Ensuring Strategic & Sustainable Health Initiatives (Part One)
In this first episode of our two-part series, we talk with Kristin Meschler and Cary Seager with Assured Partners about the Ten Core Keys of Health and Productivity to ensure strategic and sustainable health initiatives are being met.
In this episode, they share their insights on how to build a healthy culture that drives long-term employee engagement. They also discuss the importance of having an operating plan, communication strategy, and assigned roles to drive success.
Don’t forget to listen to part two of this episode, where Kristin and Cary talk about why it’s important to communicate goals, how to align safety initiatives, and how to encourage employers to use analytics to drive health initiatives.
Kristin Meschler specializes in wellness and employer health & productivity solutions at AssuredPartners. She brings more than ten years of experience, with a background in corporate wellness, working with groups of all sizes to improve the overall health of their employees. Kristin supports AssuredPartners by creating and implementing cutting-edge strategies and tactics for employers with the goal of bending the trend in healthcare costs, Rx and worker’s compensation claims while improving quality of life for all employees.
With more than 20 years of employee benefit experience, Cary Seager is the Regional Director of Health & Productivity at AssuredPartners. Cary consults with middle and large market clients’ needs for health and wellness to create organized and proven strategic wellness plans that deliver employer and employee satisfaction, behavior change, and ultimately drive a downward trend in medical, Rx, and workers’ compensation claims.
Welcome back to another episode of For Your Benefits. This podcast is presented by SentryHealth, developers of WellOnMyWay, an integrated health management solution for employers of all sizes. I’m your host, Amy Utterback, Director of Market Development at SentryHealth.
Kristin Meschler and Cary Seager are part of the health and productivity team at AssuredPartners, and we’re fortunate enough to have them with us today to get a benefit adviser’s view on how they work with their clients in all areas of business, at every level of health initiatives and wellness planning. Cary and Kristin, I’m so happy to have you with us today on the podcast. Could you start by telling us a little bit about yourselves and AssuredPartners?
Sure Amy, thank you. Kristin and I are very pleased to be here today with an opportunity to talk a little bit about what we do and give some tips for the employers who are listening. We are Regional Directors of Health and Productivity at AssuredPartners, the 11 largest privately-owned insurance agency in the country. We are certified corporate wellness specialists and certified wellness coaches. We have some other credentials, too, that expand into mental and financial wellness, which include QPR facilitator and mental health designations. But accreditations aside, we really are just passionate about helping people reach their optimal wellbeing.
Our focus with AssuredPartners is workplace wellness programs and employees. Kris and I firmly believe that because people spend most of their waking hours at work, it only makes sense to assist our clients in creating an effective strategy that leads to the improved well-being of their workforce.
Many employers have attempted to implement health initiatives with little or no return. They’ve tried things such as lunch and learns and provided gym reimbursements, walking challenges or, you know, an employee assistance program, EAP. In all cases, engagement was low and long-term behavior change nonexistent. And Kristin and I just cringe when a new study comes out stating that workplace wellness doesn’t work, or it has no ROI.
If you dive into those studies, you can see that they were done over a very short period of time, and the programs only included a couple of health initiatives. So, at AssuredPartners, we help our clients create sustainable wellness programming using our ten core keys model, which is what we want to go through with you and our audience today.
I am sitting here nodding my head vigorously. I could not agree with you more and I’m really looking forward to hearing your and Kristin’s perspective. As you mentioned today, we’re going to talk a lot about the 10 core keys of health and productivity that are vital to sustaining health initiatives in the workplace.
Top Leadership Support & Mid-Level Support Roles
So, based on your experiences, I know you must have some great ideas as far as what organizations can be doing to establish and maintain a successful health and well-being program. Let’s start at the top. Leadership support. I think we all know that executive level buy-in support are necessary, but I know you also have some great thoughts about mid-level managers. So, tell me a little bit about the role that these leaders play.
Absolutely right. And it’s really no coincidence that when we talk about the 10 core keys of health and productivity success, leadership is number one because it really does start there. Our team really believes that wellness and health initiatives are most successful when they’re built around these core keys. But, you know, time and time again, what we see among our clients when we’re really looking at long the term engagement, and we definitely want to build long-term engagement, there really is a direct correlation between how engaged your leadership is versus not.
