In the business world, it’s all about data. Data drives almost every decision made in an organization, even down to selecting which size paper clips to buy.
So what happens when data is more subjective than objective?
When it comes to implementing or continuing well-being programs, companies find themselves in this predicament. While companies can look to certain data points, a fair portion of the data is anecdotal.
At that point, the question becomes: How do we prove that this program has value?
In recent years, more companies have started including well-being programs as part of their benefits packages. This could include things such as employee assistance programs (EAPs), elder-care programs, financial-planning workshops or yoga and meditation classes. The list of well-being options seems to grow every day, which can create some headache for the ones deciding on the programs that would work best for their employees.
Headache or not, companies are realizing they have no choice but to start looking into how to help employees “be well.”
“Millennials have truly revolutionized work,” said Ali Payne, global well-being and engagement practice leader at Gallagher, a global insurance brokerage, risk management and consulting services business based in Rolling Meadows, Ill. “It’s not just about compensation and benefits anymore. They need all the gadgets.”
As such, “benefits professionals in general are thinking much more comprehensively about what they are offering.”
Aside from typical insurance benefits and other more “traditional” offerings, benefits professionals are considering programs that “you would have never talked about 10 to 15 years ago,” Payne said.
“The upcoming generations entering the workforce are expecting this,” said Daniel Harding, CCP, GRP, SPHR, senior leader of total rewards and employee relations at MVP Health Care Inc. “To them, they think it shouldn’t be that hard (to implement a well-being program).”
And to some extent, maybe the newer generations have a point. In this day and age of “I’ve got an app for that,” why should it be so difficult for an employer to, say, launch a sustainability program?
The answer lies somewhere in the data.
In order to get to the data, the human resources team needs to first define what success looks like.
“A lot of employers are so focused on the problem and implementing a solution that it becomes sort of the tail wagging the dog when it comes to defining success,” said Kristin Parker, a partner, Total Health Management Specialty Practice leader at Mercer.
From Payne’s point of view, there are “three buckets where employers are thinking about success.” They are employee engagement, rewards and recognition, and testimonies.
Employee engagement is one of the easier data points to focus on. Through surveys or event head counts, it is simple to see if a program is being used. And that data does more than just indicate if a program is well received — it can also help program leaders see if they are offering the right programs to engage their employees.
There are potential downsides, however, to solely focusing on employee engagement. For example, if a company offers a subsidy for a gym membership. “Sometimes employees don’t participate,” Payne said. “But they still like that they have the option.”
In terms of rewards and recognition, this may take a little more legwork. Payne uses the example of “Best Places to Work” lists, which typically lay out all the perks a “best” company uses. This can help other companies answer the question, “Do we have the right resources in place to drive employees to come to work every day?” Payne said.
Companies are realizing they have no choice but to start looking into how to help employees ‘be well.’
Testimonies — that is, direct feedback from employees or anecdotal feedback from managers — are where the data starts to get more subjective. But that information is no less valuable, Payne asserts.
“There are certain things that employees stay for and things they don’t stay for,” she said.
Getting that feedback could be tricky. But Payne suggests using survey comments or even exit interviews as a means to retrieve that information.
MVP began rolling out various well-being programs four or five years ago. The health-care company wanted to “walk the walk,” Harding said. At that point, MVP opted to use a scorecard that would help measure a program’s success. That scorecard also offered information to help the company tweak programs, as well as decide what programs to keep, add or eliminate.
Furthermore, it gave the company a snapshot into what was next, giving guidance on the question “What’s the next stressor?”
Mercer’s Parker urges companies to “make sure success is defined early on.” She suggests focusing on the “Triple Aim” approach: improving the patient (in this case, the employee) experience, improving outcomes and reducing costs — both for the company and the employee.
Once success has been defined, then is the time to figure out the methodology on how to obtain that information. (See “Four Methodologies to Measure Well-Being Program Success.”)
Getting Buy-In: Data is Currency
In addition to measuring the success of a well-being program, data can also come in handy in one very important way: getting buy-in from leadership.
Traditionally, leadership has focused on health-care metrics, such as health-risk assessments, behavioral-health claims and pharmacy claims, Parker noted. But as more types of well-being programs pop up and the usual data is less concrete, there are other things to consider.
Take, for instance, a meditation program. Given that distraction is the leading cause of injuries at work, teaching an employee mindfulness “could significantly decrease the number of injuries on the job,” she said. That could, in turn, increase productivity and could “ultimately be a bottom-line revenue generator, or increase the creativity and innovation that can lead to revenue generation.”
In addition to measuring success, well-being data can come in handy by getting buy-in from leadership.
Understanding what services vendors might provide — and if those services are already included in your contract — is crucial to getting leadership on board, Payne said.
“The worst thing you could do is go to your executives and say, ‘I want to spend more money,’ but you haven’t done your homework.”
For example, perhaps your insurance provider offers other resources, such as financial planning. Finding out that you are already paying for that benefit but didn’t realize it is a good way to get the OK.
“You do want to make sure you are using all the services your vendor has,” Harding said.
Harding stresses that it’s also important to make leadership understand that it’s not just about return on investment that counts when it comes to well-being: It’s also value on investment.
“You hope that your retention rate goes up, turnover goes down and attraction goes up,” he said. “But ultimately, there is a return,” financially and otherwise.
In some cases, “it’s tough to sell,” he said. Still, “if I can save 1%, even 0.5%, on my medical spend year after year (through the reduction of various health claims), that’s quite a change.”
“The money is going to get spent somewhere,” he said. So why not on well-being?