Healthiest Employers Panel:
More employees expect
workplace wellness programs

Heather Brazee of Herman Miller speaks during the panel discussion of the West Michigan's Healthiest Employers event. (R-L) Barbara Witt (Trendway), Amanda Harrison (Southwest Michigan First) and MiBiz's Mark Sanchez listen.

Companies that want to become a magnet for bright, young talent might be well served by implementing a wellness program.

As the millennial generation matures and employers face tougher competition for talent, companies have shifted their strategies to well-run wellness programs as part of their broader corporate culture to get employees better engaged in the workplace, according to winners of the third-annual West Michigan’s Healthiest Employers Awards from MiBiz.

Millennials have a greater choice today in where they work, and programs that are part of the overall corporate culture and engagement strategy “are going to be some of those defining factors that are going to separate employers from each other,” said Amanda Harrison, director of Southwest Michigan First in Kalamazoo.

“If you are both paying the same, if you are both equal distance to where I live, but one of them has a really awesome wellness strategy that’s engaging and exciting and financially rewarding, that just might be enough to tip the scale and push talent in your direction,” Harrison said during a panel discussion at the recent Healthiest Employers Awards.

Southwest Michigan First won the award in the small business category. Holland-based Trendway Corp. was the winner in the middle market category and Zeeland-based Herman Miller Inc. won for large companies.

Barbara Witt, director of human resources at Trendway, noted that participation rates in the company’s wellness program are higher among younger workers, who have come to presume wellness will be offered in the workplace.

“The younger generation just expects this,” she said. “They don’t know anything different.”

Speakers at the panel discussion suggested that employers starting a wellness program should avoid a complex, points-based system for employees to earn wellness rewards.

Many employers with a wellness program provide financial incentives or rewards for employees to participate, or offer them if workers achieve an identified health outcome. A system that’s too complex can drive employees away from participation.

“Complex programs are hard to communicate, they are hard to understand and people will glaze over them very quickly,” said Heather Brazee, the health and wellness manager at Herman Miller. “Very simple programs are the way to go with rewards. Simple rewards are often appreciated.”

Trendway at one point had a “very elaborate” points system for wellness rewards that even Witt had trouble explaining to employees. The company switched to a simplified system where everybody could earn a reward “and all of a sudden our participation rates went way up,” Witt said.

“Keeping it simple is absolutely the number one. Don’t make it complicated,” she said.

Employees also need to maintain open communications with employees about what they want in a workplace wellness program, Brazee said.

Some employees surely won’t like the program and refuse participate, no matter what the company does, Brazee said. While they always want to listen, employers need to avoid putting too much stock in the complaints of people who don’t care for wellness, she said.

“There are lovers and there are haters for wellness. Most people really appreciate it,” Brazee said. “If you focus on naysayers and the few people who may not love it, it’s hard to move forward and it’s hard to continue that change and the culture you’re looking for as an organization.”

As employers build and adapt their wellness programs, speakers at the Healthiest Employers Awards panel discussion offered a reminder for them not to forget the people at home. To get the full value of the company’s investment in wellness, consider extending benefits and programs to spouses and other dependents, speakers said.

Reaching out to families of employees was a focus of Herman Miller’s health and wellness strategy in the past year, Brazee said. Spouses are eligible for earn rewards and participate in wellness challenges and events, she said.

Source: MiBiz