Feature Article - March/April 2018

Wellness for Life

Motivate Employees to Adopt a Permanent Healthy Lifestyle

By Rick Dandes

Wellness Programs Work, But Things Can Go Wrong

Do wellness incentive programs work? When done right, yes. "But unfortunately," McEndree said, even though employee wellness programs are commonplace, only 20 to 40 percent of eligible employees participate in them, according to the Department of Labor. "There are ample opportunities for employers to get more out of their wellness programs," she concluded.

Total Wellness Founder and President Alan Kohll believes that "Companies must think about their strategies and not duplicate anyone else's strategies to be successful. You need to take your own fresh look at things and see if it really works for your population."

Kohll suggested running a pilot program with a small population before you spend lots of money. "We see companies that will switch their programs every two or three years because they don't get the results," he said. "So, you have to think about your strategy, re-evaluate it and make sure you're not spending so much money and not getting results."

Just remember, warned Aldana, "Anybody can have healthy behaviors for a few days or weeks. The key is to maintain healthy behaviors for years. As soon as you stop having healthy behaviors, as an employer, you stop getting the benefits."

Aldana said to watch out for what he calls "hollow engagement: employees going through the motions of participating in the wellness programming, but their hearts are not in it. They are essentially being forced to participate. No one likes to be forced to do anything, and forcing people to be healthy is never going to work." Aldana tells of a large company that told employees if they did not participate in their wellness program, not only did they not receive a discount on their insurance premium, but they also were required to pay the full amount of the cost of their insurance. By not participating, they would have to pay the employee and the employer portion of their healthcare costs, about $1,500 a month. Naturally everyone participated.

"The program," Aldana said, "had great participation but terrible engagement. Without sincere, honest engagement from employees, it's impossible to have successful wellness outcomes."

Having programs in which all employees can participate to the extent they are able, noted Ozer, makes them work better and makes them comply with regulations and avoid lawsuits. "People also can't be pushed to do activities that are not appropriate to their lifestyle, fitness level, age and medical conditions," he added.