Getting the Wellness Word Out

This is one of the Innovations in Wellness selected by editors of Human Resource Executive® magazine.

Friday, April 1, 2011
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The pro-wellness message HR and benefits professionals are putting out is rapidly changing. No longer are dispersing information or inviting employees to take health-risk assessments enough. In today's more flexible, technological business environment, employees are customers more than ever, in control of their own time, and they need to be enticed into making the right choices.

That means HR and benefits leaders must think like marketers and adopt practices designed to get customers to choose products, services or activities. The thinking now -- which business leaders are just starting to "get" -- is that workers won't choose health without being sold on it.

Rohit Kichlu, senior director of marketing planning for Golden Valley, Minn.-based OptumHealth Care Solutions, says a growing number of employers are setting up what he calls "moment of truth" environments to support healthy decisions.

As he says, "70 percent of brand decisions are made at the point of purchase and that's been coined as a 'point of truth.' " Some of his clients are renaming remote parking areas as "healthy parkers' corners" to convey walking as "cool," he says.

They're posting pro-walking signs next to elevators, moving sodas to the lowest shelves in vending machines and charging less for salads in their company cafeterias.

Barry Hall, principal and leader of global research in wellness at Buck Consultants' New York office, says only a handful of companies are effectively applying behavioral economics (understanding human nature and how choices are made) to make healthy behavior more attractive.

One, Boston Scientific, based in Natick, Mass., created a Choose Well, Use Well, Be Well website where fictional characters portray, through videos, key moments when decisions must be made and "a handful of conditions that are very common in our diverse population," says Melissa Scribner, employee benefits manager. One pregnant character talks about programs she joined because they're offered there.

"It all about making it attractive, something they wouldn't want to miss out on," Scribner says.

L.L. Bean is another leader in the "don't miss out" marketing strategy.

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Stephanie Harvie, the company's wellness-program administrator, says L.L. Bean drives its employees to programs "just like we do our customers [to our products] by using value messages, testimonials, pictures that create an emotional connection . . When creating the message, we put ourselves in employees' shoes and ask, 'What's in it for me?' 'Why do I want to buy from you when I could buy from someone else?' "

Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods, through its Live Healthy Hormel 100-Day Challenge, has an extensive list of benefits employees wouldn't want to miss out on, including T-shirts, recipes, one-year subscriptions to magazines, a personal online tracking page -- the list goes on.

The trick lies in getting the marketing advice you need -- through outside or inside assistance.

At Chicago-based Aon Corp., another leader in wellness marketing, John Reschke, vice president of employee benefits, gets his help from the company's new consulting arm, Aon Hewitt.

In the months to come, he says, they'll be pushing the wellness message out through social media sites and smart phones, "with more sound bites, quick views and more sophisticated techniques."

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