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Comprehensive Approach Needed for Successful Well-Being Initiatives

Employers are balancing an investment in employee well-being and efforts to create a health-supporting workplace culture with a need to demonstrate tangible outcomes to senior leadership, an executive board or investors.

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A study from the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) identifies four areas of well-being best practices that could be predictive of success. The “Development and Validity of a Workplace Health Promotion Best Practices Assessment” found that organizational and leadership support, incentives, comprehensive programs and program integration are the best approach to a successful well-being program.

The study draws upon data from 812 organizations that completed the “HERO Health and Well-being Best Practices Scorecard” in collaboration with Mercer between January 2015 and October 2017.

According to Mary Imboden, Ph.D., lead author on the study and a HERO research associate, investigators analyzed information about the well-being strategies that were used and how effective the organizations were in the design, implementation and evaluation of their health and well-being initiatives. Of all the practices listed on the HERO Scorecard, 24 emerged as the most predictive of successful initiatives, and the strongest drivers were in the areas of organizational and leadership support and incentives.

“While this study reinforces the knowledge that leaders have tremendous influence when it comes to encouraging buy-in for well-being initiatives, increasing participation and outcomes requires a more comprehensive approach,” Imboden said. “Employers want to know how to move the needle on their well-being outcomes, and this study illustrates the importance of a comprehensive approach and which strategies will get you farther, faster.”

The HERO study details the specific practices most strongly associated with effective initiatives, including:

  • Demonstrate organizational commitment to health and well-being;
  • Engage employees at all levels of the organization;
  • Develop a strategic plan and reporting for multiple stakeholders;
  • Target communications to diverse groups;
  • Offer financial incentives for specific activities;
  • Allow benefit-eligible spouses/partners to earn incentives;
  • Offer individualized, population-based programs in multiple channels;
  • Offer lifestyle and disease management programs;
  • Ensure programs include robust features (e.g., social connections);
  • Provide tools to track health;
  • Integrate programs, communication, data, and strategy; and
  • Integrate well-being programs with other employee benefits.

Sara Johnson, Ph.D., co-president and CEO of Pro-Change Behavior Systems, Inc., whose organization led the analyses, said the results from this most recent study were consistent with multiple areas of research, including the HERO Culture of Health Study Committee’s inclusion of executive leadership, organizational leadership, and policies and procedures among the 24 key elements of an organization’s culture of health.

“There are many strategies employers can use to advance employee health and well-being, but research has once again shown that, for best results, a comprehensive approach is the way to go,” Johnson said. “The fact that leadership has such a strong influence is good news for employers of all sizes because leadership and cultural support for health and well-being is possible everywhere.”


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