HR Leads Business

Sep 28, 2020 | Clare Chiappetta, MA, HRCI Contributing Writer

3 Ways to Evaluate the Effectiveness of Corporate Wellness Programs

Corporate wellness programs have become a commonly accepted part of the benefits package in large enterprises, as well as at smaller firms. They’ve also become more sophisticated and comprehensive,  making efforts to account for the whole person — including physical, mental and even financial health. 

Whether your program is simple or complex, new or well-established, it’s important to build in ways to evaluate the impact it is having on your business in a strategic way. “Measuring a program’s effectiveness is about a lot more than looking at health care costs, claims and fluctuations,” says Susan Morgan Bailey, SPHR®, Vice President and Culture and Wellbeing Practice Leader at Marsh & McLennan Agency. “Get really clear on why you have a strategy in the first place.”

Here’s how to measure the effectiveness of your corporate wellness program.

Set Clear Goals for Your Wellness Program

Frequently, corporate wellness programs’ goals are too narrow. Most programs aim to lower health care costs, but there are more strategic goals your program can achieve. Use wellness to solve business problems. “We want to help employees be healthy, so they miss fewer days or become more engaged,” says Christine Rowe, SPHR, Director of Human Resources at Vault Consulting, “versus doing it to lower premiums.” Your priority is producing high-level business outcomes by minimizing barriers to performance.

For example, leaders need thriving team members to provide excellent customer service, but increased stress could be creating barriers to engagement. Decreasing stress produces better work outcomes, so that becomes your high-level goal. It’s a proven method: 54 percent of respondents to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey, for example, reported that wellness initiatives contributed to lower stress levels, and 51 percent reported higher productivity.

In large corporations, you’ll have several groups, each with different health-related barriers to performance. “It comes down to understanding who you employ and what the challenges are that get in the way of them showing up every day ready to engage,” Bailey says. “That’s the problem you’re trying to solve.”

Measure Participation Levels Over Time

Once you have clear, strategic goals, you need to measure your wellness program’s utilization rates. You can use a spreadsheet to track quarterly participation data or partner with a vendor to calculate participation rates. Large corporations will have several programs functioning at once, so measure adoption rates by individual programs.

Plan for nuance as you sift through the data, and don’t immediately write off a specific program because utilization isn’t as high as you’d like. “If only a certain percentage of people are using the program, but they’re using it 10 times a day, that shows you a different picture than just the number of people,” Rowe says. Lack of participation doesn’t mean employees wouldn’t benefit from the program; they might simply not have time or are not aware of what you offer. Qualitative surveys fill in gaps with utilization data, informing your strategy moving forward.

Compare Intended and Actual Outcomes

Evaluating your corporate wellness program’s effectiveness comes down to how well it’s driving your high-level outcomes. You need to measure whether people are using the resources, Bailey says, and then whether they’re having the intended impact. Do you see reductions in turnover or absenteeism, for example? Are people still calling out sick at a high frequency? If your strategic goal was to increase engagement, compare data points on program adoption rates and engagement levels. Survey employees to see if they feel more engaged since participating in your wellness program.

Remember that moving the needle on your high-level goals takes time. Track your progress consistently over a year. Not every initiative will successfully solve your strategic priorities, so plan for a recursive process. If something doesn’t work, change it and repeat the process until you achieve the best outcome.

Measuring your corporate wellness strategy’s effectiveness requires navigating the paradox between moving quickly and being agile while giving programs enough time to take effect. Survey employees frequently and consistently, and track participation trends as the data becomes available. Staying on top of trends in utilization and strategic goals helps you make informed decisions to support workforce wellness and business success.