Feature Article - November/December 2014

All Shall Be Well

A Healthier Workforce Equals Healthier Production

By Deborah L. Vence

Making a Choice

A wellness incentive program used to mean a lot of different things—a gym membership or even a poster on a wall with images and words of inspiration to help motivate employees to improve their health.

Now, it means something more.

"As always, choice is the most important thing to motivate someone to do something differently," said Louise Anderson, vice president, recognition sales division, Business Impact Group, Chanhassen, Minn. "[Companies] are looking at the benefits of a healthier workforce less sick days and [being] more productive at work."

Amy Kramer, wellness solution design strategist for Maritz Motivation Solutions, agreed. "Choice is a huge trend to be a part of what people choose, in terms of wellness," Kramer said. "When you do look at wellness holistically, where people can engage in wellness, you are allowing them to engage in ownership of that. If you offer just a health assessment or health risk assessment, you might not get the correct information. And, [as a result], it can be demotivating."

As companies continue to offer wellness incentive programs, industry experts reveal some of the newest developments in this area.

But, when you offer employees a pedometer or rewards for making healthier choices, you are giving them an opportunity to choose an avenue of wellness.

"There is accountability tied to it," Kramer said. "Choice is a huge trend."

In addition, a big shift is occurring in how wellness programs are coming to life.

"There is a focus on creating a conducive environment," Kramer said. "We are also creating an environment for them, an organization for them that makes it more conducive; helping employees engage in taking different breaks."

For instance, a more favorable environment might involve creating a walking path to help employees become more physically active.

"There also are trends in standing desks, exercise balls, treadmill desks. You can actually have a walking meeting, [and be] walking as you're talking. Also, there are meditation areas and on-site physicians who can help with prevention," she added.

Anderson noted that other trends in wellness incentive programs include the billions of dollars being spent on electronic health devices. Such popular devices include fitness-tracking wristbands by Nike, for instance, that can track the intensity of your workouts, or a bio wristband that is designed to track your sleep hours.

"Anybody in the techno interest arena is intrigued by them. Some may have issues because of lack of sleep, or they just want to get better sleep. Those health devices are wildly crazy and our retail clients [want to know], how do I take all 100,000 and get them on board to better sell these devices? Everybody is working harder than ever before," Anderson said.

She noted that in her company's client base they re-launch their wellness initiatives on their company recognition site every year, around open enrollment.

"The trend is to publicize what has worked for our clients and peers and how the company continues to support their employees in making healthy choices," she said. "The launch gifts have been water bottles, nice thermal lunch bags (vs. buying out of the vending machines or eating fast food)."

Today, they are still giving water bottles, although more high-end and wellness devices that have electronic monitoring of activity that integrate with the company's clients' wellness third party.

"Our clients all reward with points for their employees and some for their insured family members that enroll in a wellness activity, and reward even more points if they complete the online engagement steps," Anderson said. "In the past our client wanted just wellness items like exercise equipment, bicycles, skateboards, yoga mats, exercise tapes and weight loss membership enrollments, etc., as the awards.

"The feedback was that having a smaller award selection than what they have for their performance-based rewards was not as motivating. Today, there are thousands of awards that participants can redeem for that enable them to combine their wellness awards, their performance awards and company-wide recognition awards to get an award of their choice," she added.

Other developments in wellness incentives include an announcement in June by O.C. Tanner—a human resource consulting and services company that designs and helps implement employee recognition programs for clients in the United States, Canada, and Europe—about the creation of Tanner Labs, its new research and development arm. Tanner Labs developed an employee wellness and recognition platform built around wearable technology, mobile apps, social media and other innovations.

Tanner Labs unveiled its first applications, Welbe and Gratzi, at the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) Conference and Expo in June. Welbe is an application designed to provide corporate wellness program administrators and company leaders with aggregate information about the overall well-being of their organization. It leverages wearable devices, mobile apps and employee submitted data to aggregate company-wide and individual worker well-being. Biometrics, financial, social, nutrition and career data all can be gathered and analyzed, with challenge activities and incentives to meet goals set by employers.