For wellness programs to work, embrace the “Trinity of Value”

John Turner

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In human resources and insurance circles, we’ve been talking about employee health and wellness for quite some time. And most employers have dived in and now offer a wellness program.

So, how are these programs performing?

Too often, the answer is “not well.”

The problem isn’t the concept of running a health and wellness program for employees; it’s the execution. Properly implementing a wellness program is still new to many organizations. Often, employers excel at parts of wellness program execution, but do not have a well-rounded approach. Additionally, research from the Integrated Benefits Institute suggests that a poor work environment creates obstacles to wellness adoption by employees, and diminishes a program’s chances of success.1

We’ve found that there are 3 core elements to making a wellness program work at peak effectiveness. We call this the Trinity of Value. The components are:

  1. Wellness Plan Design
  2. Employee Communications
  3. Rewards and Incentives

While Meat Loaf once sang “two out of three ain’t bad,” that won’t work for executing a workplace wellness program. You need all three components of the Trinity of Value to make wellness work and create value.

Designing a Health and Wellness Program That Works 

While some may scoff at how important wellness is, your workforce cares. Consider that 87% of employees said they consider health and wellness packages when choosing an employer, and 70% of employees report that wellness programs positively impact their culture at work2. So, yes, employees are comparing wellness programs, they’re aware of the possibilities, and how you put your program together does impact their connection to the organization.

Each organization is unique, and the wellness program must fit the population. Employers need to understand their workers, their current state of wellness and what they like to do. For instance, if the wellness program includes a runner’s club but the CEO is the only runner, that wellness program is not going to work.

If possible, it’s helpful to tie your consumer driven health plan to wellness metrics.

The Employee Communications Disconnect 
Communicating effectively is difficult these days. We all have access to so much information, and it’s all competing for our attention. This raises the bar for employee communications, and statistics show that most employers are not clearing that bar. Research by J.D. Power and Associates shows that 75% of employers feel that they are effectively communicating to their employees; however, only 46% of employees feel their employers are giving them clear and effective communications about their benefits.3 That’s a huge gap.

It’s incumbent upon employers to fix this problem. It begins by identifying participants’ WIIFM: What’s In It For Me? In other words, you have to understand your employees’ motivations and play to them. From there, you can build a baseline of wellness education that teaches, engages, drives participation and speeds implementation. Employee communications must be simple, clear, frequent, and distributed through a variety of channels.

And it’s important that top leadership participate to demonstrates that management is invested in the wellness initiative.

The problem isn’t the actual running of a wellness program; it’s the execution.

Driving Participation through Rewards and Incentives 
If you build a wellness program, will they come? Not automatically. Employees need a reason to participate. One study showed that 78% of employees said incentives are important to them; 61% of employees report that incentives are a key reason to participate.4 The flipside of that statistic is that many of those employees are ignoring the incentives they say they want – a new study from Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health shows that less than half of employees earned the full incentives available to them in 2014.5 This despite the fact that wellness-based incentives have jumped 61% over the last five years.

Experience shows that the best way to drive participation is by utilizing “carrots” rather than “sticks” – rewards instead of penalties, as most employees like the opportunity to “get something extra” while they will grumble if they feel they’re at risk of having something taken away. These rewards can include items such as gift cards, employee premiums, increased employer contributions and extra PTO.

Another option is to have a “stick inside the carrot” – which is a matter of an incentive is presented to employees. An example is that you offer a discount in employee contribution for smoking cessation, rather than adding a surcharge for people who continue to smoke. We’ve further explained health and wellness incentives here.

Research shows that creating health and wellness programs for employees improves productivity, which enhances profitability. A Harvard study showed that for each dollar spent on wellness programs, large companies got back $3.27 in reduced health costs, and $2.73 in costs connected to absenteeism.6 Clearly, wellness is smart business. However, you must execute well in order to drive ROI and what we call VOI –Value of Investment.

Employers who embrace the Trinity of Value are the ones that will make wellness work – and reap the benefits.

1 Business Insurance, “Employers Hone in on Wellness Program Success, Combating Poor Work Climates
2 Virgin HealthMiles and Workforce Magazine study, “The Business of Healthy Employees
3 J.D. Power and Associates health plan customer satisfaction survey
4 Virgin HealthMiles and Workforce Magazine study, “The Business of Healthy Employees
5 BenefitsPro, “Wellness Incentive Spending Sets Record
6 Harvard Business Review, “In Defense of Corporate Wellness Programs


©2016 Corporate Synergies Group, LLC. No part of this material may be republished or distributed without prior written consent.

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