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Health Reform Prompts Employers to Get Creative with Wellness

December 15, 2010--The epic debate on health care raised plenty of controversy and confusion – but one thing that people across both aisles seemed to agree on was the need for a renewed focus on wellness and prevention at the workplace, in schools and at home.  While wellness didn’t get nearly as much media coverage as other aspects of health reform, the bill does include grants for small businesses to implement wellness programs; requires qualified health plans to cover the cost of certain preventive care services; and allows employers to increase incentives for participation in wellness programs to 30% of the cost of coverage, up from 20%. 

These latest incentives in health reform are prompting more and more employers to start or expand wellness programs.  In fact, a recent survey of 282 employers by Watson Wyatt and the National Business Group on health found that 72% were enhancing onsite programs aimed at stress management, EAPs or health coaching; or plan to do so in the next 12 months.  As workplace wellness programs become the increasing norm, the question is no longer “Why wellness?” but “How?” How does wellness work on a limited budget?  How does a wellness program achieve maximum results? 

The answer begins with engagement.  If employees don't believe that it is in their best interest to prevent illness and make healthy lifestyle choices, they will have no interest in participating in wellness at the workplace.  Achieving employee buy-in can be a major obstacle in wellness, as a recent Towers Watson survey found that 58% of employees lack engagement.  To maximize employee engagement, wellness leaders need to involve employees in the entire wellness process, from preliminary planning through implementation.  

Before launching a full-scale wellness initiative, the first question to ask employers is, "How well do you know your workforce?"  Too often, brokers, HR and wellness leaders think they know exactly what employees need in a wellness program, but never ask the employees themselves.  A simple electronic survey will gather this imperative data, and get employees engaged from the start.  These surveys are extremely cost-effective, completely confidential, and employees appreciate the opportunity to provide input.  This critical step in the planning process gives employers vital information and insight about what employ