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well-being programs

Making the Most of Wellness Programs

More people in Texas and across the country are gaining access to well-being programs that encourage consumers to adopt healthier lifestyles and, ideally, help curb health care costs. According to a recent study, 87 percent of employers are committed to workplace well-being efforts, and nearly 73 percent offer a program. 

These efforts are already producing results: Among people with access to employer-sponsored well-being programs, 57 percent said the initiatives had a positive effect on their health, according to the 2019 UnitedHealthcare Wellness Check Up Survey. Among those, 82 percent said they were motivated to pay more attention to their health; 63 percent said they increased physical activity; 59 percent improved their diet; and 30 percent reported improved sleep.

As people seek to improve their health habits, here are some tips to help consumers become healthier and make the most of their well-being programs: 

Modify Lifestyle Choices: As many as 80 percent 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, people should consider ways to make healthier choices throughout the workday, such as starting or participating in walking meetings, using onsite fitness equipment or taking advantage of biometric screenings, or opting for a stand-up desk. During breaks, choose healthier snacks such as fruits and vegetables, while go-to lunches can include a sandwich with a lean protein – such as turkey or chicken breast – or a visit to the salad bar. 

Earn Available Incentives: Mid-sized and large employers this year will offer an average per-employee well-being incentive of $762, according to a study by the National Business Group on Health. Check with your HR department to determine what well-being incentives might be available to you. For instance, some programs enable people to earn more than $1,000 per year by meeting certain daily walking goals. Other initiatives provide discounts on gym memberships and premium discounts for meeting various health benchmarks, such as a non-nicotine use or normal blood pressure. 

Start to Socialize: Recent research shows that meaningful relationships may be crucial for overall health. By incorporating social components into your well-being or fitness routine, you may be more likely to stick with it. The Wellness Check Up Survey found that over half of respondents said they are more likely to participate in a fitness routine if there is a social component, either in-person or virtually. Potential strategies include participating in walking groups, going to group fitness classes or joining recreational leagues such as basketball or tennis.       

Beat Burnout: Most employees said meditation, or mindfulness, has a positive impact on a person’s overall health, according to the Wellness Check Up Survey. To encourage mindfulness, ask your company to devote office space for “relaxation rooms” to help employees lower their stress levels, or inquire about adding an online or phone-based mindfulness program. For a do-it-yourself “mindfulness kit” to take with you to work, grab health-related items such as caffeine-free tea, a stress ball or a gratitude journal.       

Make the Most of Medicare: People eligible for Medicare – i.e., Americans 65 and older – can also take advantage of well-being programs and incentives. Medicare Advantage plans may offer rewards for actions that help you stay healthy and active, as well as additional wellness programs not available through Original Medicare. These can include fitness memberships, online brain games, nutritional support, and access to vitamins and over-the-counter health items at no additional cost.

How Companies Can Boost Their Employee Well-being Programs

An increasing number of companies are implementing well-being programs to help their employees live healthier lives, reduce health care costs, and improve employee productivity and satisfaction.

A recent employer survey by Willis Towers Watson found that 72 percent of U.S. companies “aim to improve their health and well-being strategies and programs over the next three years to differentiate themselves from organizations with which they compete for talent.”

In fact, more than half (53 percent) of employees with access to a company well-being program say the initiative has made a positive impact on their health, according to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey. Among those, 88 percent said the programs motivated them to pay more attention to their health, 67 percent said the initiatives helped them reduce their bodyweight, and 30 percent said the resources helped detect a disease or medical condition.

To help employers support their employees’ health goals, here are five “Cs” that may drive engagement and create a successful well-being program.

Commitment – Executive leadership must make wellness a priority by leading the program and creating a culture of well-being. It is important to set the tone for your organization and serve as “CEO of Well-being” by passionately and visibly supporting, participating in and communicating the importance of wellness. Also, mid-level managers and direct supervisors should also set the tone for their departments by informing, educating and motivating employees.

Communication – When it comes to well-being programs, don’t “launch it and leave it.” Establish communication touch-points throughout the year that reintroduce employees to the program and remind them about the value of participating. Show what’s in it for them, from the intrinsic perspective (their health) to the extrinsic perspective (available incentives). To support those efforts, consider forming a “Wellness Champion Network” composed of a group of volunteer employees who help in planning, communicating and implementing the program. Also, a well-being program website or intranet site can provide information and enable employees to get their questions answered.

Culture – Employees spend more waking hours at work than anywhere else, so it makes sense that creating a healthier environment would help support positive behavior changes. Some examples include providing stress-related educational information, creating indoor/outdoor walking paths, installing bike racks and on-site exercise equipment or yoga classes, a lunchtime walking club or a “Take the Stairs” campaign, and providing healthier vending options.

Cash – Research shows that valued incentives drive participation, which can ultimately lead to engagement. Incentives must resonate with your unique workforce. For example, merchant gift cards and premium credits resonate well with most employees. But incentives are not a one-size-fits-all proposition. The value and appeal of a particular incentive varies among employees, making the right incentive selection important.

Contribute – A well-being program cannot be billed as “employee–focused” if employee input is not solicited and applied. By giving employees an opportunity to share their feedback, they can provide key information to structure the program to help meet their needs and interests, and give employees a sense of ownership. Remember to solicit and give open and honest feedback to further identify what is working and what needs to change to increase engagement and satisfaction.

These five Cs can help improve your company’s well-being program and earn an A+ in employee engagement. For more information about well-being programs, visit UHC.com.

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