Well-Being on the Web: Online Health and Wellness

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You know the drill. Healthy employees are happy employees. Multiple studies show that happy employees are more productive, engaged, and reduce health care costs. And with the cost of employee healthcare coverage predicted to grow at double digit rates over the next three years, employers are looking for cost cutting measures. For many organizations, creating a culture that supports health and wellness has become a strategic imperative. As a result of this heightened awareness, worksite wellness programs have become an integral part of human resources initiatives. In fact, according to the National Association of Manufacturers, 77 percent of the nation's leading employers offer a health and wellness program. And yet, while more organizations are offering wellness programs, not all employees can access them. More employees are working from remote offices making it difficult to participate in location-based wellness programs. To address this concern, many organizations are moving their health and wellness program online.

According to a survey conducted by Buck Consultants titled 'Working Well: A Global Survey of Health Promotion and Workplace Wellness Strategiesweb-based health and wellness programs are expected to increase by 100 percent over the next three years. At their core, web-based wellness programs work to positively influence employees' overall health and well-being through a series of interactive tools such as health risk assessments, educational information, and medical self-care information.

So why have web-based wellness programs become so popular?

People naturally turn to the web for medical advice. According to a survey by Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project, 61 percent of Americans turn to the web for online medical advice and information. And 20 percent of Americans have posted information about their health conditions to online forums. The web speaks to younger employees. In a 2009 interview with HR Magazine, John Mulligan, Vice President of Pay and Benefits for Target Corporation, says that online wellness programs are a fit for younger generations. The online piece is very important to our young team member population. That's what they're used to, that's where they go first. We need to meet them where they are. 

Web-based wellness programs save money and the environment. Traditional wellness programs often rely on hard copy handouts that must be printed, stored, and continually updated. Web-based wellness programs cut costs and expand reach by connecting with employees from around the globe. Still, experts warn that online wellness programs are not a silver bullet. Researchers at the Center for Studying Health System Change conducted a study for the National Institute for Healthcare Reform (NIHR) and found that web-based educational tools, with no individualized follow-up activities to engage employees, are unlikely to make a significant impact either on participation or outcomes. Programs that combine online tools with live interaction stand the best chance of success.

The study revealed the following:

  • The health message needs to come from senior leaders.
  • Successful programs tend to have both dedicated wellness staff and informal champions within the company who are able to raise awareness, boost enthusiasm, and provide peer support.
  • Communication must be both ongoing and updated to keep the message fresh and keep employees engaged. Effective communication typically cannot be outsourced to a vendor.
  • Financial rewards are a major incentive. But there are exceptions'some successful programs use non-monetary incentives such as corporate and peer recognition.
  • The NIHR recommends that employers anticipate investing in wellness for several years before expecting to see a positive ROI. Finally, keep in mind that when it comes to health and wellness programs, one size does not fit all. Employee buy-in is essential, therefore experts recommend engaging employees in the planning stages to increase participation.
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About the Author
Bright Horizons
Bright Horizons
In 1986, our founders saw that child care was an enormous obstacle for working parents. On-site centers became one way we responded to help employees – and organizations -- work better. Today we offer child care, elder care, and help for education and careers -- tools used by more than 1,000 of the world’s top employers and that power many of the world's best brands
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