I spend my days talking to companies about their corporate wellness programs. For organizations looking to create a culture of wellness, supporting health in the workplace is certainly an important initiative. But achieving the ultimate financial goal – trying to reduce employee healthcare costs – is much more difficult. The rising cost of employee healthcare in America is crippling employers, and everyone is searching for a solution. A recent study by researchers at RAND Corp reported that workplace wellness programs show little impact on participant weight loss, and no impact on cholesterol control. Additional studies have shown that many wellness programs do nothing to improve benefits costs – and may actually increase the costs by encouraging more doctor visits.
The idea of incorporating healthy habits into the American workday seems to make sense, so why aren’t employers seeing the benefits? Below are five reasons why employee wellness programs are failing.
Keeping the Healthy… Healthy
Healthcare costs fall under the Pareto principle - roughly 80% of the people are driving 20% of the employer’s healthcare costs. These individuals are the ones who are most likely to engage in an employee wellness program. They’re already moderately healthy and they likely want to continue to stay healthy. Maybe they’d like to drop a couple of pounds, focus on exercising more or learn some healthy new recipes. These employees might see a modest result from the wellness program, but minimal improvements in already healthy people won’t affect the organization’s healthcare costs.
Ignoring the High Risk Individuals
Conversely, the unhealthiest 20% of an employee population is driving 80% of the healthcare costs. To break it down even further, the sickest 1% is responsible for a whopping third of healthcare spending. These employees are the ones who need serious health help. Oftentimes these individuals have high cholesterol, blood pressure numbers that are through the roof, and may be pre-diabetic. Many of them don’t even know it. These people are far less likely to engage in the wellness plan, but helping them does more than save companies money – it saves lives.
How many wellness programs offer help outside of working hours, beyond the four walls of the office? Attending seminars, joining a gym or participating in fitness initiatives on an employee’s personal time defeats the idea of “workplace wellness.” If the program isn’t easily accessible, it’s far easier to blow it off at the end of a long, busy day. Workplace wellness should come to the employees.
Wellness vs. Weight Loss
What does wellness really mean? Is it about losing a few pounds, only to gain it back as soon someone reverts to old ways and habits? Dropping a few pants sizes is a good start, but the true measure of wellness in America lies in reversing the course of largely preventable chronic illnesses such as heart disease, stroke and Type II Diabetes. True wellness means changing your life for the better and learning how to make a real difference in the statistics that matter, like cholesterol levels, blood pressure and blood glucose.
Investing Wellness Dollars in the Wrong Place
Focusing wellness spending on population health management (the healthiest 80%) doesn’t pay dividends. Yet companies continually focus on superficial engagement of these employees. Chronic disease is likely your biggest contributor to large claims, pharmacy and hospital bills. Investing in chronic disease is the first place to start for employers looking to reduce these costs.
So, should you stop everything you’re currently doing around health awareness and population health management and focus solely on chronic disease prevention? Absolutely not. But, you should be aware of where you’re making the financial investments and what kind of return you’ll see. Don’t spend your money on population health management if you’re looking to improve healthcare spending. Leverage your existing services from your healthcare benefits carrier or broker to keep the healthy employees healthy. Use your wellness funds and incentives dollars where they’ll have the greatest return, preventing and reversing chronic disease. You can impact that spend! More importantly, you can save lives.
Want to learn more about the Karelia True Health Program’s response to these five issues? Check out our actual results from using risk reduction in the workforce. Better yet, schedule a webinar with one of our True Health experts to hear about what the Karelia True Health Program can do for your organization.