If businesses were people, most of them would be feeling a bit under the weather these days. A host of nagging issues continue to nip away at their health - the economy, sagging profit margins and rising benefits costs, just to name a few. But many companies are getting some relief now that they've added wellness programs to their benefits offerings. And your clients can, too - with a good benefits communications strategy that helps their program succeed.


A variety of wellness offerings

A recent Colonial Life survey shows almost 80% of employers offer some form of wellness initiative, and the vast majority would recommend what they do to others. The types of activities included in company wellness programs vary widely, from health risk assessments (questionnaires designed to determine an employee's risk for health issues), educational materials, classes and seminars to personal counseling and programs for specific health issues such as smoking, diabetes and weight loss.

The return on investment for employers that offer wellness programs looks pretty compelling, regardless of size. For every dollar invested in wellness programs, companies can save $6 on health insurance costs, according to a 2010 report from the Health Management Research Center at the University of Michigan.

Wellness programs can also be very motivational for employees. A survey of employees who work at small and mid-sized businesses by the Principal Financial Well-Being Index revealed the following results:

* Forty-three percent strongly agree or somewhat agree that wellness benefits encourage them to work harder and perform better.

* Nearly half of employees (48%) strongly agree or somewhat agree that having an employer-sponsored wellness program would encourage them to stay in their current job.

* Thirty-seven percent of employees agree to some extent that they have more energy to be more productive at work by participating in a wellness program.


Critical communication

For any wellness program to be effective, employees must first know about the offerings and choose to participate. In fact, 58% of employers report low engagement as the greatest obstacle to their wellness initiatives, according to Towers Watson, "Boosting Wellness Participation Without Breaking the Bank," July 2010.

Some possible reasons for poor participation include:

* Lack of clear communication to employees when the wellness program is first introduced and implemented.

* Inadequate education for employees about the varioius resources that are available to them.

* An assumption that wellness programs are only meant for individuals with existing health conditions.


A personal approach

Improving a company's benefits communication efforts can stimulate employee engagement and participation in its wellness program. Communication activities can take many forms. Some companies adopt wellness "champions" or ambassadors who help spread enthusiasm about the program throughout the organization. Other businesses include regular articles in company newsletters or distribute personal benefits statements that highlight the company's total compensation package. Some companies turn to outside resources for communications support.

Partnering with a reliable benefits carrier that offers a full slate of enrollment services, as well as one-to-one benefits counseling, can help your clients achieve the desired results. Individual, personalized benefits education and consistent wellness messaging go a long way in helping employees understand the importance of wellness in their lives.

Surveys of employees who meet individually with benefits counselors during their enrollments prove the effectiveness of the one-to-one method. Virtually all of employees surveyed say personal benefits counseling improved their understanding of their benefits (96%), and that this type of communication is important (98%), according to Colonial Life Benefits Post-Enrollment Survey, Dec. 2011. In addition, employee morale can improve as workers begin to feel better about themselves and their employers.

Are your clients looking to you to cure their financial woes? Show them how implementing a wellness program - or maximizing the one they have - can help restore their fiscal health.

Brown is SVP and chief marketing officer at Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company.

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