We work with a lot of clients all over the country, and when we analyze, just our own book of business that we’re working with, it’s not uncommon that what we see low or non-engaged leadership that are actually engaged in their health initiatives. Whereas when we look at our high-performing groups, in which leadership is involved, we are seeing a lot of success with our health initiatives. And, you know, interestingly, we’ve also seen this confirmed just by a 2020 study from the Health Enhancement Research Work organization, which concluded the same thing, that that leadership support really does drive the strongest employee participation, as well as the health and medical cost impact for employers, which, of course, usually always is the number one reason that people are engaged in wellness.
Mid-Level Support of Health Initiatives
And so, what do you consider leadership support?
Wellness really must be a business goal and it has got to be integrated throughout the organization. This specifically includes things like corporate policies and mid-level management goals. And you mentioned this earlier, but this mid-level management group is so fundamental.
I think historically when we’ve talked about this idea of leadership support, and let’s be honest, when we were talking about it, how often were we saying you’ve got to have executive-level buy-in. That’s really what people are talking about, and hey, that’s important. But most of the time when we were talking about it, what we’re thinking is, we need executive-level support for allocating funds. Maybe we want them to help kick off our health initiatives with an inspirational message and then we’re just going to throw it out and run with it.
But what we found, is that while that is critical, which no one can deny, you’ve got to have that top support for your health initiatives, the fact of the matter is, I would venture to say that mid-level managers are often forgotten and may be one of the most critical pieces to the puzzle. The reason for that is because they’re the ones that are interacting with your employees, daily. When I’m working with clients, that’s what I tell them. I say, hey, you know what, if my direct supervisor is not supportive in me participating with something or spending time on something, am I going to do it? Absolutely not. So, you really need them to understand what we’re trying to accomplish, to be successful.
How do you engage those mid-level managers?
With anything, it starts with education. I think you’ve got to connect with leadership and ultimately you must make it meaningful for them. Recently, Cary and I have started doing a lot more training and education for these mid-level managers, really trying to make the case for wellness with an impact on things like recruitment, retention, and safety. These are the things that mid-level managers are thinking about every single day, right. They need their teams to show up to work and really, they need teams, period, right? They’re looking for talent.
Many times, we work with employers and they’re saying, gosh, we’ve got so much turnover, we’re constantly trying to hire new employees. That’s a huge business goal for them! And so, we start talking about wellness and really making those connections, to show them there’s a ton of research out there that does tie into things like recruitment, retention, and safety, suddenly the conversation changes. Now we’re speaking their language and they can begin to understand, oh, okay, I see.
Then we start asking the questions, what is your role, in wellness and health initiatives, as a mid-level manager? How can you use your influence to really engage employees in a new and very meaningful way? And I think for many employers, that we’ve worked with, that really is the game-changer.
You know, I think that you can look at this lot of different ways. Maybe it’s as simple as making sure that wellness is an agenda item at every meeting. For some, it’s having very specific departmental goals, attached to wellness. Other groups have started to incorporate that into manager’s performance reviews. Talking about how are you encouraging and supporting wellness among your teams?
But then, of course, there’s the more corporate policies: healthy foods, non-nicotine policies on campus, making sure the managers are supportive of those and of course, just the regular communications and really engaging that.
But I think then there’s also those programming elements that encourage movement or encouraging breaks for movement during the day.
Also, just checking in on your team members. How are you feeling? How are you doing? Especially through the lens of covid. Now we’re talking about mental health in a whole new way, and managers are finding that their conversations, with their employees, are completely different. I think we must empower managers to be prepared to have those conversations and feel comfortable doing it.
Leadership doesn’t have to be the picture-perfect vision of health. So, they’re not necessarily the happy-go-lucky marathon runners, zero body fat type people. That doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, those who share their own struggles and efforts towards wellbeing will create a solid following.
Wellness Teams & Committees
Following that same track of talking about keeping the most pivotal people in your wellness program involved, I know that a lot of organizations are using wellness teams and committees to run, and to support their health initiatives. But it does feel like sometimes those committees can sort of peter out over time, whether that is because of losing interest or just other priorities that get in the way. How do you guys help your clients to really keep these programs on task?
Wellness teams. We use a lot of different names for these people…committees, champions, ambassadors. Whatever it is, they are your invaluable group of wellness worker bees. Wellness teams really can be the secret weapon to creating a wellness culture. These ambassadors are passionate about not only their own well-being, but those around them.
And like I mentioned with leadership, they don’t have to be the picture-perfect vision of health. Showing that they’re trying, is going to inspire others. What they can do is bring fresh ideas to the committee and then they will help disseminate the program ideas and goals, that’s created from the committee, to garner true camaraderie in the workplace. It’s a team-driven approach, and it really ensures that the wellness program is meaningful, it’s representative of the entire population, and that it is effectively communicated throughout the organization.
