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Innovations in Wellness

This year, for the first time ever, HRE sets out to identify some of the most innovative practices in the wellness arena.

Friday, April 1, 2011
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By this point, just about everyone understands the "whys" for having a wellness program in place. The new question is "how" -- how do HR leaders help create programs that generate participation, excitement and results?

We thought it would be helpful for our readers to provide some concrete examples. So we came up with a list of some of the nation's top health experts, and asked them to share their thoughts on what constitutes an innovative wellness program.

Along the way, we got some pretty intriguing insights -- one, that these are great times for having a wellness program in place, and not just because healthcare costs are continuing to rocket skyward.

That's according to Dr. Ronald Loeppke, who says these days, "health-awareness is the new 'green' -- the new sustainable commitment we have to society."

Consider the confluence of last year's healthcare reform law; the so-called "silver tsunami" of older workers putting off retirement and, in many cases, re-entering the workforce; and concern about the nation's obesity rate and its attendant health effects.

Consider, too, the growing awareness -- inside and outside the workplace -- about the dangers that unhealthy lifestyles are having on our health and the health of our children, says Loeppke, vice chairman of U.S. Preventive Medicine, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based healthcare-consulting firm.

But there's a right way and a wrong way to do wellness, and companies that take the wrong path will be squandering this historical moment, he says.

What does the "wrong" approach look like?

"It's 'flavor-of-the-month' initiatives that aren't tied to anything and are quickly forgotten," says Loeppke. "You can't just sprinkle some generic wellness offerings across a workforce and expect to see results."

Wellness, done right, means having a sustained, year-round commitment to it, throughout every part of the organization. More than anything, says Loeppke, it means inculcating wellness into your organization's culture -- because culture can also be the Achilles heel of wellness programs.

"Culture eats policy for lunch every day, so it's not about your wellness policy, it's about whether your organization's people, from the leadership team to the front lines, are actually investing themselves in better health," he says. 

Even incentives won't change a corporate culture that's resistant to the wellness message, says Dee W. Edington, director of the University of Michigan's Health Management Research Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.

"Even if the incentive does motivate an employee to change and then he or she goes back to the same [unhealthy] work environment, the chances of that change being sustained are minimal," he says.

This can be stymied even further when your corporate culture varies from location to location, as in between headquarters and field offices or among different demographics within the workforce, says Henry Albrecht, CEO and co-founder of Limeade, a Bellevue, Wash.-based provider of wellness software and services.

"I've visited headquarters offices where the culture is really tight, and field offices where it just isn't," he says.

Then there are retail firms with career staff at headquarters who may be much more receptive to wellness messages than the mostly younger, more transient workers at their store locations, he adds. Differences may also exist between what resonates for highly plugged-in white-collar workers and blue-collar workers who may have limited access to technology, he says.

What can bridge these gaps?

Albrecht is a big fan of contests between different company locations that are designed to spark engagement, in which employee groups challenge their counterparts to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, for example, or walk the longest distances in a week. Admittedly, Limeade has a stake in this concept -- one of its offerings is a platform that helps clients manage these contests.

Yet, engagement -- whether it's generated by intra-office contests or targeted healthcare-premium reductions -- should be one of the key measures in judging whether or not wellness efforts are having some effect, says Loeppke.

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"We cannot just reward people because they have normal blood pressure or weight -- you need to reward them for staying engaged," he says. If employees are thinking regularly about eating healthier or exercising more, wellness has a much greater chance of paying long-term dividends to your organization -- and long-term is where the focus needs to be, he adds.

"I just met with a big corporation, and they're talking in terms of a 10-year, serious business strategy around integrated health initiatives, with wellness being the centerpiece of it."

Having an integrated health initiative means that everyone -- health plans, care providers and employees and their dependents -- are fully committed to healthy lives and healthy outcomes, says Loeppke.

We ultimately decided to profile companies in six categories: Metrics, Public/Private Initiatives, Global Wellness, Social Networks, Communication and "Whole Person" -- that is, wellness programs that do an effective job of addressing the non-physical aspects of good health. In the following pages, you'll read about some companies we think are good examples of where one of our selected areas of innovation is working already. 

We hope you'll glean some useful ideas here. After all, as Loeppke says: "Health ignites performance, and that impacts the bottom line."

See our stories on these innovations in wellness:

The 'Whole Person'

Wellness Metrics

Public/Private Initiatives

Global Wellness

Social Networks

Getting the Wellness Word Out

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