Credit: National Cancer Institute
Credit: National Cancer Institute

As you know, healthcare costs continue to rise, due mostly to chronic diseases, described by the Center of Disease Control as the most preventable health problems in the United States. So the obvious way to save money for your organization is a wellness program, right?

Well, not so fast. A 2013 study by the RAND Corporation found that, after five years, the average wellness program saved a company $3.46 a month and the average participant in a wellness program lost one pound in three years.

Does that mean trash all wellness programs? Not at all. It means build an effective wellness program as an organization can achieve massive savings – along with increased employee morale and productivity – by having healthier employees.

Three keys to an effective wellness program are:

1.       Give Real Awards For Wellness

A Lincoln, Nebraska company that makes chrome trims for Harley-Davidson motorcycles has an award-winning wellness program that gives away an all-expense paid trip to climb a mountain in the Rockies if employees reach certain benchmarks, such as not smoking or keeping their waistline under 40 inches. Employees who achieve the benchmarks also pay less for their healthcare. Of the company’s 510 employees, 200 hit the benchmarks in 2013 and company executives believe they will save $2 for every $1 they spend on the program.

The takeaway? Give employees real incentives for wellness, i.e. money or desirable awards. This can also increase morale and decrease employee turnover.

2.       Avoid Competitions And Other Gimmicks

Often, companies have “Biggest Loser”-like competitions or other gimmicks to encourage their employees to be healthier. Studies show that these programs might have some small benefit in the short term, but have little impact in the long term as it labels wellness as a fad or temporary instead of a lifestyle.

Secondly, competitions can actually hurt morale and productivity and people who have no chance to win will have little incentive to continue to participate. If your company is going to do one of these programs, the best way is to make it collaborative, i.e. having a team goal.

3.       Focus On Improvement; Not One-Size-Fits-All

A study by the Center for Studying Health System Change concluded that one-size-fits-all wellness programs were among the most ineffective. The goal instead should focus on improvement.

A 25-year-old employee is going to have very different wellness goals than a 55-year-old employee. The goal should be to incentivize improvement across the board, not to try to cram different people with different preferences into one box.