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A proven recipe for achieving wellness program success
Successful wellness programs are customized to fit an organization’s unique needs and challenges. But there are some essential ingredients that are universal.
Wellness programs aren’t plug and play. What works for one enterprise or individual isn’t automatically transferrable to another. Wellness initiatives succeed when they are closely tied to a population’s needs and the organization’s culture. So, how do you go about building a wellness program that works for your business and your people? After taking on the challenge with a few different companies throughout my career, I like to think of developing a wellness strategy as a recipe.
First, you have to line up the ingredients you need. For me, an essential ingredient that the recipe can’t work without is a deep-dive analysis of the health risks affecting your population. They’re unique to your organization and should be a guiding force as you map out objectives and program elements. For most enterprises, the data to inform your health risk assessment comes from analyzing your medical claims experience.
With an understanding of the medical claims at the core, you can identify specific needs and gaps that a wellness program can fill. In my experience, linking the wellness initiatives to the organization’s medical plan, and the point solutions that supplement it, helps you create a program that complements your existing benefits – and addresses potential gaps. It also allows you to lay out a compelling business case for your organization’s leaders.
Taking a close look at the demographics across your population is another essential ingredient of successful wellness programs. Create a detailed environmental profile based on the demographics of your people, such as race, ethnicity, education, or socioeconomic status. Then, mix in insights about how the profile ties to what’s relevant in their personal lives.
The third main ingredient is culture. This takes into account everything people experience in today’s rapidly evolving work environment and encompasses shared values, goals and practices, both formal and informal. Wellness programs that engage people and impact well-being must align with – and contribute to – the organization’s overall culture.
Mix well using prioritization and measurement.
When you follow this recipe, decisions become data-driven. So, it’s not about rolling out a one-off wellness initiative just because it’s trendy. You’re making decisions based on scientific information about health risk, demographics, and cultural relevance to determine what will drive the most meaningful health outcomes for your population.
Of course, if your organization is like most, you can’t do everything all at once. At WeightWatchers (WW), we focus on using the insights from the data to identify and prioritize our options. Once you set your priorities, you can always sprinkle in a couple of what I call “halo-effect” initiatives. These are the benefits that maybe only a few people will use in a year, but they catch greater attention and make people feel proud to be a part of the organization. Examples of halo-effect benefits could be adoption benefits, gym memberships or educational resources. It all depends on your population, what they value, and your organization’s culture.
Like all good recipes, measurement is key. But the way you evaluate options and measure outcomes always ties back to the unique problem you’re looking to solve. So, there’s no single right answer. I look more at VOI – or Value on Investment – because Return on Investment (ROI) can be elusive and often requires a long trajectory.
With VOI, you can apply some accessible data and metrics that can give you the confidence you need to add a new element to your wellness program. For example, suppose I know that one in ten Americans are living with type 2 diabetes,1 and my medical claims data shows that diabetes is driving healthcare costs for my population. This information can be enough to determine that implementing a program like WeightWatchers to help people living with diabetes lose weight and lower their blood sugar is worthwhile. I can show the value of the investment even if it takes time to track exactly how much the program will save the organization over five years and account for all of the variables that may change over time.
In most cases, when you can outline strong VOI and the program aligns with your priorities and is within your cost tolerance, there's no reason not to implement it.
Serve with customized implementation and communications.
With the right ingredients and measurements in place, the recipe for wellness program success relies on implementation and communication. Choose vendor partners who can make these processes as frictionless as possible. Still, be prepared to customize to fit your organization. Ultimately, you know your culture and goals best.
I look for partners who offer the right blend of structure and flexibility. Ideally, you find solutions that you can add without a whole lot of effort. Then, building on the existing structure, you have the ability to optimize the program to fit your goals and deliver the outcomes you’re looking to achieve, such as participation or lower claim costs.
A wellness program can be such a vital part of a person’s experience with your organization, so choosing the right initiatives is critical. As wellness program leaders, we want to be seen as a trusted source for our people. When we follow this recipe, we know we’re doing the behind-the-scenes work so that when we put a solution forward, people get excited about it because of their experiences with our other wellness benefits. The best value you can get from your wellness program is recognition from your people that you understand the problems they’re facing, and you’re providing practical solutions to help them reach their wellness goals.
1The Facts, Stats, and Impacts of Diabetes, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/spotlights/diabetes-facts-stats.html