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Monday, September 24, 2007

Getting the message across

Employee Benefit Adviser

By Molly Bernhart

September 1, 2007

Wellness programs are continuing to grow in popularity — as a method of curbing rising health care costs and as a feature to compliment newly adopted consumer-driven health plans. Now, advisers, the people known for analyzing hard numbers and assessing ROI, are jumping on the wellness bandwagon en masse.

It's clear that employers are asking for it and advisers are ready to deliver.

Promoting wellness

Many health and productivity experts believe the key to a successful wellness program is promoting a "culture of wellness" in the workplace. In larger companies, HR usually takes on the task of promoting health at work, while working with their wellness company. However, small- to mid-size employers need more day-to-day assistance from the carrier and an adviser often helps the carrier put the wellness communication strategies into action.

"Most of the larger employers tend to be more focused on the medical side of this, controlling the double digit premium increases. But the smaller companies really take a cultural stand. They want to employ strategies that educate and engage employees to change lives," says Atkinson.

Communication and health promotion are important to employers; but the information gathered from a wellness program can also help determine the mode of communication that works best for a workforce. Cooper looks at medical claim data to make a skeleton of the plan before conducting screenings and health risk assessments of the workforce. This information helps determine the health promotion technique they will use.

Ted Dacko, president and CEO of HealthMedia, a wellness company that focuses on web-based interventions, says filling out an HRA isn't enough to form a plan. HRAs don't necessarily help determine the best mode of communication, says Dacko. In addition to the traditional HRA administration, employees are also asked questions to help determine their demographic background, motivations, self confidence and their perceived barriers to becoming healthy. That helps HealthMedia tailor communications to the individual to increase the odds they will improve health behaviors.

Cooperating on communication

After steady and significant health care cost increases, Vought Aircraft Industries sought solutions in a wellness program. "You can't use plan design to eliminate costs. That comes down to making the workforce healthier," says Tom Stubbins, VP of Human Resources at Vought.

"We knew we needed both sides — someone expert in data gathering, data analysis and a Web site. We needed that information tracking piece of it. We also knew we needed people on the ground," says Stubbins.

"I don't think this will work at all if we don't have the employees behind it," says Stubbins.

Developing committees was an invaluable strategy for Vought to get information out to employees at various locations. It also allowed them to discuss how they wanted to tweak the wellness plan at each location and appoint champions to spread enthusiasm for the plan.

Vought set up meetings about the new wellness program — an especially effective technique for manufacturing employees. Atkinson says touching employees with information as early and as often as possible is critical in the success of a plan.



A recipe for wellness communications that work...

By Editorial Staff

Workscape's "7 Steps to a Healthier Wellness Program" white paper (available at workscape.com) provides tips for advisers who are taking a hands-on approach to wellness implementation or for advisers trying to compare communication techniques of various wellness programs.

Workscape says wellness communications should be:

  • Integrated. The communications meet employee expectations and don't come across as "outsider-ish" intrusions into a corporate culture.
  • Branded. Use corporate branding to create a greater sense of trust and loyalty.
  • Blended. A mixture of printed materials, emails and a Web portal or microsite to reach all employees in the most convenient manner.
  • Dynamic. Personalized communications through various communication channels.