The Do’s and Don’ts of Corporate Wellness

Leadership buy-in, authentic employee participation, and building a culture of health are all keys to successful corporate wellness, benefitting the a company’s bottom line as well the health of its employees. These points and more were discussed earlier this month at the North Texas Corporate Wellness Forum organized by the American Cancer Society.

The forum consisted of Becky Hall, Senior Manager of Health and Welfare Benefits and Wellness Programs at Oncor Electric Delivery, Dr. Paul Hain, Chief Medical Officer and Divisional Senior Vice President of Market Delivery at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, and Levin Gunter, Lead Benefits Consultant at AT&T.

Meredith Noonan, Director of Corporate Accounts at American Cancer Society, began the forum with an overview of best and worst practices for corporate wellness programs. Surveys don’t impact behavior, short-term weight loss campaigns can do more harm than good in establishing habits, and outside entities don’t know the employees’ needs. Noonan recommended  top-to-bottom support in an organization, a culture that commits to supporting physical, emotional, financial and career goals, employee ownership of the program, strategic communication, and smart incentives as more effective initiatives.

In regard to specific practices, Noonan recommended smoking cessation, offering healthy food options, encouraging an active lifestyle, and cancer screenings as ways to address health needs. These practices will not only encourage employees to live a healthier life, they can also reduce healthcare spending, which is a consistently growing part of every company’s budget.

Hall set the stage by discussing all the many iterations of corporate wellness, encouraging corporations to not overthink their program and focus on the needs of their organization. Hain helped narrow the focus on where corporate wellness could focus with statistics showing how early mortality is impacted by smoking, cardiovascular fitness, and obesity.

Courtesy of: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas

The next section described how incentives can be used to encourage healthy behaviors. Incentives do impact behavior, though the size of the prize doesn’t always matter. Also, taking something away from employees can be more impactful than offering them something. Hain described how if an employer gives everyone a “health bonus of $100” and that bonus is taken away if they don’t visit the doctor, that plan will be more impactful than offering $100 to go to the doctor. Once people have something, Hain says, they are more motivated to keep it than if something is merely offered.

Lastly, Gunter detailed strategies for reaching employees who don’t work at company headquarters. At AT&T, there is an online social network where employees can connect, share stories, and learn about healthy living no matter where they live, but Gunter also described the challenges of getting buy-in when the communication comes from corporate voices. He said AT&T has highlighted 4400 employees who help drive wellness initiatives, and share employee success stories. The authenticity of these stories cause them to be some of the most read and shared posts on the network.

Overall, a comprehensive plan with a mix of incentives, healthy culture, consistent and authentic communication, and other systematic decisions (Blue Cross has an indoor walking path where people hold meetings and makes employees walk to the first floor if they want coffee) is the best way to improve corporate wellness and save on healthcare costs.