By Pam Mortenson, Health Advocate Solutions
“How are you?” is perhaps the most common greeting in American culture, whether it’s in the workplace or in a social setting. But how often do people respond with, “Great! My body mass index is 23, and my total cholesterol is 165”?
Almost never, because when the typical American assesses how he or she is, physical health is just one component of wellness. It’s hard to respond with “Great, and you?” if someone’s child is having trouble in school or if they are wrestling with choosing a long-term care facility for a parent. The same is true if someone is struggling to pay bills or save for retirement, or if stress in the workplace has become unmanageable.
That’s why corporate wellness programs are shifting towards a more holistic approach that includes solutions to address financial, emotional, and mental health. Adding these components to traditional physical health approaches, such as weight loss challenges or smoking cessation programs, can help boost desired outcomes, including reduced absenteeism, improved employee engagement, and lower medical claims for stress-related illnesses.
Emotional and Mental Well-Being
While many employers have Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that employees can leverage in a crisis, a newer approach to emotional and mental well-being meets employees where they are and regularly connects with them to help assess and reduce stress in and out of the workplace. One key to success is offering customized solutions, versus a traditional EAP model that relies only on one-on-one, in-person meetings with a counselor. Leveraging an interactive, multi-channel approach (giving employees the option of in-person, online, phone, app, or text) for stress reduction or crisis intervention may help increase employees’ comfort with such programs, and ultimately drive engagement.
For instance, some employees may prefer to go it alone, using text reminders to take a break and walk around, or to practice deep breathing exercises. Some might even prefer a group meditation class, while still others would like to take advantage of discounts for massage or acupuncture. Many employers are finding ways to incentivize employees to work toward stress management goals, as well as fitness or healthy eating objectives, since all three go hand-in-hand to promote wellness and prevent or better manage chronic conditions.
Once your company is ready to embark on building a well-being program structured towards the complete mind-body connection, consider the following:
Assess health and culture: In order to inform the structure of a holistic well-being program, it is critical to understand which issues are the most important to the organization’s workforce. For example, a recent report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce suggests surveying employees to learn more about the current culture and what types of programs might be well-received.
Avoid cookie-cutter programs: A one-size-fits-all approach to wellness is not effective for most employees. For example, it may seem logical that a workforce where 75% of employees have hypertension may benefit from increased physical activity, but what if a majority have high blood pressure due to lack of medication adherence? In that case, a medication adherence program tailored to those employees would have the most impact.
Communicate often: In addition to understanding the types of programs employees are interested in, it is also useful to learn their communication preferences. Whether via phone, text, email, or another channel, reaching employees where they are will have the most impact. Further, consistent communications from the organization, including emails, posters, and intranet announcements, will help raise awareness and keep the program top-of-mind for employees.
Offer a mix of incentives: Because participation in wellness programs must be voluntary, incentives continue to be an effective means to get employees involved, and offering a mix over time can encourage initial as well as ongoing participation.
Evaluate the program continuously: By leveraging the initial aggregate data as a baseline, it will be possible to see year-over-year improvements to employee health, finances, productivity, and more. This also provides a great opportunity to tweak the mix of well-being offerings to meet the changing needs of an evolving workforce and continue to see the benefits.
Find the right partner: Customizing wellness programs for maximum impact need not be an added burden to the HR or benefits team. Choose a wellness vendor that can work with the company to develop personalized programs across a variety of channels to meet employees’ unique needs.
Health Advocate Solutions from West offer professional, short-term assistance and work/life resources, as well as support to help resolve healthcare and insurance-related issues if needed. Licensed, professional counselors work with employees to address stress, depression, family issues, substance abuse, and more. Through innovative coaching methodologies and engagement practices, combined with advanced health data analysis, Health Advocate creates customized wellness plans for each employee.