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Employee engagement: Your key to Wellness Program success
Employee engagement: Your key to Wellness Program success
By Kelly Sutton, MBA, CCWS, Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist
Many employers have developed wellness programs to help manage health care costs and foster a workplace culture of wellness. These well meaning initiatives often start strong, but typically suffer from waning interest and lagging participation over time. Research shows that keeping employees fully engaged in the wellness process is key to long-term success.
How ‘well’ is your wellness program?
Many companies have spent considerable resources gathering biometric, health assessment, claims and employee survey data. The question is: What should be done with all that data? Having a wellness partner can be helpful.
A professional wellness partner can help you look critically at your company’s unique culture and create long-term wellness strategies that work. A wellness consultant can help identify risks and opportunities, based upon your own data to answer important questions such as:
• How engaged are your employees in the wellness process? 
• What is the current wellness culture of your organization?
• How can you move your wellness program to the next level?
Wellness programs typically bring about a 3:1 return on investment within three to five years. A majority of those employers that have analyzed the financial impact of their wellness programs have found $1 to $3 decreases in their overall health care costs for every wellness dollar spent, according to a report from the International Foundation.1 This reports details how companies experiencing a positive ROI are more likely to have a broader value-based health care strategy that offers initiatives such as health screenings, stress management programs, health risk assessments and fitness and nutrition programs.
Measuring what matters
While controlling costs and saving money is important, it shouldn’t be the only target to measure a wellness program by. Other metrics, such as a workforce’s average Body Mass Index (BMI), blood pressure or cholesterol levels, may be useful measurements, too.
At Aurora Health Care, we understand the important role that health and wellness play, as both a large employer (approximately 30,000 employees) and as a leading health care provider. We recognized that the greatest opportunity to improve the health of our own employees was to help them become more fit through regular exercise, achieving a healthy weight and promoting positive lifestyle choices.
By designed wellness initiatives focused on achieving healthy weight, our employees shed more than 44 tons of excess weight during the past three years. Other notable wellness achievements include:
• 13% improvement in HRA “lifestyle” scores
• 56% participation rate in healthy weight alternative activities
Sharing a wellness commitment from the top down
Aurora’s CEO and senior leaders routinely share their compelling vision of wellness through blogs and other communications. This vision includes why wellness should matter to every employee — helping them understand the connection between lifestyle choices, their healthcare costs and their personal well being.
Having open two-way communication and transparency is key. Communicating an organization’s wellness outcomes (both the good and the not-so-good) helps build trust along the way. Companies must remain focused and stay the course. As the saying goes: It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Moving a corporate wellness program to the next level requires generating excitement around your initiatives. To keep your offerings fresh, mix it up. Try not to repeat the exact same programs or incentives, year after year.
Create some social media buzz — it’s free, too!
To avoid boredom and falling participation rates, liven up your wellness offerings by tapping into social networking. Social media allows employees to challenge each other in wellness activities and can increase participation. These online peer-to-peer interactions tend to increase employee participation and engagement.
Consider creating Facebook® groups for your employees, tailored to their specific wellness interests and fitness goals. With social networking, employees can create their own groups to share the progress they are making toward their goals. Being “connected” through social networking can help employees stick with the program long-term. Somehow working toward your wellness goals seems easier (and more fun) when you’re not going it alone.
Through social media, employers can post health and wellness information, share employee success stories of their wellness achievements and promote upcoming health and wellness events in their community.
Social media can encourage healthy, friendly competitions between different departments, locations or between one organization and its competitor. Wellness challenges can be related to weight loss, exercise or team challenges that benefit non-profit charities, such as fund-raising runs or walks.
Incentives and subsidies can drive participation and engagement
At Aurora, employees can earn approximately $1,000 per year in “wellness credits,” with incentives tied to both outcomes and participation. In addition, more than 6,500 of our employees and their insured spouses take advantage of our health club membership subsidy.
A customized approach pays dividends
More and more organizations are using wellness incentives and communication tools such as social networking to achieve a positive return on their wellness investment. Customized wellness strategies tailored to your workplace can encourage a wellness culture that helps manage health care costs over time — while improving your employees’ health, happiness and productivity in the process. 
  1. “A Closer Look: Wellness ROI,” International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, 2012.
Kelly Sutton, MBA, CCWS, is a certified corporate wellness specialist. She serves as Aurora’s Wellness Program Manager. To learn more, visit AuroraEmployerSolutions.org 
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