Keeping Employee Health Initiatives Top of Mind
What are some of the suggestions that you give to your clients to help them to keep health and wellbeing top of mind, both at the employer level and for their employees?
We recommend that there is a leader of the group, and this leader does not need to be someone from human resources. In fact, sometimes it’s better to keep it separate. It’s also important the committee reflects all departments, different shifts, and all your locations. Now, we don’t love committees that are super big, but to have one representative in each of those areas, is key.
Also, we want that those members to be recognized and receive appreciation from senior leadership so that they know that what they’re doing, is important. I also highly recommend that the meetings are only 30 minutes, and they’re monthly, to help them stay on task. They should start on time and end on time with everyone walking away with something to do. That way people know that this is this is real, it’s important.
We also want to make sure those meeting goals are continuing. If we’re always starting late and the meetings are running long, people are not going to attend because it’s a volunteer position. Some other suggestions are, have an agenda, use minutes and make sure those minutes are distributed immediately. I also suggest not having a term for the members. So don’t say, hey, you must commit to two years, because since this is a voluntary position and people are wearing a lot of hats these days, you have a lot of things going on, not only professionally, but personally. And if they’re tapped out, thank them for their time and then move on to find the next passionate person to fill the role.
Another key element is for the committee to have an annual calendar of health initiatives, that help coincide with the committee’s goals, which are reviewed every month. And lastly, make sure you have fun with it, because it really can be a very fun position and a positive thing for the workplace to promote.
I’ll add here too. Oftentimes, it’s not uncommon that you, regardless of our very best efforts, struggle. And, you know, we hear a lot from clients, that this committee piece, even though we all recognize how valuable it is, can be difficult to develop a group that works well together and can have an impact there. So, we often get asked the question, we’re struggling with engagement from our committee, what can we do here? Here few things that you can look at.
Cary talked a little bit about reviewing the team and maybe having some new members. Sometimes a good way to do that is, again, getting back to the idea of leadership and it’s a perfect example of just one more way you can engage leadership, but maybe ask a member of leadership to appoint members. We’ve seen that be successful.
I think it’s up to every group to decide what your culture looks like and how it fits in. But sometimes having those appointments can really help because if you have a member of leadership, that’s essentially inviting someone or appointing someone, you’re getting that leadership buy in. That person is saying to their employee, hey, this is an important initiative for us, and I think you would be a great candidate to really see this through. And that kind of adds seriousness to it, some heft. And not only that, but it can make the employee feel good because, hey, I just had some nice kudos from a member of leadership who thinks I am worthy of taking on this role.
Another idea is creating a charter, really defining roles and responsibilities. I’ve had some committees, that have very specific titles; this person is the secretary, this person is the leader, this person is on projects and that can also really help formalize efforts. Leaning on things like vision and a mission statements, maybe even having your committee be the group that comes up with the vision and the mission statements for wellness.
So, in addition to doing something like having the leadership appoint someone, maybe we give these members some motivation and we reward them with educational opportunities, really make them experts in wellness. There are so many great tools, resources, certifications and designations, but also, we want to reward the service that these people are putting forth, in addition to their jobs.
And it empowers them.
Driving Long-Term Engagement
I wanted to revisit something that you said earlier, that is that one of the biggest struggles for employers, really finding that sweet spot of engagement, having at least 30% or more of your population truly engaged with their wellness program. How can employers truly drive that long-term engagement?
You’re right, Amy. We did talk about leadership earlier and the impact that strong leadership has on engagement. But beyond leadership’s impact, there really are variable factors in driving long-term engagement and participation.
I think first and foremost, it starts with goal setting. When Cary and I are working with a client, for the first time, that’s really where we start the conversation. We’re sitting down and we’re having those conversations about what are your goals.
And I think we touched on this earlier, right, everyone wants to see medical claims costs go down. That’s the number one goal for most organizations. But as we really dive into a conversation about it, we start to get a better sense of what are, the other motivations. What are the other things that you would like to see a wellness program impact? Those are the conversations that then drive, okay, how is it that we want to accomplish this?
A perfect example, with one of the large health care organizations we work with, absenteeism has become a fundamental part of our wellness strategy. That’s one of our major goals and it makes perfect sense, right, in that industry. But then we start to talk about, now that we know what it is we want to accomplish, now let’s figure out what is the definition of engagement. Believe it or not, that looks different among different groups.
