Articles | May 3, 2023

A Five-Step Strategic Approach to Wellness Program Success

It’s increasingly challenging for organizations to ensure their wellness program strategies are effective. In the last several years, specialized point-solutions vendors have flooded the employee benefits marketplace. With over 250 companies in the wellness industry, it’s no wonder organizations find it hard to navigate and select the best solutions for their people.

Senior Black Woman Stretching And Exercising With Weights

Wellness companies are no longer white-labeling their programs to third-party vendors. Now, they’re offering integration of existing partner solutions, such as medical networks and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), into their digital platforms to provide a seamless experience to the buyer.

This article discusses a five-step strategy that organizations can follow to modernize their wellness programs by taking advantage of new offerings that meet their participants’ needs:

  1. Set goals.
  2. Identify what’s important to your people.
  3. Inventory existing offerings.
  4. Consider a phased-in approach to new program components.
  5. Define measurable outcomes.

Also addressed: Common mistakes to avoid!

Step 1: Set goals

Before enhancing a wellness program, an organization should outline a strategic plan.

Many organizations use the SMART goal methodology:

Specific Decide what do you want to accomplish and why it’s important. You might want to reduce overall healthcare costs to save money and/or provide an added program to the overall benefit package to improve recruitment and retention.
Measurable Be clear on how you’ll track accomplishment of each goal. Measurements might include participation and any positive improvements in lifestyle change or decline in health risk.
Achievable Be sure the goals are realistic and define how you’ll accomplish them. Realistic goals for the first year might be build program awareness, determine what was most popular, obtain employee feedback; and identify any barriers to adjust for the next year.
Relevant Ensure the program goals are aligned with your organization’s overall goals and objectives. Tie your wellness strategy with your culture and vision.
Time-bound Set a target date to meet the goals. Create a project plan with a timeline that includes your objectives.

Creating a timeline with this information will provide a clear path towards a successful wellness strategy.

Step 2: Identify what’s important to your people

To retain your people and attract new talent, you need to know what’s important to them. That information is invaluable when you’re building or improving a wellness program.

A survey is an efficient way to gather input. Some important topics to explore are:

  • Overall health and well-being
  • Mental health, including stress resilience
  • Physical health and exercise
  • Isolation/social connection
  • Work-life balance, including childcare and eldercare support
  • Work culture, including diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Employee benefits

The survey responses will provide insights into current satisfaction levels as well as what new components to consider including in the wellness program.

We have a survey-based ranking methodology that quantifies the impact of preferences on overall views of total rewards. Unlike a traditional rating scale, which might imply that everything is important, this methodology forces participants to make choices between options and delivers results that show the relative importance of items being rated.

Step 3: Inventory existing offerings

This exercise looks at what your current vendors offer. It will be effective in enhancing your wellness strategy because it will identify what you can build on, highlight overlapping program components and identify gaps that need to be filled.

In the sample vendor inventory below, color-coded words point out the programs that overlap.

Sample Summary of Current Programs and Overlap

Sample Summary of Current Programs and Overlap

Step 4: Consider a phased-in approach to new program components

Whether your organization is designing a brand-new program, revamping your current program or simply making adjustments, following a phased-in approach is a manageable way to build a robust wellness program. Conducting feedback at each phase will also determine if you are on the right path and allows for adjustments that may be needed along the way. The table below outlines a phased-in approach.

Introducing or enhancing a wellness program through a digital platform can be a great way to promote it. Access to the platform can be from a smartphone, tablet, desktop and/or laptop. This can serve as the first point of entry for participants to learn about the program, the useful online tools as well as assessments and benefit links to their other healthcare vendors.

If participants are embracing the use of the digital platform, enhancing it by offering a more robust digital experience can improve participation. (To learn more about digital health solutions, read, “The Current and Future State of Digital Health.”)

Health coaching is terrific way to get employees engaged in the program. It also provides another option for individuals who prefer not to use the digital aspect of the program.

Health screenings are an opportunity for early identification of a health condition for which a wellness program can provide education and support. Screenings also promote engagement with a primary care physician.

Through data analysis, some organizations may find they have a particular healthcare need. (Segal can provide data-mining services through our proprietary warehouse, SHAPE.) This data analysis can identify utilization trends (and cost-drivers that are savings opportunities).

Adding any of the resources below will work in tandem with a wellness program and provide enhanced support for your employees.

