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Gear up for New Year’s resolutions

Now that your Thanksgiving turkey is digested, it’s a good time for employers to consider how they can motivate employees to begin thinking about New Year’s Resolutions with an emphasis on wellness.

The start of a new year is the time most adults consider what kind of lifestyle changes will help them lead a more fulfilling life. With the rising cost of health care, employers have a stake in helping motivate employees to adopt more healthful behaviors and maintain them. Wellness programs can provide a useful tool for employees that also can provide a surprising return on investment for employers over the long run.

According to Ron Goetzel of Cornell University, an expert on wellness programs, the average employer ROI on wellness programs is $3 for every $1 invested in a program. The only downside is that it can take three to four years for that investment to manifest. And the program must be sound, following best practices for implementation, resources, incentives and communications in order for that return to be realized.

The average cost for an employer seeking to implement a wellness program is about $150 per employee. While that may seem like a lot in upfront costs, it’s important to remember how the return works over time compared to the average rising cost of health care each year. It doesn’t take a lot to see an improvement in health care costs (less than a 1 percent reduction in risk factors). But program design and implementation have to be smart and consistent.

The first consideration for most employers is whether to implement such a program with internal resources or to outsource wellness administration. There are pros and cons to each approach.

When done with internal resources, the program can more easily be customized to an organization’s culture and reactive to differing outcomes, especially in terms of participation. However, if the program is not effective, or if scope creep turns what is supposed to be a 40 percent staff commitment into a 75 percent staff commitment, the benefit may be lost.

Outsourcing the program provides the natural benefit of being able to work with vendors who implement such programs for a living. Wellness in many cases is all they do, and they have mastered an understanding of the best practices to deliver the results an organization seeks.

Once an employer determines who will administer the program, it’s then important to consider how to motivate and incent employee participation. Remember, a 1 percent reduction in risk factors is all it takes to see a positive reduction in health care spending, but employees who are at the greatest risk often are more reluctant to participate.

One way Goetzel recommends to generate momentum in wellness promotion is to tie program outcomes to performance incentives, whether you’re working with internal staff or an outside vendor. “I believe it’s critical to have people accountable for what they intend to or say they’re going to deliver,” Goetzel says.

When tied to performance outcomes, the program has accountability and consequences to ensure those implementing the program give it the attention it deserves to be effective. That means continual promotion and marketing through creative communication, giveaways and other incentives, sometimes tied to medical plan premiums.

Wellness is more than just a buzzword. Well-designed programs can have a positive effect on a company’s bottom line in relation to health care costs. The new year is a natural time to leverage the personal motivation of employees to help them change less healthful behaviors. Now’s the time to act to make a difference in employee health and productivity, as well as to reduce your health care spending in 2013.

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Michelle Hicks, a senior professional in human resources, is a director in the communication practice of Buck Consultants, a Xerox company.

About Michelle Hicks

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