Creating a culture of health – a new perspective on wellness

By Scott Kreiling, President, Regence BlueShield of Idaho
September 02, 2014

There are a lot of studies out there that examine how well employee wellness programs work. Many of them focus on return on investment (ROI) – whether they truly move the employer’s bottom line in a favorable direction. That is, they focus solely on the numbers. That’s where we at Regence see things differently.

Instead of implementing a check-the-box wellness solution, we believe employers are better served by creating a culture of health in the workplace – a top-to-bottom approach that changes behavior, measures more than numbers and drives a positive value on investment (VOI). That way, wellness becomes a business issue, not merely a nice-to-have employee perk.

This is where looking at the numbers does help. In the last decade, health care costs have exceeded U.S. economic growth by an average of 2.5 percent annually.[1] According to a study by the Deloitte Center for Heath Solutions, those costs will continue to climb by 5.8 percent per year through 2022 – outpacing gross domestic product (GDP), average wages and productivity gains.[2] Why is this happening? A major contributor is rampant growth in the incidence of chronic disease.

We’re talking about poor lifestyle choices – inactivity, smoking, poor diet and alcohol use – that result in diseases like lung cancer and diabetes. And this is where it becomes a business issue, affecting employee productivity.

At Regence, we understand that bottom-line results are important to every business. However, the cost savings and profits informing them must be measured beyond numbers. This means considering the impact on both health and productivity, finding ways to move employees from high-risk to lower-risk categories and, ultimately, focusing on VOI – higher engagement, retention, satisfaction and “presenteeism.” This strategy may not yield immediate cost savings, but over the long term, the rewards will be greater.

Studies show that engaged employees are generally healthier than their unengaged peers, have lower incidences of chronic health problems and are more likely to participate in company wellness programs. They also have lower health care costs.[3]

What does it take? A holistic solution focused on well-being and individual attitudes about health. One that:

  • Increases engagement with health and productivity solutions that are personalized and meet employees where they are at in terms of their wellness journey, leverage innovative technologies and reference modern-day research into behavioral economics and incentive-plan design.
  • Improves health by making it easy for employees to make healthy choices within a culture of health that addresses multiple touch points. That means reevaluating how people think about health.
  • Bends the cost curve over time.

Clearly, ROI only tells part of the story. Employers are better off measuring the value on their investment – a forward-looking equation with long-term benefits.

Creating a Culture of Health

[1] Sheryl Coughlin, “Health care costs, benefits, and reform: What’s the next move for employers?” Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, 2013.

[2] Ibid.

[3] State of the American Workplace,” Gallup, 2013.