A Phased-In Approach

Phase 1: Digital platform

Program Components Descriptions
Health risk assessment or health assessment Self-reported questions to a identify interests, health risks and other key details that can help with participants’ digital experience
Health library Articles, assessments, videos and education on a variety of health and emotional well-being topics
Self-directed programs, such as weight loss, nutrition and exercise Courses or modules on a particular topic that provide in-depth education
Device connectivity Connectivity to the digital platform by devices, such as Fitbit or Apple Watch; Additionally, digital therapeutics can be integrated with a wellness platform.
Challenges A variety of challenges that incorporate exercise, diet and nutrition that allow participants to collect badges or points towards a reward or incentive
Benefit links Links to other healthcare vendors for easy accessibility

Phase 1a: Additional integrations to digital platform

Program Components Descriptions
AI/live chat Artificial intelligence or live chat available for broad questions on the platform
Third-party plug-ins (mental health, diabetes, digital therapeutics) Digital wellness providers partnering with third-party solutions to offer more in-depth and robust options (e.g., mental health, monitoring and care coordination)
Reward “mall” If incentives are offered, participants can gain points for activities that they can redeem for gift cards and healthcare-related items.

Phase 2: Health coaching

Program Components Descriptions
Digital Digital platform only via messaging
Virtual Video conference coaching
Telephonic Coaching via telephone
On-site Coach available at the worksite

Phase 3: Screenings

Program Components Descriptions
Blood tests Common tests that healthcare providers use to monitor your overall health or help diagnose medical condition
Cancer screening tests Aim to find cancer before it causes symptoms
PSA test Used to screen for early signs of prostate cancer
Colonoscopy Several screening tests used to find polyps or colorectal cancer
Mammogram X-ray picture of the breast used to look for early signs of breast cancer, sometimes up to three years before it can be felt

Phase 4: Additional programs

Program Components  
Diabetes-management program  
Weight-loss program  
Tobacco-cessation program  
Chronic care management  

Step 5: Define measurable outcomes

Once a new or expanded wellness program is implemented, it’s essential to define in detail the benchmarks that will be used to evaluate it, as well as to establish short- and long-term measures for each program component.

To ensure the outcome of the program is successful, it’s equally important to set realistic measures. Many organizations do not give wellness programs enough time to produce these measurable outcomes: reductions in health risk(s) and improvement in lifestyle behaviors.

Year 1: Evaluate and monitor the early acceptance and traction of the program

Essential questions to answer are:

  • Is the program attracting employees?
  • Which activities are being used the most?
  • Is participant feedback positive or negative?
  • What do participants think can be improved?
  • Are there any barriers to participation that need to be addressed and, if so, what adjustments need to be made?

Year 2: Did the program accomplish the goals and objectives?

In year 2, focus on these questions:

  • Have the adjustments from year 1 been successful?
  • Has participation increased?
  • Has engagement (i.e., active participation) improved?
  • Are there any positive improvements in lifestyle change or a decline in health risks?

Year 3: Measure results

Look for a reduction in:

  • Overall healthcare costs
  • Absenteeism
  • Turnover
  • Disability-related costs
  • Health risks (e.g., increasing the percent of diabetics with A1c results at the desired controlled levels)

You’ll likely also experience increased:

  • Awareness of health risk (i.e., participants have clear understanding of health condition, screenings and medical adherence)
  • Productivity
  • Employee retention
  • Morale

Developing a focused and strategic plan will ensure a successful wellness program and a happy, healthy population.

Common mistakes to avoid

Organizations have the best intentions when setting goals for a wellness program, but it is common for the outcomes to fall short.

Avoid these common mistakes:

  • Setting aggressive incentives at the beginning of the program — Participants who feel they are being forced to participate will be negative about the program and are not motivated to join.
  • Including too many requirements — If an incentive is offered, having the employee go through multiple steps may cause frustration. Make it easy for them to be successful.
  • Failing to promote successes — Encourage employees to share their stories throughout the organization. That will go a long way towards preventing the wellness program from becoming “stale.”

Wellness programs are a valuable part of your benefit offerings

When assessing the effectiveness of wellness programs, which are an important part of your total rewards, focus on the value of the investment, rather than the return on investment. The value goes beyond lowering healthcare costs. It encompasses the program’s long-term effectiveness.

Over time, a well-designed wellness program that’s tailored to your participants’ needs will have a positive impact in many areas. It will:

  • Reduce modifiable health risk factors to slow the onset and progression of chronic disease.
  • Improve employee job satisfaction and productivity.
  • Reduce demand for healthcare services, which helps control both short-term and long-term costs.
  • Keep healthy participants healthy.
  • Promote positive behavior changes that help participants achieve a healthy lifestyle.

Interested in offering a successful wellness program?

We can help. 

Speak With Us

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This page is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, tax or investment advice. You are encouraged to discuss the issues raised here with your legal, tax and other advisors before determining how the issues apply to your specific situations.