Wouldn’t it be great if you could tell who in your company
is healthy just by looking at them? We know that’s not possible. It’s the same
as assuming that a person who’s 6’ 7” is a great basketball player. Likewise,
there’s more to a person’s health than what you can see.
While conducting research for this article, I Googled "fit
fitness people” for photos depicting what healthy people look like. The search
returned images from fitness companies and clothing stores of men and women
with washboard abs, trim waistlines and rippling muscles. Some images were
accompanied by feel-good slogans like "Just Do It,” "Impossible is Nothing,”
"Forever Faster,” or "I Will.”
paradigm: FIT from the inside-out
Those pictures reflect how the world sees fit, how America
sees fit and how employees see fit. This perception of fit is why a corporate
wellness initiative is often met with a collective shrug of the shoulder.
People assume that the focus of a corporate wellness program is on the outward,
hard-to-reach, abs-like-a-washboard ideal of fit, and not FIT (true health,
which begins from within). That’s why employers face a significant hurdle when
introducing a wellness strategy.
The key difference between fit and FIT is this: from a
dollars and cents point-of-view, you don’t need fit participants; you need FIT
(Found In Time) participants. You must
stratify your population as a series of risk factors, and to do that, you need
data. And to get data, participants need to visit the doctor and get their
checkups and screenings. This will help define the percentage of your
participants as low-risk, at-risk or high-risk.
tend to stick
Employers make a tactical error when they launch a wellness
strategy with little to no explanation about what they’re doing and why they’re
doing it. The true intent—employee health—gets lost in translation.
While a great way to kick off wellness is using an activity
challenge (i.e. 10,000 steps), it’s important that employees see the bigger
picture. They may hit their weekly step count, but are they really FIT? Is
their total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL, LDL, glucose, blood pressure and
body mass index and waist circumference in range? When was the last time they
had a wellness exam, went to the dentist, had their vision checked, a
mammogram, or skin cancer screening? These metric-bearing activities define
true health and ultimately drive an organization’s healthcare costs, renewal
rates and profitability.
wellness, start with the why before announcing the how
Employees need to hear why their wellness matters, not only
to them personally, but to the organization they work for. Here are effective
introductory messaging points:
- The quality and cost of employee benefits is driven
by the overall health of the organization
- Their benefits cost the organization hundreds of
thousands or millions of dollars annually
- There are many things employees can do to help
control and reduce those costs
- They can help themselves to achieve and maintain
their health and quality of life
- They can save themselves and their employer
- They can even save their own life
Before you ask employees to "do this” or "do that” they need
to get on board with your overall goals and objectives: their health and the
organization’s health. This why should form the core of your communication
strategy. This why will help employees identify their personal WIIFM (What’s In
It For Me?). The core message should nudge the motivation to actually engage in
the program, which, of course, is the first step to wellness.
Participants will find out sooner rather than later if they
have a health risk, which can help them avoid a major medical event,
significant out-of-pocket medical costs and a reduced quality of life. This is
a powerful message.
The road to FIT: a
journey of hills, valleys and plateaus
Understanding the FIT journey requires patience, resilience,
focus and a daily commitment (or sometimes a daily recommitment). The journey
is rarely a straight, ever rising line to success. Likewise, it’s wise to
temper your expectations of your participants’ engagement.
It’s important to take the long view when it comes to
wellness—both for your participant’s personal health and for your
organization’s return on investment. Success isn’t immediate; it may take
three, four or five years to achieve. It’s about successfully completing the
compliance-based phase of the wellness program (participant goals) so you can
move into an outcome-based strategy (measurable decreasing targeted health
A study by the University of Michigan Health Management
Research Center found that employers can save $350 annually when one low-risk
employee remains low-risk, and $153 when one high-risk employee becomes low
risk. Multiply those dollars by the size of your workforce and you begin to see
Another way of looking at it: it’s more cost effective for
the employer and the participant to maintain their current level of good health
than to try to achieve health. Also, the only way to maintain health, to know
if a participant is truly FIT, is annual testing. This is another powerful
The role of
A wellness strategy is only as effective as the percentage
of participants engaged in the program. If you have 50% participation, then you
can’t measure the other 50%. Also, it’s important to note that on average, 40%
to 60% of healthcare costs are driven by spouses, partners and dependents. So
when I talk about 100% participation, I’m referring to everyone who directly
impacts your healthcare costs, including:
- Employees on your medical and prescription plans
- Spouses and partners on your medical and
- Employees not on your medical and prescription
An annual measurement of the Value of Investment and Return
on Investment for each of the three categories above can directly impact
healthcare costs and profitability.
Chronic conditions are silent killers (cholesterol,
triglycerides, HDL, LDL, blood pressure, glucose and a high body mass index)
that can be identified through annual wellness exams, biometric screenings and
preventive care screenings. If identified early, these conditions can be
improved and managed through treatment, medications and lifestyle changes.
However, these conditions will not be found in time if your organization and
participants focus only on being fit.
For fun, let’s do a little math: Take a look at your annual
benefit spend and multiply that by 39.3%. The resulting number represents the
estimated percentage of health insurance claims related to chronic conditions.
(Yours could be more or less).
The achievement of FIT should be as much of a win for the
employer as it is for the participant. The win for the employer is that they
know, for certain, the true health of their participants. They’ve stratified
their population and identified what’s driving their healthcare costs. They can
make informed changes to their benefit plan design. They can adjust their
contribution and incentive strategy to drive change and shape behavior. They
can invest money on programs they know will impact the health of their
organization with some of that money being reinvested as a result of annual
By positioning your goal as having a FIT population, you can
remove objections from participants who previously neglected to get their
annual screenings and check-ups and to do something about extra weight, an
unhealthy BMI, or smoking. When employees view themselves from the inside-out,
they begin to understand the why of the what and the how of your wellness
They know what’s in it for them.
This post was contributed by Gary Cassidy, Director, Employee Education & Communication for Corporate Synergies Group, LLC. He presented at a a joint event held by our Benefits and Young Professionals Special interest Groups. More information can be found at www.corpsyn.com or by contacting Gary at| 856.996.2601 or Gary.Cassidy@corpsyn.com