Leveraging technology for wellness initiative
The “Total Rewards” concept is the sum of what a company delivers to its employees is more than mere salary or more than mere statutory benefits. It’s a sum of all kind of benefits put together- including learning, career development, growth, a certain sense of achievement and purpose. All of the things that create an experience for the employee are a part of total rewards. Wellness is also a part of the total rewards concept. This is because, when you ask the question, “What is the total experience?”; the employee perceives it in terms of his or her state of wellness. Some rewards may be addressing financial needs, some Maslow’s hierarchy, some safety, and health, or even developmental needs. But in totality, all of this put together delivers wellness. Wellness is thus at the absolute heart and core of the “Total Rewards” system.
What constitutes a great wellness program?
There is no one great wellness program, what may be a fantastic wellness program for one organization may not be the same in another environment. HR needs to tailor wellness to the type of workforce. For example, a company that hires a large number of freshers (average age 25-26 years), cannot compare to a company that hires top-of-the-line from the market (average age of 35-37 years) because they harbor completely different notions of what wellness means. The wellness-need depends on various factors like the average earning levels, age, and stage in life, etc. While wellness programs should cater to these different expectations, some common baseline elements that constitute wellness offerings are:
- A diverse portfolio: Employees should have a choice and be able to pick what they want. Today with the plethora of products, vendors and technology/tools, we are likely to see a fantastic range of offerings where employees can pick what works for each of themselves.
- Meeting ROI expectations: It is ultimately the employer who pays for all wellness components, and HR must realize the return on investment on wellness so that the fantastic wellness offerings do not turn out to be HR overheads. Companies must rely on vendors and on technology to simplify and integrate the wellness programs.
- Ease of use: Wellness offerings should be easy to use both for the employee and employer. For example, the employer should be able to pull out analytics and metrics to analyze wellness efforts, whereas the employee should be able to access a whole range of programs anytime, anywhere through an app.
Wellness at AT&T
AT&T has been a pioneer in the “Total Rewards” concept, which was piloted in AT&T in the late 70s. Currently, AT&T’s approach to wellness is two-fold. The company has certain wellness and benefits programs that extend commonly across the globe. This is coupled with customizations based on geography, country, law, market practices, and the employee base. Wellness at AT&T it thus partly determined by the company’s global vision and partly by the market, but mostly by employee needs. Sensitivity to employee needs forms the core of AT&T’s wellness initiatives. The underlying philosophy is to “make each employee feel that they are not alone.” How they do it is by looking at a bundle of employee resource groups and employee networks (maybe on sexual orientation, on the place of origin, or even interest in certain activities). This concept revolves around giving employees an “alternate family,” i.e., a group of like-minded people where they can join in voluntarily, participate in actions and use the company assets and premises. This breeds the feeling that no employee is alone. For example, the company has seen that employees show a tremendous interest in volunteering, they feel that they are fortunate and that the company gives them a lot to be thankful for. This leads to the willingness to share their resources with less fortunate people, thereby creating a sense of wellbeing. Another important angle of wellness at AT&T is financial wellness, based on the finding that the highest performers are often the least well-informed regarding managing their money. Such employees find it extraordinarily stressful and feel they are losing out- a huge distraction. So, the company incorporated financial wellbeing by offering employees to reach out to a financial consultant lending stress-free mind space to its people. Another case in point is health wellness, where AT&T partnered with Healthi to create a unique health-check benefit offering. The basis was that a lot of people (especially high performers) are incredibly unhealthy, focusing only on work and goals, and negligent of family. So, AT&T partnered with Healthi, and decided to make the concept of “health” interesting by instating sports and physical activities like weekend cycling, rock climbing, 10k runs, etc. The technology was woven in, and employees were given a tool that allowed them to see and compare their physical age versus their actual age. For example, it breaks a person to see that he or she is 15 years older than the actual age. This power of technology altered the people, and HR could market the initiative moving from a good 6% utilization of 6% to a 75% utilization last year. Wellness is all about some push, and some pull, and the company is aiming for a utilization rate of 95% this year. This success story shows that much of wellness is about doing the right thing for people, they eventually understand that the company takes a genuine interest in their wellbeing.
Above all, wellness needs to be looked from a 360 degrees view, to ingrain it in employees’ lives.
How can organizations encourage wellness-utilization?
Of course, promoting wellness goes much beyond just “doing the right thing.” HR must focus on the following aspects to ensure that wellness programs succeed:
Communicate the right message: The “right sentiment” must be communicated well to employees. For example, pushing people to engage in sports rather than in fancy dinners conveys the message that the company is not interested in its people only for the short term, but is looking at them for a long-term relationship. This message has percolated across, improving AT&T’s employer brand and engagement survey results.
Involve the families: Another approach is to boost participation by taking a family-focused view of employees. It is amazing what happens when you bring in families. For example, AT&T involves families into various general wellness and various health initiatives such as taking them along for volunteering activities. The company does not pay for the health-checks of family members, but offers discounts. This encouraged the employee to take the entire family when he or she goes for a health-check, resulting in much higher participation levels.
Turn to technology for ease and convenience: The role of technology is strong, for example in the variables. For example, one can design an app for variables based on the health-check results where employees can get personalized coaching for their wellness. This is just one recent example of how technology can drive the right awareness and behaviors amongst employees. HR must then focus on aggregating all this information into analytics and do some predictive work around wellness. For example, develop wellness interventions based on who is likely to be in trouble. Technology allows us to personalize certain interventions for certain high-risk employees by identifying them early-on.
Most importantly, HR must link wellness initiatives with the business goals of the employee. For example, if there are ten business goals, one goal can be a wellness goal. With this construct, it is amazing how the same employee now shows maybe a hundred times more interest in wellness. It changes employee’s behaviors because now employees know that they won’t get a rating of “far exceeds expectations” unless all goals are met, including the wellness goals which are for their welfare. The manager also should be trained to track this wellness-goal achievement. Wellness is now one of the metrics to drive high performance, so the employees, managers, and most importantly HR should include it in the main line of sight.