Over the course of the pandemic, millions of Americans have reported increased instances of depression and anxiety. Forty-two percent say they’ve gained weight, with the average gain being 29 pounds. Another 47% say they’ve delayed or canceled healthcare services. Now more than ever, employees need help getting back on track before the physical and mental impact from the pandemic turns into new or worsening chronic conditions.
The challenge for employers is finding the right benefits to offer that can meet the needs of all of their employee populations. According to the CDC, the most effective workplace health and well-being benefits are those that are “targeted to the specific employee population, suiting the worksite, employee needs, and personal and organizational health goals.”
Most organizations have a variety of employee populations, each of which has unique characteristics and challenges that impact their health and well-being. For example, a company may have multiple locations with different office environments. One may have a fitness center on location or close by while another doesn’t. A different location may be in an area where it’s safe to take lunchtime walks and the other isn’t. Another location may have a variety of healthy restaurant choices in the area while the other has only fast-food options. Remote employees, too, have their own set of challenges with communication channels and creating connections. When identifying the right benefits to support health improvement, the workplace environment is an important factor.
Besides location, job responsibilities are also important when identifying health and well-being benefits. For example, a company may have three facilities, each focusing on a different part of the business. The first facility may be an administrative office where the employee population spends long days sitting at a computer. A second facility may be a call center where employees encounter a great deal of stress and high turnover. The third facility may be a factory where the employee population encounters high levels of physical exertion and low levels of autonomy.
Each of these populations have unique needs and challenges. Sedentary workers may need to focus more on exercise while workers with high levels of stress may benefit from mindfulness meditation. Employees who have physically demanding roles may need to focus on relaxation techniques, while remote workers focus on building virtual and local support networks.
Cultural diversity is also important in identifying health and well-being benefits. An article published by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans says, “multicultural competency is a core ingredient in a program’s ability to reach employees suffering from chronic disease.” The article suggests several ways employers can achieve cultural competency in their health and well-being programs, such as making sure program materials are available in multiple languages. The article also suggests a company “expand its definition of diversity and cultural groups beyond factors like age, ethnicity and gender to include others such as cognitive diversity, disability, life experience, personality and more.” Supporting the preferences and needs of a diverse culture ensures higher engagement and outcomes.
Social Determinants of Health
Social determinants of health (SDOH) are also important factors to consider when customizing a health and well-being program. SDOH are non-medical factors like income, education, employment, housing, and social networks. We now know that “75-80% of health outcomes are directly related to SDOH.” For example, greater economic disparity among employee populations leads to greater differences in health status and healthy behaviors. Employees who lack access to reliable transportation, healthy food, and affordable housing are at greater risk of absenteeism, lower productivity, and increased stress. Offering an employee a free gym membership when they don’t have a way to get there is less effective then offering them a fitness tracker that helps them monitor their daily steps and exercise.
The bottom line is that it’s important that HR managers identify benefits and incentives to best meet the needs of each employee population.
A large global financial services company with more than 250,000 employees worldwide and 300,000 lives covered through its medical health plans, was focused on cultivating a culture of well-being. When they noticed an alarming increase in medical costs, they knew they needed to take action. At the end of 2019, the company partnered with Newtopia to conduct a medical pilot for its employees in two states. The goal was to reduce the risk of chronic disease through a personalized experience directed at preventing, reversing, and slowing the progression of chronic disease.
Because of the diversity between its office locations, the company realized that a one-size-fits-all program would not work. For example, the company’s one location already had a great health and well-being culture with wellness champions and onsite fitness amenities available to all. The management team at this location were fully onboard and actively engaged in the wellness program. The other location, a call center, on the other hand, was quite different. This location had a culturally diverse employee population with greater SDOH discrepancy within their population. The company knew it would need a different approach and engagement strategy for each location.
Newtopia worked with the company’s HR managers to create a customized outreach program for each location, with messaging and resources that resonated with those unique employee populations.
To participate, employees and their spouses or dependents had to have a body mass index (BMI) of 28 or greater, or at least two of the following risk factors:
- Blood glucose levels ≥ 100mg/dl
- Blood Pressure ≥ 130/85 mm HG
- Triglycerides ≥ 150 mg/dl
- HDL levels ≤ 50 mg/dl for women and ≤ 40 mg/dl for men
An incentive structure was also put into place, which included a monthly contribution to the employee’s Medical Reimbursement Account (MRA), plus additional contribution per month for a participating spouse or domestic partner.
About the Newtopia Experience
Unlike traditional health and well-being programs that are curriculum-based and designed with a one-size-fits-all approach, the Newtopia program is tailored to each participant’s unique health risks, genetics, medical history, motivation, social determinants of health, personal preferences, and goals. One of the keystones of the Newtopia program is its use of dedicated coaches, which the company calls “Inspirators.” Each participant is matched to an Inspirator using a proprietary personality matching algorithm. Inspirators engage one-on-one with participants on a regular basis to discuss topics such as developing and maintaining better nutrition, exercise, and habits. Inspirators provide accountability, while long-term engagement is supported by digital tools such as connected devices and interactive apps.
Dedicated Inspirators are the key to customizing health and well-being programs for diverse employee populations. Inspirators get to know each employee’s unique challenges, goals, cultural traditions, and social determinants, which enables them to create a more personalized health and well-being experience.
The results at both locations were impressive. More than 7,700 employees and their spouses or domestic partners enrolled in the Newtopia experience, which is 71% of those who were eligible, substantially surpassing the company’s goal. Even more impressive is that 84% of participants stayed actively engaged throughout the program—even throughout the pandemic—with 94% of those participating in monthly coaching sessions.
- Total weight lost exceeded 35,800 pounds.
- 77% of participants had a positive weight reduction.
- 44% of participants had a minimum weight loss of 4.3%.
- Average weight loss was 4.2% (p<.0001).
- 22% of obese participants dropped a BMI category.
It’s important to note that the COVID-19 pandemic began shortly after the pilot program was rolled out. Stressors from social isolation, fear, and other factors began to take a toll on mental and physical well-being. Yet, in the midst of it all, Newtopia demonstrated how taking a customized approach for each employee population can bring positive change even in the most challenging of times.
A Better Approach
According to the National Wellness Institute, “WELLNESS has different meanings for different populations. The first step towards an effective wellness program is understanding what it means to your audience.” This is especially important now as we evaluate the toll the pandemic has taken on employee health and well-being and determine how best to help employees repair and restore their lives in a way that is meaningful to them. The challenge was great before the pandemic and it’s even greater now. Now is the time for a new approach.
Learn more about Newtopia’s solutions here.