You know, if you have an outcome-based program, maybe engagement is certain biomarkers, or really trying to see long-term change from a biometric standpoint. But maybe you’ve got a preventative incentive. And so, engagement for you is just simply people getting to their doctor for that annual visit, or at least once a year. So, engagement can look different for everyone. And I think you must first figure out what your definition of engagement is and then how are you going to measure that over time? How will you evaluate whether you’ve been successful, from goal setting?
Then it moves on to incentives. And in terms of incentive strategy, I think you also have to ask yourself; does it align with your culture? That’s a big part of it, I think, for me, too, because the fact of the matter is, I genuinely do not believe there is one right type of incentive strategy.
I’ve seen groups be very successful deploying lots of different types of incentives, tying those incentives to different activities, whether it’s an activity-based program, a points-based program and again, I mentioned before, about maybe an outcomes-based program, where it’s tied to biometrics or even just a simple preventative campaign. I’ve seen all of them be successful.
So, you really should figure out again, what are your goals? What do you want to accomplish? How, and in what way, can you align incentives with that and make sure that it ties directly in with your culture.
You’ve got to keep it going. That’s something else that I would point out about incentive strategy. And this is something that Cary and I have noticed a lot, especially as she and I’ve worked with clients in some cases upwards of 10 years. And so over time, just like with anything, you can get a little stale. You need to keep it fresh. You have to kind of tweak and update that incentive strategy. You cannot keep it the same, even with the highest performing groups where you are maybe, say, at that 80 – 90%t of engagement. If that if those incentives stay the same, you’re going to see people fall off. So how can you change it? How can you keep it fresh? I think all of that is important.
And then it just comes back to culture and communications. There’s probably a lot of words that we’ll say repeatedly throughout our conversation and culture is going to be one of them for sure. But I think, you know, you must make sure that you’re integrating both of those pieces in your health initiatives, in your incentive strategy, and, quite frankly, even in your goals.
Never underestimate the power of recognition and storytelling and finding different ways outside of your incentive strategy. Outside of just that, hey, we want you to get to the doctor once a year, find other ways to incorporate different health initiatives and make it fun initiatives. And I think those can be great ways to boost engagement, build that excitement, and build camaraderie.
Kristin, that reminds me of some of the fun things we’ve done with not only our clients, but internally with AssuredPartners and our wellness programs. We have multiple offices across the United States, and I recall one year our Cincinnati office leader had promised that they could put a pie in his face if we reached the wellness goal, that a certain number of them had completed their health assessment, and had the preventive visit and so forth. I got to be present for that event and it was a fun time. But we’ve seen other things, too, like a dunking booth. Maybe a manager had to run around a pond, or shave his head, lots of fun things.
That’s so funny you say that, I worked for an organization that also did the pie in the face one time. So, there’s something about being able to get your supervisor with a pie in the face, apparently, that’s highly motivating. So, you heard it here first guys.
So, let’s shift gears a little bit. I heard you mention it a second ago, but I want to talk a little bit about operating plans. You know, if companies are putting in the time and the effort and frankly, the money right, into wellbeing strategies, they want to make sure that it’s successful. So how can having a solid plan support that strategy?
Well said, Amy. We’re putting a lot of energy into wellness, so let’s make sure it works. When we’re first working with the client, we often find that they’re shooting from the hip, and that’s one of the reasons that wellness programs often go defunct.
So, for the audience today, let me ask you a silent poll question. What is your company’s most precious asset? People, right?
So, without a happy and healthy workforce, they will not be productive, and profitability will suffer. That’s the reason AssuredPartners gave Kristin and me our specific titles, Directors of Health and Productivity because it really goes hand in hand. We’re trying to accomplish both. So, that means that wellness must be a core belief and it must be integrated into the company’s overarching business goals. Which means it should be reviewed annually by the C-suite, and as Kristin mentioned when talking about an earlier core key, leadership is engaged in the initiatives and the culture building activities, like getting a pie in the face. So how do you create it? Well, that the operating plan and it should incorporate all the core keys that we’re discussing throughout this series.
So, let’s talk also about communication strategy. Communication is critical for any organization that is rolling out their health and wellbeing program. How have you helped employees to be successful or your employers at being successful with communication strategies?
We know that communication is fundamental for success, yet so many of us still struggle to find the right strategies. I think truly it starts with identity. And what I mean by that is, what’s the identifying piece of your wellness program? I think often that gets really overlooked and it’s extremely important. We’ve got to have an identity for our efforts.
