Author: Harrison Newman
Wouldn’t it be great if you could tell who in your company is healthy just by looking at them? We know that’s not possible. It’s the same as assuming that a person who’s 6’ 7” is a great basketball player. Likewise, there’s more to a person’s health than what you can see.
While conducting research for this article, I Googled “fit fitness people” for photos depicting what healthy people look like. The search returned images from fitness companies and clothing stores of men and women with washboard abs, trim waistlines and rippling muscles. Some images were accompanied by feel-good slogans like “Just Do It,” “Impossible is Nothing,” “Forever Faster,” or “I Will.”
Flipping the paradigm: FIT from the inside-out
Those pictures reflect how the world sees fit, how America sees fit and how employees see fit. This perception of fit is why a corporate wellness initiative is often met with a collective shrug of the shoulder. People assume that the focus of a corporate wellness program is on the outward, hard-to-reach, abs-like-a-washboard ideal of fit, and not FIT (true health, which begins from within). That’s why employers face a significant hurdle when introducing a wellness strategy.
The key difference between fit and FIT is this: from a dollars and cents point-of-view, you don’t need fit participants; you need FIT (Found In Time) participants. You must stratify your population as a series of risk factors, and to do that, you need data. And to get data, participants need to visit the doctor and get their checkups and screenings. This will help define the percentage of your participants as low-risk, at-risk or high-risk.
First impressions tend to stick
Employers make a tactical error when they launch a wellness strategy with little to no explanation about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. The true intent—employee health—gets lost in translation.
While a great way to kick off wellness is using an activity challenge (i.e. 10,000 steps), it’s important that employees see the bigger picture. They may hit their weekly step count, but are they really FIT? Is their total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL, LDL, glucose, blood pressure and body mass index and waist circumference in range? When was the last time they had a wellness exam, went to the dentist, had their vision checked, a mammogram, or skin cancer screening? These metric-bearing activities define true health and ultimately drive an organization’s healthcare costs, renewal rates and profitability.
To introduce wellness, start with the why before announcing the how
Employees need to hear why their wellness matters, not only to them personally, but to the organization they work for. Here are effective introductory messaging points:
- The quality and cost of employee benefits is driven by the overall health of the organization
- Their benefits cost the organization hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars annually
- There are many things employees can do to help control and reduce those costs
- They can help themselves to achieve and maintain their health and quality of life
- They can save themselves and their employer money
- They can even save their own life
Before you ask employees to “do this” or “do that” they need to get on board with your overall goals and objectives: their health and the organization’s health. This why should form the core of your communication strategy. This why will help employees identify their personal WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?). The core message should nudge the motivation to actually engage in the program, which, of course, is the first step to wellness.
Participants will find out sooner rather than later if they have a health risk, which can help them avoid a major medical event, significant out-of-pocket medical costs and a reduced quality of life. This is a powerful message.
The road to FIT: a journey of hills, valleys and plateaus
Understanding the FIT journey requires patience, resilience, focus and a daily commitment (or sometimes a daily recommitment). The journey is rarely a straight, ever rising line to success. Likewise, it’s wise to temper your expectations of your participants’ engagement.
It’s important to take the long view when it comes to wellness—both for your participant’s personal health and for your organization’s return on investment. Success isn’t immediate; it may take three, four or five years to achieve. It’s about successfully completing the compliance-based phase of the wellness program (participant goals) so you can move into an outcome-based strategy (measurable decreasing targeted health risks).
A study by the University of Michigan Health Management Research Center found that employers can save $350 annually when one low-risk employee remains low-risk, and $153 when one high-risk employee becomes low risk. Multiply those dollars by the size of your workforce and you begin to see the impact.
Another way of looking at it: it’s more cost effective for the employer and the participant to maintain their current level of good health than to try to achieve health. Also, the only way to maintain health, to know if a participant is truly FIT, is annual testing. This is another powerful message.
The role of engagement
A wellness strategy is only as effective as the percentage of participants engaged in the program. If you have 50% participation, then you can’t measure the other 50%. Also, it’s important to note that on average, 40% to 60% of healthcare costs are driven by spouses, partners and dependents. So when I talk about 100% participation, I’m referring to everyone who directly impacts your healthcare costs, including:
- Employees on your medical and prescription plans
- Spouses and partners on your medical and prescription plans
- Employees not on your medical and prescription plans
An annual measurement of the Value of Investment and Return on Investment for each of the three categories above can directly impact healthcare costs and profitability.
Exposing silent killers
Chronic conditions are silent killers (cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL, LDL, blood pressure, glucose and a high body mass index) that can be identified through annual wellness exams, biometric screenings and preventive care screenings. If identified early, these conditions can be improved and managed through treatment, medications and lifestyle changes. However, these conditions will not be found in time if your organization and participants focus only on being fit.
For fun, let’s do a little math: Take a look at your annual benefit spend and multiply that by 39.3%. The resulting number represents the estimated percentage of health insurance claims related to chronic conditions. (Yours could be more or less).
The achievement of FIT should be as much of a win for the employer as it is for the participant. The win for the employer is that they know, for certain, the true health of their participants. They’ve stratified their population and identified what’s driving their healthcare costs. They can make informed changes to their benefit plan design. They can adjust their contribution and incentive strategy to drive change and shape behavior. They can invest money on programs they know will impact the health of their organization with some of that money being reinvested as a result of annual cost savings.
By positioning your goal as having a FIT population, you can remove objections from participants who previously neglected to get their annual screenings and check-ups and to do something about extra weight, an unhealthy BMI, or smoking. When employees view themselves from the inside-out, they begin to understand the why of the what and the how of your wellness message.
They know what’s in it for them.
This post was contributed by Gary Cassidy, Director, Employee Education & Communication for Corporate Synergies Group, LLC. He presented at a a joint event held by our Benefits and Young Professionals Special interest Groups. More information can be found at www.corpsyn.com or by contacting Gary at| 856.996.2601 or Gary.Cassidy@corpsyn.com