Where Do So Many Corporate Wellness Programs Go Wrong?

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Wrong-WayCorporate Wellness is a fast growing industry. But similar to the sectors of the fitness industry, it’s fraught with mis-truths, misdirection and misunderstanding. Most employers are led to believe that the way to measure a successful wellness program is to quantify results and then reward employees based on those results. Many of these employers are convinced to take this a step further and tie an employee’s biometric results directly to their health care contributions. Seems logical, however, these “Results-Based” programs that offer rewards or enact penalties based on specific biometric parameters such as BMI, cholesterol, blood pressure, etc. present multiple problems, including:

  • Biometric screening and processing is very expensive
  • Biometric screening can leave the employee feeling that his/her privacy has been invaded
  • Biometric screening presents costly logistical issues such as collecting data at multiple locations or from employees in the field
  • Biometric screening presents P.H.I./Hippa issues that often require costly 3rd party intervention…yikes!
  • Employees will often challenge biometric results (and will most often win); again, a 3rd party needs to be retained for these appeals
  • Long-term, healthy behavior is rarely the result when employees feel pressured to meet the biometric requirements of the “results based” programs
  • Injuries (from overuse and misguided attempts) are often the result when employees rush to meet the biometric requirements of the “results based” programs

 

So What Should Employers Do?

The question

It’s clear tying an employee’s biometric results directly to their health care contributions have multiple levels of risk, not to mention their costs. So what are employers supposed to do?

Do you:

  • Set up a weight loss challenge (the Biggest Loser)? Risk: There’s always a chance that some employees will go to extreme measures to win (eg., crash diets that can have negative health implications).
  • Reward employees by simply completing your insurance company’s on-line health risk assessments? Risk: You now have a “general” synopsis of your group’s current health status, assuming they were all honest, but still no improvement in health.
  • Purchase memberships to the local health club?  Risk: You’ll essentially target those who were active already, with very little penetration into the poor health population that truly needs to change.
  • Build out an on-site gym for employees to use during work, before or after work, or on breaks?  Risk: Again, this will serve those who were active already, with very little penetration into the poor health population.
  • Reward employees for the number of steps they’ve taken or the number of calories they’ve burned in a day?  Risk: Individuals will cut corners to qualify for rewards, and many will be driven to overuse injuries.
  • Have your “fittest” employee lead the employees in on-site “boot” camps? Risk: Be prepared to deal with exercise-induced injuries as a “fit” employee does not equal a “qualified coach.”

 

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