Recently, I presented at HERO Forum 19 Thriving Organizations: Achieving Well-Being Through Collaboration in Portland, OR. I revisited a topic that continues to receive a good deal of press: how do we demonstrate that employer well-being programs are worth the time and investment?
We’ve written about this topic quite a bit, including an article in Harvard Business Review last year advocating that we should look at well-being program measurement in a more holistic fashion. That approach still rings true, especially as the definition of well-being expands to include not only physical health, but financial and mental health, too.
Yet some critics still claim that well-being programs just don’t generate the savings employers want to see. Certainly, when we focus only on specific, isolated health risks, like reducing smoking or high cholesterol, it can be more difficult to show ROI.
However, when we consider how improvement in just one health risk can have a ripple effect across a whole host of other health issues, it’s easier to see the value.
Take weight loss, for example. Losing weight often triggers other benefits, like better sleep, more energy, reduced depression and anxiety, and potential discontinued use of high blood pressure or diabetes prescriptions. A happy, healthy, well-rested employee leads to higher engagement, increased productivity on the job, and lower turnover. These intangible factors translate to real dollars in today’s tight job market, especially when you consider that the cost of replacing an individual employee can range from one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary.1
When we conducted our study last year, we found that lifestyle coaching through WebMD Health Services reduced participants’ overall health risk in a meaningful way.
- In a sample of 110,000 participants, 37% moved from high acuity levels (a measure of health risk) to moderate or low levels; and 43% went from moderate acuity levels to low.
- Holistic lifestyle coaching also helped move the needle in a significant way on five modifiable health risks: alcohol use, emotional health, physical activity, cigarette use and stress.
- Preventive screening adherence increased as well — we saw a 17% increase in cholesterol screenings and a 16% increase in blood pressure screenings, as an example.
Creating a culture of health has real value.
Aside from health improvement for the individual employee, well-being programs have another benefit: the ability to bring an organization together around a common goal. One of our longstanding clients wanted to boost fitness, improve engagement, and build a sense of community amongst their 78,000 employees at 50+ worksites. In addition to their well-being offerings with WebMD Health Services, they partnered with us to launch a team steps challenge, The Invitational, now in its second year.
The results were impressive:
- Over 16,000 individuals competed on over 3,000 teams.
- Employees completed over 4.9 billion steps — an increase of 1.4 billion more steps than last year.
- Over 2,500 spouses and partners participated — a 32% increase over last year’s challenge.
In this specific case, we didn’t measure pounds lost or changes in cholesterol, but would put forth that the participation results were just as successful as those metrics. The Invitational had a positive impact on the culture of the organization and generated goodwill that translates into increased retention and engagement.
To recap, we continue to maintain that evaluating health improvements holistically versus measuring improvements in just one or two specific risk areas is a better way to measure the overall impact and success of a well-being program. That, combined with sustained efforts to create a real culture of health in an organization, is the foundation for a healthy well-being program.