Eight steps for making wellness programs work



Wellness programs are a common workplace sight – 77 percent of employers offer them – but are they effective?

The answer is an overall yes, but it is important that employers take steps that have proven to make for effective programs that improve the health of the employees, reduce medical costs and improve productivity.

The Wellness Council of America estimates that, for each $1 invested in a wellness program, employers can save as much as $3 in health care and productivity costs.

Wellness programs can be structured in myriad ways, but here are some “best-practice” tips that employers can follow to ensure their programs have the greatest impact:

  1. Develop a detailed plan that includes short- and long-term objectives and outlines important factors, such as budget restraints.
  2. Set up a wellness committee and identify “wellness champions” who will help drive the program’s scope and implementation.
  3. Review data from past insurance claims, employee surveys and health assessments and screenings to make sure you select wellness programs that address the most common health challenges affecting employees.
  4. Offer on-site wellness programs such as biometric screenings, health fairs or walking groups.
  5. Encourage workers to participate in wellness programs by offering incentives such as gift cards, lower health insurance premiums, cash bonuses, discounts and contributions to health savings accounts. Participation rates in wellness programs more than double when employers offer incentives.
  6. Use email alerts, promotional flyers and organizing in-person meetings as ways to communicate effectively about your wellness programs.
  7. Provide employees with online tools that simplify important tasks, such as keeping track of health care costs and helping them become more informed health care consumers.
  8. Track results, and at least once a year evaluate your wellness programs’ effectiveness and whether individual employees have been successful in reducing their health risks.

At UnitedHealthcare, we have implemented these practices internally and on behalf of our clients. Following these tips will help employers and employees maximize the benefit they get out of employer-sponsored wellness programs – and improve the health of the company and its workforce.

Dr. Roger Muller is the market medical director for UnitedHealthcare’s Pacific Northwest Region, a position he has held since 2006. In this role, his responsibilities include patient care, staff supervision, physician relations, and business development. Dr. Muller oversees a team of 10 nurses responsible for clinical efforts in Washington, Oregon and Alaska.

Dr. Muller is board certified in emergency medicine. He graduated from Portland State University with a degree in biology and earned his medical degree at Oregon Health Services University. Dr. Muller completed his emergency medicine residency at Ohio State University. He is married and has three young children. In his free time, Dr. Muller enjoys art and wine collecting, and is an accomplished sailor.