify daily challenges, common burnout experiences, and employee expectations. With this group, come up with two or three initial events and programs that can be implemented in a short period of time. Continue to survey, ask, and listen to build and improve. Jessica Lopez, chief of staff at U-Haul, advises not to implement too many programs at once, as it becomes difficult to find what sticks. As it becomes obvious what employees are interested in, continue modifying each quarter or year, depending on your plans.
While nearly 9 in 10 companies consider employee feedback when building a wellness program, only 42% of Healthiest Employers applicants indicated that they consider social determinants when modifying their offerings. Location and living conditions, language and culture, and biology and genetics all greatly affect whether or not an employee will (or can) participate in programming.
Utilizing cultural leaders and volunteers can help identify and break down these barriers. By learning more about employees’ cultures and what might be driving their engagement, or lack thereof, in wellness programs, company leaders can connect on a social and cultural level to employees and communicate in ways that have not been explored before. Pausing to identify if a barrier is social, cultural, language related, or personal can make all the difference in actually breaking it down and leading to more communication. Communication is the key to breaking down barriers, and a deeper understanding of individual employees’ circumstances gives way to foundations of trust, encouragement, and active participation.
Chuck Gilespie, CEO of the National Institute of Wellness, stated, “If your initiatives and programs do not engage in your entire population that you serve, then you are failing to provide an environment that allows for all people to function optimally.”
Companies must take the time to understand their communities and neighborhoods to begin breaking down any barriers that stand in the way of employee health. Each community is different; each group of employees have various obstacles and hindrances that come between them and their ability to participate in wellness programs. Understanding them as much as possible and modifying offerings accordingly make a world of a difference.
Incentives are an easy way to engage employees. In an anonymous survey conducted in our June newsletter, one respondent quoted, “Incentives really work for us in our wellness program. Sometimes we will host a drawing for anyone who submits a survey indicating they got their screening done (with HIPAA compliance) or we have a benefit offering that puts money back into their HSAs and HRAs for completion of an activity. Even something as simple as awarding team points works well, as our population is naturally competitive! We love the idea of winning as a team!”
Incentives ensure that employees feel their involvement is seen and appreciated and pushes them to do more. In addition to increasing motivation and participation, incentives have a lot of room for uniqueness as well. Showing employees their work and participation means something to the business is crucial in boosting morale and lowering non-participant rates. Additionally, incentives allow employees to feel more connected to their coworkers and their work, and therefore feel more compelled to positively contribute to imperative aspects of work such as wellness programs and preventive care.
Encouraging wellness post-pandemic can seem daunting in a time when people are only connected virtually. By taking things step-by-step and understanding what motivates employees, companies can act on this and offer some of the human interactions that so many people miss. Incentives remind employees of all the ways they can better connect with their work environment, and therefore contribute to their health and create strong foundations of post-pandemic preventive care.
Provide Value, Not Return
In business, we are constantly fixated on “how much is this going to cost us?” Instead, let’s turn our focus to “how much is this going to help us?” We mentioned that 88% of employers use employee feedback for strategic planning and proving the ROI of their programming. We are stuck on this idea of return on investment when we should focus on the true value of wellness programming.
Only 44% of applicants indicated that they track employee retention, 56% use biometric screening data, and 53% utilize reductions in chronic conditions to prove the value of programming. In 2018, the CDC reported that 51.8% of adults in America had at least one chronic condition.
Statistically speaking, if over half of a company’s employees are living with chronic conditions, yet said company isn’t even tracking their progress, that means half of the employees are not being appropriately cared for by their employers and their needs are not being met. How do we expect employees to perform at their best when they don't feel their best?
These data points are the true testimony to wellness programming, as these are the stories that are changing and affecting the lives of our employees, both in and out of the workplace.
About Haley Elmore
Haley Elmore is a strategic marketer, leading the Healthiest Employers Awards Program. She brings a diverse sales and marketing background, with expertise in customer service, data analysis, and event planning. Haley joined the Springbuk team in February of 2019 as a Business Development Representative. She continuously surpassed her quarterly goals and was promoted to her current role as the Healthiest Employers Coordinator, where she supports the program's growth and continued success. Haley is a graduate of Purdue University and is currently pursuing a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Health Economic Policy and Administration from Ball State University.