employees rely on peers, want more from employers to improve their health

June 4, 2013

in culture,health care reform,health communication,incentives,social media,wellness

while wellness plan design these days focuses on “money talks,” employees beg to (slightly) differ. according to a just-released survey from virgin healthmiles and workforce management, 78% of employees participate in wellness programs to improve their health, 61% to earn incentives, and only about a quarter do so to avoid penalties. no matter what gets them going, the self-reported benefits of participation are plentiful and range from personal to organizational. personally, employees find themselves feeling healthier and happier  and in greater control of their chronic conditions. organizationally, employees say wellness programs improve workplace morale and their work relationships.

peer support keeps colleagues on track

these improved work relationships come in handy as employees seek to shift to healthier habits. employees count peer support, accountability, inspiration, and advice among the different ways peers influence their participation in available programs. employees themselves then “pay it forward,” with their participation positively influencing additional colleagues as well as spouses and partners, friends and children.

this expanding circle of support could benefit from additional programs employees desire. healthier food choices, onsite fitness centers, and physical activity programs top the list of additional services employees wish to see. (given the recent debate about the value of health risk assessments, it’s interesting to note 71% of employees value them, exceeding the number of employers making them available.)

other key findings of the survey include:

  • employers continue to struggle with measurement, and only 31% are satisfied today with their ability to successfully do so. what they seek to measure is the connection between health and employee engagement, reducing health care costs, and creating a culture of health. 
  • roughly 43% of employees surveyed are aware of available programs, lower than the 57% of employers who feel employees know what’s what.
  • employers rely primarily on email, online benefits information, and print vehicles as their main modes of communication, with only 10% using social media and an increasing number pinning their hopes on manager-to-employee communication chains.

opportunities in design and communication present

this survey presents opportunities for improving employee health in ways employees would welcome, starting with the types of available programs and moving into more and different communications.

1. make movement what you do at work. employees find it difficult to squeeze exercise into an already busy day, and if something needs to give, it’s usually activity. employees get this. every day they sit for multiple hours because of their job, and they’re laying their weight gain at their job’s feet. in response, employers are coming up with creative ways to support and facilitate routine movement: treadmill desks, walking meetings, hosted office workouts. more of this is needed, including the policies and office environment to make movement promoted, practiced and accepted.

 [related: employers take different paths to get employees stepping]

2. facilitate social exchanges about health. given the value derived from peer-to-peer influence, employers could better facilitate this type of interaction and communication. there are at least five reasons for making workplace wellness social, including the fact that those who engage online report increased health engagement.

[related: 5 tools, 20 ideas for making workplace wellness social]

3. equip the messenger. face-to-face communication, particularly from one’s manager, is a powerful and effective form of communication when conditions are right. getting those conditions right relies upon a positive relationship with one’s manager and that manager being well equipped to deliver the messages and information the organization wishes to deliver. managers don’t need to be the only source, either. the critical part is equipping these channels with no-fail, easy-to-use tools so employees get accurate information and agreed-upon messages.

4. get ready for health care reform. it’s unsurprising to find employers have no current plans for implementing health care reform’s expanded incentive opportunity. the final wellness regulations were issued only last week, and most employers have been taking a wait-and-see approach. what employers should have at this moment, however, are plans for communicating about health care reform changes overall and how they affect employees going into annual enrollment. this is something i’ll be writing about more in the months ahead, but you can find excellent advice here.

this just-released survey from virgin healthmiles and workforce management was administered during april and may 2013 to more than 1300 organizations and nearly 10,000 employees. the survey was commissioned as part of national employee wellness month, now in its fifth year and supported by more than 175 organizations and 70,000 employees.


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