Top workplace wellness trends for 2014

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Crystal Spraggins

2o13 was an interesting year for workplace wellness.

Amid a ton of bad press, CVS Caremark initiated a new policy mandating that employees take tests for blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, and body mass and body weight or pay a monthly fine of $50.00. The policy also stated, "Going forward, you'll be expected not just to know your numbers—but also to take action to manage them.

Bloggers, lawyers, and media personalities chastised CVS for using the stick when the carrot would have done just as well, but CVS disagreed, arguing that they’d been offering the carrot for a while with few takers.

CVS is not alone, of course. Last summer, Penn State announced a very similar policy (amid similar complaints) promising to charge employees $100 per month if they didn’t submit to tests; employees who smoke were told they’d pay an additional $75 per month.

The die has been cast, and it’s clear that employers, especially large employers with large healthcare costs, will continue to look for ways to reduce those costs. Despite protests about privacy and employer intrusiveness, it’s becoming more common and more acceptable for employers to not only reward employees for good choices but penalize them for bad. In fact, one could say that it’s become downright trendy.

Here are a few other workplace wellness trends we’ll see in the coming months.

More wellness programs

It’s no secret that the current Presidential administration has made health and wellness a priority. It should come as no surprise then, that The Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides employers greater flexibility in designing wellness plans. These provisions, as well as the pickle of rising healthcare costs, will continue to encourage employers to create wellness programs, which are already quite common. (A 2012 Opinion Paper sponsored by the Department of Labor stated that 74% of employers who offer health benefits have wellness programs.)

Better wellness program data management

More companies will move beyond the “awareness” phase of wellness programs (where the goal is simply to educate employees about the benefits of a more healthy lifestyle) to better and more analysis of how wellness initiatives are influencing employee behavior and affecting costs.

More creative wellness efforts

Change is hard and normally doesn’t happen without a very good reason. Doing the work to become healthy when you’ve spent months (or more likely, years) engaging in unhealthy behaviors is no cake walk, and yet employers want to see those changes happen. Accordingly, they’ll seek more creative ways, like these wellness apps, to get employees interested and on board.

More review of what’s working in wellness and what isn’t

Janet G. McNichol, SPHR, CAE, Human Resources Director at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), located in Rockville, Maryland, says “We're starting to see studies that call into question the ROI of traditional wellness initiatives like health risk assessments, screenings, and the use of incentives. At the same time, the data are building to show that creating a culture of wellness in an organization increases employee engagement and productivity.” McNichol, who’s also an independent wellness consultant, has been speaking about the importance of healthy living since 2010 and maintains a blog, Inside Workplace Wellness, that chronicles wellness efforts at ASHA.

Whether most wellness programs bring about the intended results most of the time is debatable, but so long as unhealthy employees continue to cost companies money, these programs will exist, and employers will continue to seek ways to make the programs more effective. But that’s a good thing.

A robust wellness program sends a strong message that you care about your staff,” says McNichol. “If you focus on making healthy choices easier for your employees, you can't go wrong.” 

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