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Wellness Benefits Programs Still Face Engagement Obstacles

By Jennifer S. Kiesewetter, Esq. | Jul 5, 2017

Wellness benefits programs aren't the new kids on the block. In fact, they've been around for a while. By implementing wellness programs, trustees are promoting good health for their members. However, even with this benefit, participation and engagement in these programs continue to be a challenge for organizations.

Engagement Barriers and Drivers

According to a joint study from HealthFitness and The Connell Group, while participants in wellness programs feel healthier, have a more positive attitude towards their jobs and organizations and have a high satisfaction with the benefits offered through the program, nearly 60 percent of workers don't participate. This study was initiated to understand the continuing needs of wellness program participants while measuring the drivers and barriers to engagement.

For example, the study found that once participants were engaged, they were typically satisfied with the program. In fact, the study showed that 79 percent of participants in wellness programs reported satisfaction with the program. However, significant barriers to engagement still existed, including:

  • Culture, such as inconvenience and lack of organizational support;
  • A lack of information; and,
  • Trust and privacy concerns.

Interestingly, the research indicated ways for organizations to overcome many of these barriers.

Methods to Drive Engagement

Based on the study's findings, there are several steps benefits managers could take to drive member engagement in wellness programs. For example, participants in the study indicated that leaders should support participants' time off during the day to use the company gym or to take a walk. Further, for a personalized, customizable style, organizations may use coaches and specialists to aid participants. By taking this approach, the survey indicated that 70 percent of employees stated their employers cared for them, thus further driving engagement.

To achieve these goals, Harvard Business Review reported that organizations must take a strategic approach. Decision-makers should engage participants where they need the support, and then develop their wellness programs from those findings. According to CIO, one way to increase participant engagement may be through gamification, where trustees can provide motivation through daily or weekly challenges or through leaderboards for participants to follow. This helps keep them interested in and using the wellness program during their tenure. Providing authentic, motivating connections with members so they make the right health choices is critical. Don't simply give flu shots once a year. Organizations must establish effective wellness programs, not simply a general wellness program.

HealthFitness president and CEO Paul Lotharius explained in the aforementioned study, "It's clear we need to take our health, wellness and fitness programs to a new level to continue producing results that are meaningful and effective."

Happier, healthier members are key to a successful fund. Labor unions should review their current wellness benefits and examine current engagement to find opportunities for improved outcomes. Low engagement won't serve a fund well, from its members to the administration of the program to the costs of managing benefits. A robust wellness program will offer a fund better return on investment only with a higher participant engagement percentage.

Jennifer Kiesewetter, founding and managing member of Kiesewetter Law Firm in Memphis, Tennessee, is a seasoned attorney in the field of employee benefits. Ms. Kiesewetter's practice includes regulatory compliance and governance with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), the Internal Revenue Code and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), in addition to the other federal laws governing employee benefits and health care compliance regulatory law. She's also an Adjunct Professor of Employee Benefits at University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. Additionally, Ms. Kiesewetter is a frequent writer and speaker on the topic of employee benefits and health care compliance regulatory law, locally, regionally and nationally.

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