Wellness Programs and COVID-19: A Q&A with WellRight CEO Tad Mitchell

Wellness programs, which include wellness activities and associated incentives or rewards, wellness coaching services, and biometric health screenings, provide a means for employers of all sizes to drive engagement among employees and encourage healthy behaviors. Biometric screenings specifically play a critical role in early detection of certain health issues, such as risk for a chronic condition, and serve as a prevention tool for employees to avoid any serious health complications down the road.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and forced organizations to adapt to a work-from-home environment, corporate wellness programs and biometric screenings were required to shift to continue providing value to both employers and their employees. We sat down with Tad Mitchell, the CEO of wellness program provider WellRight, to find out how wellness programs have adapted and why biometric screenings are important, even during a pandemic.

How has the shift to working from home affected employee wellness programs?

Wellness programs are essentially behavior change machines. The remote work environment has created more of a need for adaptable programs that shift to meet employer populations where they are to support them in learning and practicing a new set of behaviors. One of the behaviors we focused on was driving connections among coworkers in a virtual setting as we know social connectedness impacts health. To combat social connectedness challenges created by the pandemic, we provided a few simple challenges and activities for our members, including:

  • Reach out to a coworker to have a virtual “water cooler” conversation
  • Proactively reach out to a new colleague and get to know them better
  • Host a walking conference call to break up the routine of sitting at a desk

Each of these activities were little nudges to simulate an in-person work environment and bring people together.

We were also quick to recognize the significant amount of stress people have been under due to negativity in the news, change in routine, and trying to work while children are home, among others. One way WellRight tried to alleviate stress was through a challenge to limit time spent watching the news. The time limit was flexible to meet the needs of each member, but because our platform was able to pivot quickly, we helped our members develop a more positive frame of mind.

Since the pandemic, have you seen any changes to what employers need from a wellness program?

The biggest change we’ve seen is an increase in demand for mental health and wellbeing resources. It’s been challenging for employees to work remotely without frequent interaction with others, so employers are looking for ways to support them in the new environment and build resiliency within their teams. By choosing a worksite wellness program with an online platform, employers can offer activities and challenges that encourage collaboration and bring people together while they’re physically distanced. As we move beyond the pandemic, an online platform will become a must-have to tie an employer’s entire wellness program together.

How important are biometric screenings to a wellness program?

When wellness programs first started, many only included biometric health screenings. The screenings were a great way to identify health concerns early. Today, wellness programs focus largely on prevention and behavior change, and biometric screenings provide a metric to help you understand the health of your population and the areas of opportunity to help promote healthier lives.

It’s important for employers to continue hosting biometric health screenings during a pandemic. There are many ways to conduct screenings in a way that’s safe and comfortable for employees, and your screening company should provide strategies to help you implement them safely and conveniently.

What are the top incentives employers can use to increase employee participation in wellness programs and biometric health screenings?

The two most common and effective incentives we see are premium differentials and gift cards. Premium differentials are essentially a discount off an employee’s premium payment, so when employees complete an activity, they receive a set discount off their monthly insurance payment. By offering a gift card incentive, employees can pick and choose what they want to participate in, which typically has a positive impact on experience. For example, if an employer offers $10 for taking an online health assessment and $3 for every challenge an employee completes, on top of a premium reduction for completing a biometric wellness screening, employees remain engaged throughout the year and find the fun in their wellness program.

If an employee discovers they have risk factors after completing a biometric assessment, how can wellness programs help?

Each employee is unique, and wellness programs are customized to meet the individual’s needs. The biometric screening reveals valuable information and allows wellness program managers to tailor activities, interactions, and education to drive behavior change and promote preventive actions.

For employees with an identified chronic condition, a wellness program can help them live a healthier lifestyle. If a diabetic employee catches the flu this winter, they are at a higher risk to experience more severe symptoms that could require a hospital visit. Wellness program coaches can provide employees with specific tools to manage their conditions accordingly and help mitigate additional comorbidities.

Overall, workplace wellness programs can help high-risk employees get on track with the basics – eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep, which are things everyone should be doing. Programs and coaches simply provide the extra motivation to stick with new habits.

Premise believes the best way to keep your workforce healthy is by providing proactive health-risk assessments. eHealthScreenings, a Premise Health company, offers a range of flexible biometric screening services, using finger stick or venipuncture, to include onsite events, offsite labs, at-home kits, and physician screenings tailored to your specific wellness needs. Click here to connect with one of our team members to discuss solutions for your organization!

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