“How much do I cost?”

“Wellness Plans” are a popular (yet kitschy) Human Resources initiative. SHRM has posted an article for companies interested in establishing “outcome-based” Wellness programs to make sure they are HIPAA compliant (not everybody is physically capable of engaging in the activities some programs might require), and……here’s the key – EFFECTIVE. Here’s a pared down list of 10 recommendations offered to companies, courtesy of Stephen Miller of SHRM, with a few admittedly snarky add-ons courtesy of Hardball.

10 Recommendations for Employers

1. Consider using the four biometric target categories of weight, cholesterol, blood pressure and tobacco use. 

2. Factor in potential financial and time burdens for employees when determining the specific standard you are asking them to meet. And remember that asking employees to spend money to earn an incentive is a losing proposition.

3. Consider whether the incentive design is likely to place a greater economic burden on one race, ethnic group or other category of employees. ‘Cause that would be bad.

4. Consider incentive designs that are reasonable goals (preferably individualized to the employee) rather than ideal targets applied rigidly to all employees.

5. Offer (as required by law) a reasonable alternative standard to employees for whom it would be unreasonably difficult to achieve a health standard due to a medical condition, or who have a medical reason that makes it inadvisable for them to do so within the allotted time. No 4.4 40’s should be included in the program.

6. For employees with a medical condition that makes it unreasonably difficult to achieve the health standard, or medically inadvisable to do so, consider deferring to the views of the employee’s health care provider for setting and achieving a reasonable alternative standard or providing a waiver.

7. Consider providing all employees with options for attaining the incentive, rather than only offering an alternative standard to those with a medical circumstance. Are you getting the sense, like I am, that you’re opening up Pandora’s Box here?

8. Avoid using a reward or penalty that is so large it discourages health plan enrollment, denies coverage, or creates too heavy a financial penalty on individuals who do not satisfy an initial wellness standard. Some industry experts suggest, based on extensive real­world experience administering such programs, that amounts in the range of $40 to $60 per month are capable of generating behavior changes by many participants, at least in the short run. I fundamentally and categorically refute this advice.

9. Consider an incentive design that rewards for progress toward the standard targets, instead of just rewarding employees who meet the goal. This acknowledges the effort and behavior change that is at play, rather than focusing only on the outcome. Yes, a ribbon for participation is just what we need MORE of.

10. Consider strategies that help employees integrate healthy behaviors into their personal value framework by promoting individual choice, so they are more likely to sustain healthy behavior changes over time. For example, encourage autonomy and personalization by using a health coach or other qualified health professional to tailor a standard to an individual’s circumstances or to provide follow-up support in pursuit of a standard. “Health Coach,” soon to be a new HR headcount nobody quite understands.

I have a colleague, she will remain nameless, who has a much firmer stance on Wellness Initiatives. “Mommy Love,” i.e., orange slices in break room and an extra jeans day for dropping that extra pound, are not the answer here. Make no mistake, the incentive for healthier employees are initiated to help the company, not the individual – and that’s okay. But if you want to change behavior, you need to take action that hurts. “Daddy Love” may be required – yank out the vending machines; 100% smoke-free campus; coffee-free workplace; contract with food vendors to establish a Farmer’s Market, be creative and aggressive in your program.

Anything else is a Public Relations campaign. As Jim Hightower once said, “The middle of the road is for yellow lines and dead armadillos.” In other words, if you want to lose weight, put the fork down.

John “Whit” Whitaker is the Founder and Managing Partner of HR Hardball™. And yes, he’d like to lose an extra five pounds, too! To send Mr. “Love Handles” an email, or to submit your own thoughts for publishing on this site:

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); like this post? Try this one, this one, or even this one….go ahead, don’t be a weenie.