09 Oct Do wellness programs and wellness incentives work?

Not All Programs Will Work the Same for Everyone

I’m sure you read the title of this editorial and, knowing the name of our company, you have a strong inclination that I’m going to say “Of course they do!”, right? Well the sad truth of the matter is that they may not. Even when a particular company demonstrates great results, it doesn’t mean that their program will work at your company. In the same light, programs that failed elsewhere may exceed all of your expectations. Although the answer to this “simple” question seems like it should be straight forward, the honest truth is “it depends.”

Do 401K plans work? Do EAPs work? How about school dress codes or gun laws? There is significant evidence to support these investments and initiatives but there are certainly cases where they failed to deliver the expected outcomes as well.

“It depends.”

Nobody likes that reply, but to suggest anything else is misleading and irresponsible. I’ve never seen a turnkey wellness program come out of the box and automatically revolutionize a culture or provide the “five simple steps” to reverse an individual’s patterns of behavior formed over several decades. Sure a small percentage of the population will read everything sent to them and act upon the opportunity. Scatter thousands of invitations and you’re bound to find some people who are mentally and emotionally ready to make a change and were just needing a little push. For mass uptake, however, it takes several other ingredients. It also takes strategic focus and hard work.

Consider Graco Inc. We are so incredibly proud of Graco and, again, want to extend our congratulations for their outstanding recognition as an “honorable mention” for this year’s C. Everett Koop National Health Award! What a huge honor to be in the company of Dell Computers and American Express – this year’s other winners. Graco has been a client of Bravo Wellness for the past four years – seeing incredible health improvement, and enjoying a claims trend far lower than the market.  Additionally, their employee surveys indicate that over 78% say that the premium discounts motivate them to improve their health. And 77% of employees want the program to be expanded to include spouses. While I would love to tell all of our clients and prospective clients that they too should expect to see their obese population drop from 37% to 31% in three years, and see the percentage of people with normal blood pressure improve from 21% to 69%, simply by including a premium differential tied to healthy outcomes, I cannot do so in good conscience.

Don’t get me wrong, I think we have played a significant role in driving employee participation and creating meaningful incentives that make employees want to achieve and sustain good health. We helped the communications be clear, we handled all of the logistical challenges of biometric screenings, and helped Graco employees overcome any concerns about fairness, privacy, legality and the process. There are, however, several other factors that led to Graco’s success and to their selection for this prestigious award:

  • Graco’s CEO Pat McHale makes wellbeing a corporate priority. He talks about it openly and reinforces it constantly.
  • Graco links the Bravo incentives and wellness program to their corporate values.
  • Graco’s Wellness and Safety Manager, Kim Beck, and her team consistently champion the initiative, survey employees for feedback and modify to improve the program for participants.
  • Graco migrated to their current design over a four year period: starting with rewards for participation, health communications and coaching, then combining participation rewards with very liberal outcomes-based goals. They then reduced the participation rewards and tightened the outcomes-based categories before finally moving to incentives that are exclusively outcomes-based. Graco was willing to forego short-term cost-shifting in favor of a strategy that would be self-sustaining and produce meaningful returns in 3-4 years.
  • Even though rewards are now exclusively outcomes-based, Graco never removed access to health improvement programs designed to help people succeed – they simply stopped rewarding the tools and started rewarding results.
  • Utilizing Bravo’s Type 3 Appeals process which rewards participants (non-retroactively) for achieving a goal throughout the year instead of waiting for the annual screening,  or creative wellness challenges and events that awarded participants with entries into raffles, Graco capitalized on core principles of behavioral economics by keeping people engaged all year long.

I could go on and on about the way they simply do it right for their culture, but the point is you could use the same biomarkers and dollar values and you probably wouldn’t see the same results. It takes a concentrated effort to build a strategy, communicate, reinforce, and recognize small successes.

Look for new and improved information from your Bravo account manager designed to help you establish a culture of health and create an environment where a plan like Graco’s, administered by Bravo Wellness, can in fact help you achieve similar success.