May 2016

by Geoffrey Schick
Workplace Wellness the Next Frontier
From the Executive Director

There is no denying employee engagement in health and wellbeing is a top priority for most employers – a solid majority of organizations offer wellness programs today. But with an array of options, information and data, employers can expend a considerable amount of time and resources trying to determine wellness program best practices and quantify returns on investment.

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate as a panelist at a well-attended luncheon sponsored by Wisconsin Health News that featured a discussion of what many consider to be the next benefits frontier – workplace wellness programs. I was lucky enough to be joined on the panel by Cathy Jacobson, Froedtert Health CEO, and Patrick Travis, specialist leader at Deloitte Consulting.

The lively conversation, moderated by Wisconsin News publisher, Tim Stumm, focused on the value, legal issues and employee perception of workplace wellness programs. Here are a few highlights of the discussion.

Wellness program return on investment

Panelists agreed that wellness programs’ returns on investment are somewhat elusive, but employers have other reasons and goals for implementing them beyond hard dollar savings.

Cathy Jacobson: “It’s hard for us to prove the financial returns on wellness programs because a lot of the folks who are participating in those wellness programs are the ones utilizing very, very little of your health care dollars.”

Geoffrey Schick: “Workplace wellness programs have a number of goals such as recruitment, health maintenance and employee engagement. Most wellness programs are developed to create long-term success, so it’s difficult to measure immediate successes.”

Employee perception of wellness programs

Patrick Travis shared results of a Deloitte employer survey that found 66 percent of employers interviewed said their wellness program is viewed negatively by their employees. However, panelists concurred a vast majority of employers believe a wellness program is important to attract and retain employees.

Patrick Travis: “A lot of employers feel like they have to (have a wellness program). You don’t want to be the one (employer) that doesn’t promote wellness.”

Cathy Jacobson: “We get an overwhelmingly positive response on that (wellness benefits). But I will tell you, we do an immense amount of communication around our wellness plan. We actually put more into it…in terms of how you have to communicate, how you have to integrate it with the benefits design. The more we integrate wellness into our health plan, the more successful we’ll be.”

(We tell our employees), these are the resources we spend on your health care, you do have a responsibility to help us control these costs.”

Final food for thought

Patrick Travis (discussing a particular employer client): Its (wellness program) desired cost shifting. They (employer client) gave them plenty of time, they wanted to tell people, ‘you out there generating a lot of the claims because of your behavior choices, you’re going to pay more than those people who are doing the right things both clinically and financially. If you’re doing the right things, you’ll be fine with this.’”

Geoffrey Schick: “While our ongoing strategy is to create a more educated consumer base that makes the right decision on how to access services, it’s the same philosophy around creating an educated population that makes the right lifestyle decisions.”


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