Challenges facing employee wellness programs

By Zack Budryk

Success among existing employee wellness programs doesn't mean there aren't challenges.

For one thing, their success hinges on employees' personal interest in participation, Scott Kashman, chief administrative officer of Cape Coral Hospital, told FierceHealthcare.

"The programs we're setting up really become a shared commitment between our organization and our employees, and so the real first challenge is whether employees want to take that first step," he said. "Where we have found these programs were successful, we're getting more and more of our employees reaching out who really want to be engaged in improving their own health. We're seeing that a lot more."

Another challenge for employee wellness is financial pressure. That's why Kashman's system also works with employees to provide financial guidance and retirement planning.

Hospital and wellness culture also factors in. 

"I think [heavier focus on wellness] is a culture shift," Cheri A. Miller, M.S., director of wellness services at the Christ Hospital Health Network, pictured above, told FierceHealthcare, especially since this was the first year the wellness incentives were results-based rather than participation-based. "We in some ways dropped [employees] into a culture that wasn't quite prepared for that, and so I just think the communication around that is difficult in an organization our size," she said. Another challenge, she said, was making sure employees understood that their healthcare benefits did not hinge on participation in the wellness initiative.

There's also the issue of "lack of commitment by organizational leadership," Medical University of South Carolina Director of Health Promotion Susan L. Johnson, Ph.D, told FierceHealthcare. "Leadership from management will be critical in creating a culture where employees know healthy living is a valued goal. A strong message needs to be sent that it's OK for employees to engage in healthy behaviors, and that leadership will encourage it, model it and make it as easy for employees as possible."

Challenges facing employee wellness programs