Why Traditional Corporate Wellness Programs Won’t Work

If you’re responsible for health benefits at a large company, you probably manage a corporate wellness program that encourages employees to lose weight, stop smoking, or become more active — all with the goal of lowering the company’s overall healthcare costs through healthier employees. But, like most companies, you’ve probably noticed that these efforts have done little to “bend the cost curve.” In fact, for most employers, cost increases have remained steady or even accelerated over the past several years.

You wouldn’t be alone in questioning the efficacy of your company’s corporate wellness program. As the Harvard Business Review reported, wellness programs might not be effective at lowering healthcare costs. In some cases, HBR found, they can “actually backfire, making many employees less healthy and more anxious about their jobs.” For most companies, corporate wellness programs aren’t getting the desired results. There are three key reasons why.

1 ) Benefits not delivered to the right person at the right time

Broad, one-size-fits-all wellness programs don’t help employees reach their individual health goals. A 35-year-old athletic mother-to-be has much different needs than a 55-year-old smoker at risk for heart disease, and they should be in different programs to improve their health. Also, the programs that make sense for each of those employees now might not make sense for them in three years, when their circumstances and health-related goals have changed.

2) Employees don’t use them

Even when wellness initiatives are well timed, they don’t lead to lower healthcare costs if employees don’t use them. Many companies offer dozens of benefits point solutions, but when there are multiple log-ins and sign-ups, employees are overwhelmed and never connect with programs that could work for them. Or, they sign-up for a program — such as tracking steps with a Fitbit — but nothing is done or communicated to motivate them to maintain the activity. Many companies try to solve this problem by offering monetary incentives to increase employees engagement, but we know that while money is a powerful motivator, that incentive alone will not drive employees to take action. It takes a greater level of personalization to keep employees engaged in their health program, with recommendations, competitions, and incentives that are tailored to them.

3) Programs can’t be adjusted based on usage data

While many wellness programs provide employers data about employee participation, most employers are overwhelmed by the amount of information and have no idea what to do with it. Employers need a way to analyze that data and use it to their advantage. To get the most out of the program, benefits and incentives need to change based on whether they’re used or not.

How to Fix the Problems and Reduce Costs

Just because wellness programs aren’t delivering, doesn’t mean employers should give up. There are ways to reduce their healthcare costs. Traditional corporate wellness programs are a little like music before the iTunes store, and employees have stopped listening. To solve this, companies need to think bigger. They need to make their health benefits smarter.

First, give employees a way to navigate their healthcare to get the benefits that matter to them. These benefits should be designed to help employees reach personal health goals without making them feel anxiety about their conditions or issues. And they should be personalized and engaging, delivering programs that are tailored for each employee’s needs in a way that inspires them to take action. Finally, employers should have a way to manage it all and make decisions about benefits based on employee data.

The right approach for your company may be an enterprise health benefits platform — a one-stop-shop for health benefits that uses the best of technology, design, and what we know about changing behavior to drive action. Companies have been using platforms, such as Salesforce or Oracle, for years to manage sales and finance, but benefits managers have lacked a platform to make the most of employee health benefits. Platforms are greater than the sum of their parts, making once ineffective point solutions smarter. The result? Improved health for employees and cost-savings for employers.

For more content on running effective health benefits programs, visit Jiff’s resources page.