New research shows employees need more knowledge about company wellness programs

What we have is a failure to communicate. Who said that? It seems that good communication is the key to bending the benefits cost curve when it commes to containing health costs.

Employers counting on wellness programs to bend the benefits cost curve must include strong communication plans in their strategy if they hope to achieve their goals. Those who shortchange this crucial step risk wasting their investment of precious resources in a tight economy.

That’s one of the key findings in a new white paper released today by Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company. “Well on the Way: Engaging Employees in Workplace Wellness” uses proprietary and industry research and case studies to show how wellness initiatives can help employers control ever-higher health care and benefits costs, and the vital role of benefits communication in driving the effectiveness of these programs.

A growing number of employers are implementing programs that successfully reduce employee health risk factors and better manage chronic illness — the primary drivers of health care costs. And employees value these programs: Nearly 90 percent of employees say the range of a company’s health and wellness benefits is either very important or somewhat important in their choice of an employer.1  Yet these employees still might not participate in wellness programs  because of lack of information.

You can build it — but they may not come

Most employers cite weak employee engagement as the biggest obstacle to changing their employees’ health risk behavior, the white paper reports.2  But more than half of workers say they don’t know enough about their company’s wellness programs to participate in them. A new Colonial Life survey found 52 percent of workers whose employers offer wellness programs say they’re only somewhat or not at all knowledgeable about them.3 Lack of knowledge is higher among younger workers,  less educated workers and lower-paid workers.

“Just offering a wellness program and expecting a majority of employees to participate — the ‘if you build it, they will come’ scenario — is prone to failure,” said Steve Bygott, assistant vice president of marketing analysis and programs at Colonial Life. “Communication that clearly delineates the benefits of participation to employees is the  first step to long-term engagement in wellness programs.”

Recent research shows wellness programs are often poorly understood — and there’s a surprising gap between what employers and employees think: 57 percent of employers believe their employees have a good understanding of the health and wellness programs offered and how to participate, but only 41 percent of employees agree they have a strong grasp of the programs offered.1

Personalized communication is effective

One-to-one employee communication, delivered in partnership with abenefits provider, offers a cost-effective means to build understanding and enhance engagement in these programs. Surveys with more than 20,000 employees who met individually with a benefits communication counselor show nearly all (96 percent) say it improved their understanding of benefits, and 98 percent say the interaction was important.4

Beefing up communication through one-to-one benefits counseling can help drive participation in a company’s wellness offerings, as well as improve understanding and appreciation of the entire benefits package.  Employers should pay extra attention to younger, less-educated and lower-paid employees who tend to have a significantly lower level of  understanding about their benefits, including wellness programs, the white paper points out.3

“Companies of all sizes can use wellness programs to improve employee health,” said Bygott. “By focusing on communication that addresses the  needs and desires of key employee groups — particularly younger, less educated and lower paid workers — employers can successfully engage more program participants and enjoy greater benefits.”

The complete white paper is available in Colonial Life’s online newsroom.


1  Workforce Management 2012 Employer/Employee survey, May 2012.
2  Levin-Scherz, R. Mason and M. Wood, “Boost Employee Health and Wellness with Behavioral Economics,” Towers Watson Viewpoints, 2011.
3  Conducted online for Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company by Harris Interactive among 2,209 U.S. adults, among which 940 are  employed full-time/part-time and their employers offer a benefits package, June 28-July 2, 2012.
4  Colonial Life Benefits Post-enrollment Survey, July 2012.