Feature Article - January/February 2020

Wellness to Well-Being

Wellness Programming, Incentives & Reward Strategies

By Rick Dandes


Wellness programs have become a key ingredient in the package of benefits offered by many organizations as they seek to recruit, engage and retain quality employees in a tight labor market, with unemployment at its lowest rate in decades.

As wellness benefits expand, the trend in program design strategies have evolved as well. Organizations are taking a more holistic approach to an employee's entire "well-being." This is an approach that might include several dimensions of wellness, including occupational, emotional, social and financial well-being, said Tad Mitchell, president and CEO, Wellright, in Boston.

"Most of the initial wellness programs were more oriented toward biometrics, saving money and outcomes-based wellness," Mitchell said. "A lot of places still do that. But studies have found that people resist programs when you basically force them to be healthy and talk to coaches, all so they can get health insurance discounts."

This next generation of wellness programming, Mitchell said, "is what people are calling holistic wellness. As people get better in all these different areas of their lives, they just become better people—better employees. And better employees make better companies. That is how I see the evolution of wellness."

It begins with program design, suggested Susan Schierenbeck, director of client solutions, Hinda Incentives, Chicago.

What's different now, she said, is how wellness programs are being approached. It starts with program design, shaping out how you are going to reward specific activity. What is new and what is effective in terms of program design are part and parcel of the same conversation. "And so, when you think about wellness solutions, how they perform best is when they are part of an integrated strategy rather than standalone initiatives. That is the biggest shift in what I have seen in terms of program design. People are approaching wellness as a more holistic strategy, rather than as a series of tactical initiatives."

What's new, Schierenbeck said, is when wellness blends into an overarching concept of well-being. "That is truly when these types of programs are most effective."

Consider looking at well-being as a strategy instead of a wellness program, added Alicia Wilson, senior vice president, operations, Best and Brightest Programs, National Association for Business Resources, Warren, Mich. Identify the well-being mission, vision, areas of focus and success metrics (goals), she said. Identify the value on investment (VOI), as well as return on investment (ROI). Create a three- to five-year plan and use your metrics to know if you are achieving your goals, and update your strategy accordingly.

Wilson also offered a to-do checklist: Complete industry scorecards, review vendor reports, apply for reward and recognition programs, and consider employee surveys, she said.

"Analyze the usage of all benefits, including employee assistance programs (EAP), financial/retirement accounts, increase/decrease in retirement loans, increase/decrease in contribution amounts, short-term disability, long-term disability, workers' compensation, and safety and absenteeism data," she added.

Reviewing all these data points, Wilson said, will allow you to accumulate a holistic view of employees' well-being, while permitting you to pivot accordingly if the program is not hitting your goals.