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Wellness programs: 3 steps to success


Washington state's King County implemented an innovative wellness program more than four years before the Affordable Care Act took effect. It has been so successful, with more than 90 percent of employees taking ownership of their health, that it serves as a model for other local governments and companies looking to achieve similar results, reported Employee Benefit News.

Here are some steps that helped King County and other companies yield promising results from their wellness initiatives:

1. Executive buy-in

King County experienced a drastic reduction in costs because its executive team fully embraced the wellness program. "An effort like this requires an incredible culture change and resources to do the amount of outreach and education that are necessary," Brooke Bascom, King County's health reform program manager, told Employee Benefit News. "We were really lucky to have a county executive who was very committed to the program and very committed to the approach."

But it's not only executives who must support a company's wellness initiative. Managers also can impact the program's success by celebrating when their employees reach certain goals, no matter how small, to help boost employee morale, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

2. Employee education

Before fully launching the wellness program, King County leaders spent about a year talking to employees. "We were very open about the healthcare cost problems and what it was going to mean to county operations," Bascom said. "We were looking at service cuts, we were looking at job cuts. We explained why healthcare costs were going up as fast as they were and what would be the solution."

Without such education efforts, most employees won't even know their company offers a wellness program. In fact, although more than 85 percent of large employers offer a wellness program, Gallup polls have shown only 60 percent of workers know about the health benefit, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

3. Employee engagement

Engagement plays a key role in establishing a successful wellness program. "The links between a high level of engagement and business benefits are clear," Virgin Pulse CEO Chris Boyce said in a survey reported on by FierceHealthPayer. "Recent research shows a highly engaged workforce drives profitability, productivity and customer ratings, while reducing shrinkage, turnover and absenteeism."

Only a few weeks after the launch, 60 percent of King County employees were participating in the wellness program. It was a success thanks to action plans created for each participating employee, which included anything from tracking exercise and nutrition to addressing fitness challenges and helping prevent diabetes. That involved effort led to employees losing 19 tons more than a comparison group, while smoking rates fell to levels lower than the national average from 2007 to 2011. What's more, the county saved a total of $46 million on employee health.

To learn more:
- read the Employee Benefit News article

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