We need to know why we’re doing what we’re doing. And I think to best articulate that and communicate that to our employees, we must be able to explain why we’re doing what we’re doing. And so that starts with just simple things like branding, logo, vision, and mission. When we look at those high-performing groups, those groups that are seeing engagement and have had long-standing programs, there are just certain things that they all have in common. And I would say that having that sort of brand identity, to your health initiatives, is absolutely a core key in that.
Vision & Mission: Tied to Health Initiative Goals
First and foremost, it starts off with that vision, and I think very often vision and mission get confused when in reality, vision is this idea of where do you want to be, so that long term, you know, if all things go well and if you’re successful with your efforts, what do you want it to look like?
Then your mission is how are you going to get there? It’s important to understand both of those. And so, once you have that vision and that mission, then you can start to create maybe a name for your efforts, a brand. And there’s lots of different ways you can do it. And again, it should absolutely be tied in with your organizational brand and your organizational goals.
I’ll give you an example. We work with a manufacturer here in Kentucky that makes peanut butter and jellies, and their wellness name is kind of a play off their company name. But because they do make peanut butter, that’s integrated in what they do. It’s their identity as an organization. It’s their identity in terms of employees, they feel this sense of attachment to it. And so, they found ways to incorporate that into their program, like when they put out their newsletters and their communications, they’ve had like the little peanut man, who’s wearing a workout band and sweating to it. And they’ve also had fun little sayings that are like, if someone tells you peanut butter is not good for you, you say, I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life. Just fun things that absolutely tie in with how they identify themselves as an organization and it’s a great way to tie that into your wellness efforts.
But I think aside from identity, there’s also that organizational component. We talked already about the committees, that, believe it or not, is a communication strategy, having an effective committee. We talked about leadership, and those messages, the ways that we’re engaging leadership, believe it or not, that’s a communication strategy. Because if your leadership teams are making wellness an agenda item, if they’re doing more than just sending out the occasional email message, but really integrating it into the conversations, on a regular basis, that’s communication.
Then I think it’s also just the general standards, that when we talk about communication, we think about the posters, the flyers, those content pieces. But now, through the lens of a pandemic, I think that has changed. And some of what Cary and I are starting to see is that we’re relying on different modes to communicate. And a lot of it is direct communication with employees, asking for feedback.
We’ve been doing a lot more surveys where we’re really trying to gauge direct feedback from our employers. I have groups now that are starting to lean on things like focus groups. But, you know, aside from just the posters, the flyers, the video, all the standards, we’re now also seeing people lean on some of these different ways of communicating; text messaging, other group messaging software, social media, lots of different ways that people are getting creative about how they communicate with their employees, because we’ve had to, right?
Do you find that different employees interact differently with different kinds of communication? For example, you’ll have some that are really interested in social media and others that don’t respond well to that at all. So, it’s important I find, to know, a differentiated type of communication strategy.
Definitely, and especially now that we have a work environment where you have five different generations all working together in the same organization. It’s a unique spot that we find ourselves in. And so not only just from an individual-to-individual basis, but these different generations communicate very differently. So, I think you’re absolutely right Amy, you kind of need take a multi-tiered approach to what you’re doing to make sure that you’re communicating with everybody. Cary, what do you think, do you agree?
Absolutely, and speaking of the different generations and trying to hit the different pockets of people, we see some of our clients going back to old school and doing some of the communication methods that people use a long time ago. So, postcards and even we have a relationship with a health and wellness magazine vendor, out of Chicago, that has been deployed with several of our clients and even AssuredPartners. They help us to create a health and wellness magazine, and it not only helps to communicate the benefits program, but the wellness initiatives and really bring in some personal stories that are happening around the organization.
It also helps to bring companies together that are like us, with multiple locations across the country, or even the world, to help them feel more like a family, getting back to creating that culture. And another communication, one of our longtime favorites, Kris and I call them Johnny Journals, communications in the bathroom stalls where you have a captive audience and it’s a fun name. And I recently heard a new version of that, tinkle talks.
Oh, my, like your take on, Ted talks.
There you go, yeah.
And that wraps it up for this first episode, in this two-part series. We hope you’ll continue listening to the next episode as Kristin and Cary continue sharing their insights into the 10 core keys of health and productivity.
As always, if you like what you heard today, don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast. And if you want to learn more about SentryHealth or WellOnMyWay, visit our website at www.sentryhealth.com. Thanks for joining us!
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