Research demonstrates that a key factor of a successful wellness program is to incorporate health and well-being in the company’s culture – create a culture of health. 

An exclusive interview with Jeanette Martin, Ph. D., VP and Employee Wellness Program Manager at BankUnited,  to discuss how she created a high performing employee wellness program that is endorsed by leaders and embedded in the bank’s culture. With this in place, employees tend to be far more engaged in improving their own wellness. The program that Martin created in just 3 years boasts a 70% engagement rate, compared with the average 24% amongst programs offered by US companies. Here’s how to follow in her footsteps.

1) Start with the company leaders.

At the basis of a culture of health are leaders who act as role models for a healthy lifestyles and are active advocates of work-life balance. Whereas some leaders naturally live an active and healthy personal life, others need personal support.

Martin: Very early on I reached out to top management and offered guidance around their personal health and well-being as well as provided support on how to carry wellness into their teams. I’ve been very successful in this regard, and am now part of every team meeting.

2) Understand your employee population.

To develop a well-structured and effective employee wellness program that addresses the needs of leadership and employees, you need to know your population. To reduce health-related costs, Martin developed a strong relationship with the company’s insurance representatives and carrier to understand the bank’s claims data, and thus employees’ primary health concerns. She also offered employees ways to analyze their individual states of health and fitness, through physical endurance testing in the bank’s gym or third-party biometric screening.

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3) Keep a clear focus.

Successful employee wellness programs have clear goals so they are easily understood and trusted. Whether your wellness program is being designed to reduce work-related ailments for employees or prevent burnout, it’s important not to lose that focus.

Martin: The Bank On Wellness program has a distinct goal in mind, to improve the health and well-being of employees by offering programs that include stress management, nutrition, and life coaching. It is important for us to address today’s employees’ desire to improve their overall life, both professional and personal. For this reason, we included medically covered spouses and domestic partners in our program as well.

4) Make it fun.

One critical obstacle to stay ahead of while overseeing an employee wellbeing program is lack of participation. It’s typical to see high engagement in the very beginning, only to have that rate drop shortly after.

Martin: To keep employees motivated, our program’s concept was simple: Employees participate for wellness points and in turn they receive premium-differential, so they see a direct benefit every month. It also helps that the wellness professionals we contract with inspire motivation and create trust with our teams. And finally, we create fun challenges. Some of our offerings have included exciting new wellness territory, like sensory reconnection and art and music therapy programs. Although the employees initially engaged with the program because of the incentives, over time they evolved and embraced the lifestyle changes – and then even asked for more!

5) Improve with your workforce.

Asked what she would share with other HR professionals who are just starting out, Martin offers ideas that she has identified as natural areas of progression for the future of Bank On Wellness.

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Martin: Right now, the efforts are participation driven, but in the future, we would like to focus more on outcome. However, this is a long-term play; focusing on that type of result early in the conception of the program might have been detrimental to overall participation. Now that the program is thriving, adding an outcome-based approach could make the program even more effective. For example, employees could soon earn points when their biometric screenings fall within the parameters of the American Medical Association, such as when their body mass index reaches the healthy range. Such incentives motivate employees to continue moving toward their goals and lead to higher returns overall.

Creating a culture of health takes time, but doing so is well worth the effort spent. It is imperative that businesses ready to develop their own employee wellness program first evaluate their current culture. If it does not include health and well-being, then this should be the first goal to aspire to.

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