3 Ways tech companies are destroying the old employee wellness stereotype

When you think about the technology company lifestyle, thanks mostly to the movies and television, you likely picture sallow, under-exercised employees slamming Red Bulls and wolfing down greasy pizza or burgers in the wee hours of the morning.

While there may be some truth to that stereotype, especially in the early days of the tech revolution, that type of thinking is starting to change. At least those were the findings of our recently-convened roundtable discussing how employer-focused digital health companies are disrupting the traditional benefit space. These innovative organizations are looking beyond the same old, same old by creating offerings targeted at a new generation of employers, many of them in the tech sector, who are actively investing in the long-term health of their team members.

To anyone with a focus on value-based care, which is pretty much everyone in healthcare today, this approach should sound familiar. Rather than health benefits being centered solely on helping employees when they’re sick, these new offerings are designed to help them stay well. After all, healthy employees cost less, are far more productive, and produce better work than sick ones.

It’s definitely a trend that is growing. According to the 2018 healthcare strategy and plan design survey from the National Business Group on Health, nearly 40 percent of employers are incorporating some type of value-based benefit design into their employees’ health plans next year.

Within this macro trend are some very specific developments around employee health and wellness according to our roundtable panel. Following are three of the key takeaways.

New meaning for employer benefits
While the individual exchanges may get all the press and notoriety, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of all Americans still receive health benefits from their employers. (The figure is more than half if you don’t count the uninsured.) Traditionally, these benefits have focused primarily on coverage for physician visits, hospital stays, outpatient surgery, emergency department episodes, prescription drugs, etc.

As the value-based care movement has demonstrated, however, that is a very costly approach to care. Changing the focus from reactive to preventive care helps yield better outcomes for the employees while driving down costs for employers—not just the cost of care, but related costs such as lost man-hours or reduced productivity.

Smart employers are looking for ways to help employees stay on the job, as well as be more focused and productive. They’re realizing that offering benefits and programs that help employees stay mentally as well as physically healthy are key to this initiative. They are also looking for alternative solutions that can dramatically reduce absenteeism and stress while improving productivity by helping employees manage chronic conditions such as diabetes or hypertension.

By using digital health solutions to engage employees in their own care, and elevate their understanding of how the choices they make affect their health, employers can combat the issues that drive costs higher and reduce profitability. Making ongoing support available furthers the cause.

In the future, expectations are that digital benefit solutions will increasingly be used not just to maintain the norm but to optimize employee potential. As employees see and reap the benefits, they will want to stay with the company; they will also become more successful and satisfied within it rather than taking their skills and value elsewhere, at which point everyone will benefit.

More focus on adoption
It’s one thing to offer these programs. It’s another to get employees to take advantage of them in order to realize the benefits.

Now that they have their core programs in place, the next horizon for digital health benefits solution providers is to spur adoption. They can do that by making on-boarding to their platforms fast, easy, and seamless; ensuring the platform is engaging; and applying data, analytics and even gamification to personalize their solutions while remaining scalable.

Employers have a role in this as well. They must drive adoption and engagement through personalized communications, incentives, and other methods. Simply put, the easier it is for employees to take part in their programs, and the more immersed they become, the better the programs will work.

Health plans still critical
While much of the focus so far has been on employers, employees, and digital health solutions providers, that doesn’t mean traditional health plans are out of the picture. In fact, they will have a key role in the future, and are currently gearing up to play a much larger role in aggregating and distributing wellness solutions to employers.

In the past, new solutions were being used and tested by employers that were early adopters. Now, however, health plans are jumping in with comprehensive, bundled offerings, often in collaboration with the specialty developers of digital health solutions.

Still, no matter what channel of distribution is used, the important thing is that these solutions are enabling organizations to enhance and elevate the potential of their employees while gaining a competitive edge in the battle for talent as well as the battle for operational excellence. That’s a powerful combination of positive outcomes in today’s hyper-competitive world.

The way of the future
Today it’s mostly the disruptors who are adopting this new approach to employee benefits. But as the results are quantified and documented, many more organizations are sure to join the movement.

Placing a focus on employee health and wealth isn’t just an altruistic cause. It’s good business. And who knows? Perhaps someday when we think of tech employees, we’ll think more Channing Tatum and less Jonah Hill.

By Matt Dumas, Managing Partner at Chasm Partners

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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