Wellness Coordinators – 3 False Worksite Wellness Programming Beliefs (Be Careful With These)

Awareness and education are core components of successful and sustainable worksite wellness programs. Read on to read about 3 common beliefs about worksite wellness programming and why they may not be to accurate.

Belief #1:

If people understand their health risks, they will reduce the risks by adopting healthier lifestyle practices. Therefore, having employees complete a health risk appraisal (HRA) is considered to be a core practice of employee wellness programs today.

The Reality:

Most employees already understand their health risks. Smokers realize they need to quit. Couch potatoes recognize they need to be more physically active. Fast food junkies recognize they need to make healthier food choices. So how do HRA results benefit these individuals?

The results may be of no benefit at all. Some argue that it is important for the employer to know employee health risks at the aggregate level to help better target messaging and programming/interventions.

While these are certainly true statements, most employers do not use individual employee targeted and tailored health messages. As for programming and interventions, any employer’s wellness program would be well served to address physical activity, nutrition/healthy eating, sleep and stress as core programming in their program, even when aggregate health risks are not known.

Knowing organizational level aggregate health risk data can be important as a program evaluation strategy. Measuring aggregate health risks at baseline and then again in subsequent years can demonstrate health risk trends over time. Health risk trends can be used as a measure of program effectiveness. When used this way, it is important for employers to understand that health risks naturally migrate up and down the health risk continuum, regardless if a wellness program is in place or not.

Belief #2:

Conducting annual employee biometric screenings will also lead to employees adopting healthier lifestyles.

The Reality:

Just like health risk information, an employee knowing their biometric data (BMI, blood glucose, and cholesterol levels) won’t necessarily lead to the employee adopting healthier lifestyle behaviors.

Before conducting workplace biometric screening, it is important to take two points into consideration:

1. An employee identified with a biometric level outside the normal accepted range will often generate additional health related costs for the employer, employee and health plan as they seek medical evaluation with its often associated additional and more complex (and costly) testing.

2. If the employer provides employee health insurance as a covered employee benefit, biometric screenings and their cost are already built into the insurance benefits and premium costs. Conducting worksite screenings means the employer is paying twice for the same service.

Conducting worksite biometric screenings may identify an employee in need of immediate medical care. While this is, of course, a good thing, the occurrence of this happening as a percentage of the number of tests given is usually quite small.

Just like health risk data, measuring biometric data at baseline and again in subsequent years can be used to measure changes in the biometric levels which can also be used as a measure of wellness program effectiveness.

Many programs measure biometrics on an annual basis. It is important for employers to understand that annual testing for some specific biometric measures may not be supported by the research or considered to be best practice by standards.

Belief #3:

Providing incentives to employees will help them to adopt healthier lifestyle behaviors.

The Reality:

There is no research evidence supporting the belief that providing incentives to employees results in their maintaining healthy behaviors longterm. What is clear, from the research, is that the use of incentives drives participation, rather than engagement.

Employees will participate in a wellness program in order to avoid a penalty (compliance) or to obtain the incentive. This participation will not necessarily lead to the employee actually engaging in their health or wellness.

Incentives will result in employees taking action, but will not necessarily lead to a commitment to change. Commitment comes best from intrinsic, not extrinsic motivators.

These 3 beliefs are very common to worksite wellness programs today. If your worksite wellness program practices are based on any of these beliefs, I would encourage you to have a clear rationale for why you are using them.

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