How one pharma giant prescribes a culture of well-being

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One large employer says small steps with little capital investment can lead to big changes and high reward for employers looking to shake up their well-being programs.

For Merck, a global biopharmaceutical manufacturer, wellness wasn’t easy. The company has a diverse footprint across several countries and cultures — some countries have extreme sophistication and technology while others have smaller, more basic operating structures. Because of that, said Michaela Leo, director, compensation and benefits at Merck, the firm had to incorporate “thoughtful” ways for benefit managers across the globe to implement Merck’s “Live It” wellness program.

The company looked to a pyramid-style strategy to help enhance wellness programs from the bottom up, Leo said Monday at the WorldatWork 2017 Total Rewards conference in Washington, D.C.

Simple and easy baseline strategies she pointed to include the rebranding of current wellness initiatives already in place. “These add no costs to employers and require little to no implementation or creation.”

“At the next ‘emerging’ level is where we try to move [benefit managers] to start measuring some of the program outcomes,” she said. This is the stage where employers can look to better engage with employees, and where Merck in particular gets workers to take the “Live It” pledge, the employer’s initiative to bring all health and wellness offerings under one integrated platform.

“We’re always talking about how to maintain health through regular education and awareness communications,” she said.

Leo said the advanced steps of wellness implementation — including creating well-being portals online and creating programs such as games and competitions — require more resources and time.

But that “all leads to the pinnacle — the culture of well-being,” she said of the pyramid. “We want this to be a habit, and a very natural thought-process for people.”

“We have a global program, but on the country level, we wanted [benefits managers] to have an easy tool kit,” she noted. “It always starts with a strategy. Countries need to define what it is they want to do and how it fits in the global framework.”

But, she adds, cultural differences can sometimes create some challenges.

For example, she notes, as Ramadan approaches later this month, the practice of fasting can be a cause for concern with diabetics who see dramatic spikes in blood sugar.

“This is where we have our company diabetes organization and external vendors come in and run programs that help people better manage diabetes through that fasting period,” she noted.

And she said implementation of the well-being campaign has showed great success. In the last five years, Merck has seen 35 markets put in place their wellness initiatives with roughly 50,000 employees — about 74% of the global employee population — taking part.

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