The New York Times recently reported on a study about the effectiveness of well-being programs. The study, which was published by JAMA, found that well-being programs are not delivering. It claims they’re not improving employee’s health measures, providing organizations with health care savings or offering any immediate benefits. But, the analytical approach to the study does not consider key elements of a personalized and holistic well-being program. Instead, it only looks at short-term effects, which don’t tell the whole story.
When it comes to implementing a well-being program, there are several components that are essential to driving engagement, impacting behavior change and achieving desired outcomes. Well-being programs must:
- Support holistic health – Well-being programs need to incorporate tools to help employees improve every aspect of their well-being, including their financial, emotional and mental health. Only by considering employees holistic health can the true value of a program be captured.
- Use a person-first approach – A well-designed program is one that considers the specific needs of an individual, such as their interests, conditions they want to focus on and their readiness to change.
- Make participation multi-modal – In order to reach users where they are, when they’re ready and how they want to interact, a program should incorporate various approaches—including through phone, text, email and in-person. A comprehensive program also considers that individuals respond to different learning styles, such as motivational, educational, social, individual or team-based. Catering to each of these will help organizations capture the widest audience and keep them engaged.
- Create daily habits – While we all want to see results quickly, it’s unrealistic to expect sustained behavior change after only 12-18 months, which is when the JAMA study was conducted. Programs need to create small goals, daily habits and reinforced messaging to drive long-term participant investment and results. Likewise, measurement and reporting need to align with these expectations.
- Improve organizational outcomes – Well-being programs are part of a corporate strategy to drive employee productivity, engagement and retention—while also supporting a culture of health. Making well-being a business priority can improve the lives of employees and infuse workplace culture with greater positivity, energy and commitment.
Benefits beyond cost savings.
For many employers, the benefits of well-being programs go beyond health care savings. In fact, according to a 2018 Deloitte employer survey, only 23 percent of organizations said their well-being program was designed to lower health insurance costs.1
Instead, organizations are focusing on improving the well-being of their workforce to help drive employee engagement, retention and productivity—and it’s been working. The same Deloitte survey found that most organizations are seeing a major return on investment from their well-being program outside of their health care savings. Some examples include:
- 43 percent believed that their well-being program reinforced their organization’s mission and vision.
- 60 percent reported that it improves employee retention.
- 61 percent said that it improves employee productivity and bottom-line business results.1
Rethinking how we measure well-being.
To gauge the effectiveness of well-being programs, you need to consider how you define and ultimately measure it. The industry has traditionally focused on assessing the impact of programs on lowering specific health risks such as smoking, stress and weight, with little acknowledgment of the interplay between those risk—and how, taken together—they provide a more relevant definition of well-being and a more accurate reflection of value.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, we explain how if an employee loses weight they will likely feel healthier. In turn, they may sleep better, have more energy and experience more positivity. This could also result in them getting off of blood pressure medication and living their life more fully.
Just one healthy lifestyle change can lead to many benefits, which is why it’s important that organizations measure the impact that an improvement in one risk can have on other health risks. For more information on WebMD’s measurement approach, visit our e-book: How to Measure Your Well-Being Program.
Well-being programs are not one-size-fits-all.
At WebMD, we believe a well-being program should be a part of every organization’s corporate strategy. While the JAMA study may say otherwise, it only examines one particular organization and its limited findings should not be considered true across all industries. In our experience, a well-designed well-being program can help organizations reduce costs, improve productivity and provide employees with the resources they need to live happier, healthier lives.