As organizations face increasing health insurance costs and strive to be better employers, wellness has been a hot topic. But changing regulations and privacy concerns have made it challenging for many companies to institute a wellness program. Recent court rulings vacated the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) rules allowing for incentives or penalties of up to 30% of the cost of self-coverage to encourage employees to disclose their personal health information. Since no new rule will be issued until 2019 or later, this leaves many program owners wondering what to do. It’s important to remember that wellness takes many forms, and what’s good for employees is often good for business.

After all, a wellness program lets employees know that their well-being is important to the organization. That’s essential to employee engagement. And when there are no penalties or incentives related to access of personal information, the program is not burdened with the specter of ulterior motives. The program actually becomes about the individual employees and what will improve their lives.

In the recent Workforce article, Is Wellness Just an Employee Perk?, Sarah Fister Gale opens with the statement, “Wellness programs may be more about brand building than employee health, but that’s OK.” Yes, there can be health insurance premium savings with a healthier workforce. Yes, healthier employees are less likely to be absent and more likely to be effective.

Wellness programs have important employee engagement benefits which should not be ignored. Gale writes, “Companies also use these programs to lure top talent, offering increasingly over-the-top offerings – think climbing walks and laser tag – to brand their corporate culture as a cool place to work.” And, wellness programs don’t have to be limited to high blood pressure checks. They can include well-being initiatives from financial planning, to eldercare consulting, to community outreach programs.

Relaxed employee meditating in her office

By expanding the definition of wellness to include stress reduction and planning for long-term family or financial stability, a company can really begin to address the overall well-being of the employee. That goes a long way to increasing employee engagement with the organization. When people feel valued, they do better at work. And when they are supported in their efforts to take care of themselves, their families, and their community, employees are inspired to get behind the company mission and commit to its success.

How can you incorporate these wellness principles in your recognition and engagement program? You don’t need to ask for sensitive personal data to encourage people to get involved. Consider sponsoring a team for a walk/run 5K for a good cause, and give each participating teammate points for participating, along with recognition on your engagement platform or at your next company meeting. Or, offer legal or financial counseling, no strings attached.  It’s a guaranteed stress reducer. Encourage teammates to self-report joining a gym or counting their steps, and reward them with a merchandise item or gift card that supports their effort. It’s important that company leaders get involved, and that on-going marketing efforts keep the program front of mind.

Above all, plan for variety. Quoting Ann Wyatt, a VP of Program Management at HealthFitness, Gale writes, “Health is personal. You have to have a program that speaks to everyone or it is not going to work.”

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About the author

As Vice President of Engagement at Next Level Performance, Susan serves on the board of the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), and chairs the IRF Research Committee. She has also served on the board of the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA) and is a past president of the Recognition Council, and a past member of the Performance Improvement Council and the Incentive and Engagement Solution Providers (IESP). She is interested in the strategies and benefits of employee engagement, incentive, and recognition programs. An avid traveler, she is also passionate about the art and science of incentive travel. Favorite travel destinations: Costa Rica, Iceland, Switzerland, and Maine.

Susan Adams
Vice President of Engagement
sadams@nxlperformance.com