An employee describes how she finally overcame her resistance to her company’s health & wellness program.
When my company announced the launch of our new incentive-based health & wellness program, I winced.
Health assessment? eLearning?! EXERCISE?!
Don’t we have enough to do?
I’m already healthy!
I DON’T WANNA!
This knee-jerk reaction must sound familiar to HR execs and employees alike. As one of those employees, I felt defeated, dismayed and desecrated. Okay, that’s a little dramatic, but essentially I was not happy. Here’s why:
HEALTH & WELLNESS PROGRAM PROTEST #1: I’m Already Healthy.
Yep, that’s me, already healthy. Just age-related aches and pains and food allergies, nothing major. I’m in the normal BMI1 range (even though I gained 18 pounds in the past four years), keep healthy cholesterol levels (except when I ingest gluten2 and sugar in excess), and I get a physical every year. I’m active; I run my daughter to and from her lessons (in the car), commute two hours for work each day (in the car), and work 50 hours a week (at my desk). Okay, maybe I’m not that active. But I do an hour of yoga or Zumba® weekly. So I’m healthy, right?
When our health & wellness program launched in 2016, we were told that in order to avoid a health insurance surcharge the next year we’d need to rack up a certain amount of rewards points. That meant logging daily physical activity, preventive care visits and immunizations; taking a health assessment; and attending carrier-sponsored webinars. In a concerted effort not to pay more for my health & welfare benefits, I reluctantly succumbed and joined the program, along with 88% of my co-workers. I logged my doctor’s visits and metrics (like weight and blood pressure), but the daily entry of physical activity was my ultimate irritation. They’re not making me healthier; they’re just making me mad, I ruminated. Looking back, I suppose I could have just invested in a $29 activity tracker that automatically synced my steps to our EPIC lifestyle management tool to avoid the annoyance.
The resentment built until a business trip to New York City with a co-worker who made me walk EVERYWHERE! “Let’s hail a cab,” I suggested. “WAIT… How do you hail a cab?” I whined. So we walked. My travelling partner, who whole-heartedly embraced our health & wellness program from its onset, bought a Fitbit®, lost 55 pounds and completed her first 5K, announced that we had walked nearly 18,000 steps that day! Holy cannoli, I thought! I was actually excited to log that number into the EPIC portal. From then on I found it fun to watch my points rise, knowing that my heart was getting stronger with each step.
HEALTH & WELLNESS PROGRAM PROTEST #2: They’re Invading My Privacy.
Are you a smoker? Y or N…
But it’s not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer! I screamed to myself as I stared at the first health assessment question on the screen.
I thought about skipping the assessment altogether, but I’d lose out on 25 health & wellness rewards points, nearly 50% of my score goal. I was worried about privacy, too. Would my employer assess a surcharge on my health insurance premium if I answer ‘yes’ to the smoking question?! I decided to skip the assessment after all and worked diligently at logging my activities each day for the whole year. Do you know how hard it is to make up 25 points at a rate of 1 point per 100,000 steps?!
I have since learned that while the EPIC portal stores personal data, it does not store personally identifying information associated with that data. So my employer couldn’t see who answered which questions what way. This is an integrated HIPAA control of the platform; no invasion of privacy here. Hence, my second reason for loathing wellness programs went up in smoke.
HEALTH & WELLNESS PROGRAM PROTEST #3: My Personal Health Is of No Importance to the Organization.
Just as there are rules about when a plan member can begin disability, there are rules about when someone may return to work.
Why do they even care if I’m healthy or not? I questioned. One big reason is disease management. Consider a seemingly healthy, middle-aged woman who had her blood sugar level checked at her company’s annual wellness fair, only to find out her glucose level was a symptom of pancreatic cancer. If it wasn’t for that health assessment, which she almost skipped, she might not be enjoying her new granddaughter today.
Besides demonstrating genuine care for their workforces, employers have a vested interest in the mental, physical, emotional and systemic health of every employee. A healthy workforce is a happy workforce, and happy employees tend to stay put. Healthier employees also take off fewer sick days.
Another reason is benefits cost control. Health & welfare benefits are expensive–to the employees and employers–and costs are rising each year. Corporate health & wellness programs aid in controlling these costs in several ways:
Employee Education & Communication. Health assessments and metric-bearing activities enlighten employees and their families on health risk factors, the importance of immunizations and other health guidelines. As we saw in the example above, the light this shines on one’s picture of health could preempt a costly chronic condition, or worse.
Health & Wellness Program ROI. On-demand aggregate reporting and analytics from health & wellness platforms, such as EPIC, give an employer fully compliant insights into overall population risk factors and their population’s nutritional, exercise and work-life habits. Such acumen allows employers to target problem areas specific to their workforce with health & wellness programs (such as tobacco cessation, weight management, stress management, etc.) in an ultimate effort to decrease unhealthy, and costly, behaviors.
Health Insurance Consumerism. Health & wellness programs are also an opportunity for HR to communicate the value of proper insurance utilization, like when to use an urgent care facility over the ER. These smarter decisions keep money in the pockets of employees and their families, and keep insurance claims down for the employer.
By actively resisting my company’s wellness program in 2016, I lost the potential for an insurance premium discount in 2017. Now, it’s Year 2 and I’m all in. I’ve learned that health & wellness is not about “looking” fit on the outside but “being” fit on the inside too. I’ve purchased that $29 activity tracker, and I am proud to say I reached Platinum level and will get that discount next year. Oh yeah, I also lost 13 pounds (and counting)!
So I’ve traded my health & wellness high horse for a soapbox.
- Real Healthcare Consumerism, Uncensored
- The Fine Art of Employee Advocacy and Support
- Video: How to Turn Wellness Investment Into Participation
© 2017 Corporate Synergies Group, LLC. No part of this material may be republished or distributed without prior written consent.