How do you know if your employee wellness programs are getting results?
It’s a fair question. In 2021, the average mid-sized or large employer invested $238 per employee into employee wellness. Since then, wellness investments have only increased as employers have expanded their programs’ scope to reflect a holistic definition of wellness.
As we noted recently while laying out the business case for employee wellness, companies aren’t beefing up their wellness programs simply because it’s the right thing to do (although many employees and job seekers believe that it is).
Data and experience prove that employee wellness programs can boost productivity, reduce healthcare costs, attract top talent, and increase engagement — all of which can significantly impact a company’s bottom line.
The question remains, how can you be sure your organization’s wellness program is paying off? The answer to this question is vital for selling leadership on your wellness investment and continuous program optimization.
Questions to Ask Wellness Program Vendors
Before launching or expanding your employee wellness program, it’s important to put the tools in place to measure it according to the KPIs that matter most to your company. Ask your vendors and potential vendors:
- What type of standard reports will you provide? What will the reports include, and how will they be delivered? Your vendors might be willing to customize your reports to align with your company’s requirements.
- Will we have access to a sample dashboard? Viewing the wellness program from a participant’s perspective can help you determine whether the program is providing the expected experience.
- Will reporting include metrics around the social determinants of health? Social determinants of health — “the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age” — can significantly influence wellness program outcomes. You may want to account for these factors, especially if your workforce is large and diverse.
- Will your reporting capture quantitative and qualitative metrics? Not every benefit of employee wellness can be reduced to a number, such as its impact on morale and your corporate social responsibility goals.
The Wellness Program Metrics That Matter — to You and Your Employees
There is no single correct way to measure the success of a wellness program. As you consider health and wellbeing solutions and weigh the efficacy of your current offerings, you will likely focus on a mix of metrics tuned to your company’s priorities and unique employee population, drawing from the 10 metrics listed below and any other factors you deem relevant:
4 Employee-Focused Wellness Program Metrics
You don’t want to pay for programs your employees aren’t using. And if your employees aren’t using their wellness benefits, you want to know so you can work on ways to spread awareness and encourage participation.
Don’t expect to ever hit 100% participation in your wellness programs; some employees have no interest in wellness, while others prefer to follow their own wellness routines. Experts say most wellness programs in the U.S. average below 50% utilization, but it is possible to reach 75% or more.
While participation measures the attractiveness of your wellness program, engagement measures how participants perceive its quality.
If employees try out your wellness program and quickly fall away, it may indicate they find it useless or inconvenient. It may be time to check in with your provider to see how they can improve the program to serve employees better. You can also poll employees to ask about the features they want to see included in the program.
Biometric screening — assessing key health indicators such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body mass index — is an employee wellness program fixture.
While federal regulations do not permit employers to see biometric data for individual employees, wellness program vendors may provide group data. Over time, this biometric data may reveal trends, giving you a sense of how your wellness program is performing.
4. Employee Mental Health and Overall Wellbeing
It may be impossible to gauge the state of your employees’ mental health and overall wellness in numbers, but you can be sure that your employees’ mental health impacts the numbers that define your company’s success. Poor mental health among employees costs the U.S. economy $47.6 billion in missed work days alone.
The people who are most in touch with your company’s employees, including supervisors and HR team members, might have an idea of how prevalent mental health issues such as anxiety and depression are among your workforce. (Remember, however, that many people choose to deal with their mental health challenges in silence.)
Employee polls and other anonymous outreach methods might also tell you whether employees are turning to your wellness program for help managing their mental health issues.
6 Business-Oriented Wellness Program Metrics
1. Healthcare Utilization
The research is clear: Employee wellness program participants go to the doctor less, spend less on healthcare, and file fewer insurance claims than non-participants. This can lower health insurance costs for employers. The savings often outweigh wellness program costs — one reason why increasing awareness of and participation in your wellness program is key to getting a strong ROI from your investment.
2. Disability and Workers’ Compensation Costs
Similarly, companies with effective wellness programs tend to see fewer workers applying for disability and workers’ compensation. This is likely because healthy employees are less prone to injury and illness.
Effective employee wellness programs increase productivity. We examined all the evidence for this in a recent article, but the takeaway is this:
Well-designed wellness programs help employees gain control of their physical and mental health, relationship issues, financial challenges, and stress, allowing employees to focus more on work. Wellness programs have also been shown to foster creativity and encourage collaboration.
Your company’s turnover rate may directly relate to employee wellness and your wellness program’s performance. Poor health, stress, and dissatisfaction contribute to burnout, a major reason employees quit or seek other employment.
In addition, a high-quality wellness program can attract and retain employees simply by being available. According to one report, 87% of employees consider health and wellness packages when choosing an employer.
There’s no mystery connecting poor health to missed work days. If your wellness program works, it should help your employees make it to work more often. Studies show that this is indeed the case; more than half of employers offering wellness programs reported decreased absenteeism in one survey.
Employee wellness programs often involve group challenges that unite employees to work toward a shared goal. Participants who engage with these challenges can feel a greater sense of belonging and camaraderie — which is excellent for employee morale and engagement.
If your employees don’t seem inspired by your program’s group challenges, try experimenting with different challenges. We shared a few fun ideas here.
Taking Your Organization’s Temperature
As the 10 metrics listed above demonstrate, measuring the success of your wellness program is also, in more ways than one, about measuring the health of your business.
An effective wellness program helps your employees be their best selves at work and in life, and as a result, they work harder, miss fewer days, are better focused, and are more pleasant with colleagues. Your wellness program’s success leads directly to business success.