5 strategies to help improve workplace well-being programs

By Rebecca Madsen, Chief Consumer Officer, UnitedHealthcare

Companies across the country continue to invest in well-being programs to help improve employees’ health and curb care costs. In fact, mid-sized and large employers are expected to spend an average of $3.6 million on well-being programs during 2019, according to a study by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH).

Bolstered by these investments, many employees and their families are reporting positive outcomes from these initiatives. Among people with access to employer-sponsored well-being programs, 57% said the initiatives had a positive effect on their health, according to the 2019 UnitedHealthcare Wellness Checkup Survey.

With summer approaching, now is an opportune time for your clients to start or refine their well-being programs by considering these tips:  

Modify lifestyle choices

As many as 80% or more of the incidence of premature chronic conditions, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes, are caused by modifiable lifestyle choices — such as risk factors like smoking or obesity — as opposed to being caused by genetic factors, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With that in mind, employers should consider ways to encourage healthier choices throughout the workday, such as hosting walking meetings, offering onsite fitness equipment or classes, or providing the option for a stand-up desk. In the break and lunch rooms, stock healthy options and mark them with stickers, offer a free or discounted salad bar, or organize healthy-cooking demonstrations to help reinforce the importance of a balanced diet.     

Leverage big data

To make the most of employee-engagement programs, employers should take advantage of big data. New online resources may help employers analyze and make sense of health data, taking into account aggregate medical and prescription claims, demographics, and clinical and well-being information. This can provide an analytics-driven roadmap to help employers implement tailored programs, such as identifying locations with the highest rates of diabetes and then introducing weight-management programs to help improve prevention and management.    

Make incentives matter

Mid-sized and large employers this year will offer an average per-employee well-being incentive of $762, according to the NBGH study. While meeting or exceeding that amount might be a challenge for some employers, offering significantly less runs the risk that only people who are already focused on fitness will participate. For perspective, the Wellness Checkup Survey found that among people who said it would require an incentive for them to devote at least an hour each day toward health-related activities, more than half (53%) said between $1 and $3 per day would motivate them to achieve that target.  

Support socializing 

Recent research shows that meaningful relationships may be crucial for overall health. By incorporating social components into your well-being program, it is possible that more people will participate. In fact, the Wellness Checkup Survey found that over half (57%) of respondents said they are more likely to participate in a fitness routine if there is a social component, either in-person or virtually. Popular strategies include walking groups, employee appreciation days and team-building activities such as volunteer events.       

Beat burnout

Most employees (88%) said meditation, or mindfulness, has a positive impact on a person's overall health, according to the Wellness Checkup Survey. To encourage mindfulness, some companies are devoting office space for “relaxation rooms” to help employees lower their stress levels, while others are introducing online or phone-based mindfulness programs. Other options include passing out “mindfulness kits” that include caffeine-free tea, stress balls, journals or flyers with tips related to meditation.      

More than two-thirds (67%) of companies plan to expand their well-being programs over the next few years, according to a recent NBGH study. By applying these strategies, employers can make the most of these efforts. 

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