On the workforce management calendar, Fall is known as the time for open enrollment for benefits. As employers across the country prepare for this year’s open enrollment period, many have some familiar but bad news to report. Health insurance costs continue to rise and there’s no end in sight.
For all the hype, it seems the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has not collectively made health insurance more affordable. This is the news many employers must now deliver to employees.
This has led some organizations to refocus their efforts on promoting employee wellness programs. Many employers may already have employee wellness programs in place, but they may not have seen them quite the way they do now, which is as a critical means to take control of rising health insurance costs. Still, other employers are now are taking a more serious look at establishing new employee wellness programs.
For an increasing number of organizations, employee participation in a wellness program is the key to better manage health insurance costs. The rationale is that with a healthier the work force, there will likely be fewer claims, and as a result healthcare cost increases can be minimized.
The common emphasis in many wellness programs is on biometric screenings, preventive care, and an intensified focus on weight loss through exercise and better nutrition. In addition, employee wellness programs promote a tobacco-free lifestyle, and engage in more open dialogue on stress reduction.
The Communications Challenge
The challenge for employers is persuading staff members to commit to the employee wellness program to the extent that they can make and sustain lasting health improvements and habits.
For its part, the communications effort in support of a wellness program should seek to do three things:
- Engage employees – create awareness of the employee wellness program, what it can achieve and what employees can do to manage their own health and health insurance costs.
- Increase wellness program participation – Create or increase participation in a new or existing wellness program. This means registering increasing numbers of employees, and then getting them to participate in each phase of the wellness program consistently, from biometric screenings to annual physicals.
- Keep the focus on positive outcomes – Because wellness programs are flush with data, it’s easy to gauge progress against goals. It is important from the start is to clearly communicate baseline numbers for the collective work force, and then to establish collective goals, be they averages or percentages. And then to keep those goals top-of-mind throughout the work force throughout the year and from year to year. Some employers provide financial incentives for employee wellness program participation and progress, but creative thinking and problem-solving can lead to more than just monetary incentives.
Brand Your Wellness Program
In a communications sense, every employee wellness program is a campaign. As such it requires a theme, a message platform and a campaign structure to create and build enthusiasm in a given time frame. Campaigns exist to package and deliver often complex information in such a way that it can be readily understood by targeted audiences, and so that enthusiasm for the message can be sustained. For employee wellness programs, the campaign structure starts with the open enrollment period and continues throughout the year, following a schedule of quarterly, semi-annual and/or annual benchmark reports.
Given the number of communications vehicles now available to any employer, it doesn’t need to be very difficult to keep communications going and awareness of the employee wellness program high. From existing newsletters, employee events and communications, to Intranets, certain use of social media and special programs, all can work together to keep momentum up. And that’s just the beginning.
What do you think? What can employers do to get employees excited about employee wellness? Let me know, and feel free to get in touch to discuss your own questions or concerns.