Employee Incentives Falling Short? Personalize Your Wellness Program

It’s been called the “secret sauce” of workplace wellness, as well as one of the top trends in employee incentives for 2019.

We’re talking about personalization, and it’s changing the way employers are designing their employee wellness programs — lowering costs, encouraging participation and helping employees achieve their individual goals in the process.

You don’t have to search too far down the Google rabbit hole to read tales from CEOs and other business leaders whose efforts to make wellness more personal paid off in dividends. That’s on top of the existing cost savings of wellness programs in general, like tax breaks. After all, employees want more personalized experiences. In a Welltok survey of more than 1,000 workers, roughly 1 in 3 employees who didn’t participate in their job’s wellness program said it was because it just wasn’t relevant to them.

But how do you get from a one-size-fits-all approach to one that speaks to workers on a more personal level? Whether you’d like to optimize an existing program or launch personalized employee benefits from scratch, consider these tips to get started.

1. Let Employees Have a Say

Yes, it’s old advice and you’ve heard it before. That’s because it works. Set a foundation for a truly personalized experience by asking for feedback from the outset. What do employees want to see in the way of motivation and rewards? What could they do without? Would an on-site fitness center pique their interest? Or would they prefer other perks, like bringing in a yoga instructor for an after-work class once a week? What about an employee discount at a local gym? Find areas of consensus and build your program around those, rather than building it and then hoping they’ll come.

2. Take a Deeper Look at the Data

Of course, just because you’re asking your employees for their opinions doesn’t mean you should forgo the data and ignore what insights say. Review claims data from the previous year to find areas of opportunity for wellness programming. Are there numerous claims for heart-related issues like hypertension or angina? Perhaps a nutrition coach is in order. Are high-risk pregnancies a recurring (and expensive) claim category? Consider prenatal and postpartum perks, like on-site birth classes or dedicated nurse hotlines.

3. Build It for Your Workforce, Not the World

More than 1 in 3 adults are obese, according to the National Institutes of Health. But does that mean you should focus on weight management in your own wellness planning? Maybe — or maybe that statistic just isn’t very reflective of your workforce.

Perhaps your employees tend to be physically fit, young and most suited for creative, heart-pumping perks like kickboxing classes or company-sponsored 5Ks. On the flip side, maybe they’re older and approaching retirement — if that’s the case, they might appreciate more low-key activities like walking groups.

The same goes for rewards, too: Some employees may be more likely to feel incentivized by gadgets, while others might prefer more flexibility or time off. Assess your employees’ individual needs and wants, and build programs around what’s going to be most effective for them.

Energy company EnLink Midstream took that mantra to heart after assessing the health behaviors of its workforce, reports Employee Benefit News. The company’s employees skewed toward an older demographic — particularly middle-aged men at risk for cancer, heart disease and hip replacements. Those insights in hand, EnLink built a wellness program centered on preventive care, something its employees greatly needed.

4. Consider Language and Tech Barriers

If English isn’t some of your employees’ first language, consider having your program materials translated. That’s especially important if you plan to open wellness programs up to employees’ families, which — going back to Welltok’s survey — nearly 6 in 10 respondents said would increase their participation.

The same goes for technology, too. If employee incentives rely on computers, mobile apps or high-speed internet at home, ensure that all employees have equal access to those tools before implementing technology-based wellness initiatives that could put certain workers at a disadvantage.

Small Steps Toward Personalization

Even if industry experts predict that wellness programs may have a hard time surviving without personalization, that doesn’t mean you have to throw out all existing efforts in favor of making health and well-being more customized for all. Instead, make changes little by little. Always start with worker feedback and data, using it to slowly move programming toward a more personalized place.

What that ends up looking like, ideally, will vary from workplace to workplace. Just ensure that any changes you make are meaningful and serve an unmet need, and don’t forget to ask employees how you’re doing along the way.

Stay up to date on the latest health care regulations and trends for your small business: Subscribe to our monthly newsletter.

COVID-19 Resources: Managing Your Business During a Crisis