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WorldatWork conference highlights importance of engaging employees in wellness


PHILADELPHIA — Increasing employees' engagement in their health care and wellness management was a key topic of discussion at WorldatWork's 2013 Total Rewards Conference in Philadelphia last week.

Multiple sessions during the three-day conference — which drew about 1,600 human resource managers, service providers and consultants — highlighted the financial value of effectively motivating employees to take more responsibility for their own health management.

Michael Vittoria, vice president of corporate benefits services for the Portland, Maine-based MaineHealth hospital system, said during a presentation that a comparative analysis of hospitals' medical claims costs from 2007 to 2011 revealed that employees not engaged in corporate wellness initiatives generated $1,200 per month more in claims than those who participated regularly in the programs.

To address what he called the “engagement gap” in health care costs, many employers, including MaineHealth, are applying principles of behavioral economics to encourage employees to make more informed decisions regarding the health care coverage and services they use.

“Our strategy wasn't about shifting costs to employees,” Mr. Vittoria said.

In 2012, the hospital system implemented tiered health care coverage limiting employees who don't participate in MaineHealth's wellness program to a high-deductible health plan. Employees who complete certain wellness initiatives have access to plans featuring more comprehensive coverage and lower cost-sharing levels.

Mr. Vittoria said using techniques designed to enhance the quality of employees' decisions, such as eliminating words and phrases that might connote the base superiority of one particular plan over another, MaineHealth was able to migrate 22% of its HMO enrollees to its newer consumer-driven health plan in the first year.

“Employee engagement should be a win-win situation, because engaged employers are healthier, and healthier employees provide better services,” Mr. Vittoria said.


Another method gaining in popularity among employers is incorporating games and contests, mobile apps and social media into their corporate wellness programs.

During a presentation, re-searchers from New York-based Buck Consultants Inc. said that 62% of employers have implemented a “gamification” strategy to promote more active engagement in health management initiatives.

Presenters also urged employers to rethink their wellness and health management communication strategies to boost employee engagement.

“If no one's reading it, it's not communication. It's just noise,” said Harry Gottlieb, founder of Chicago-based Jellyvision Lab Inc. To the extent possible, employers should tailor the context and language of health and wellness educational materials to their employees' communication needs and preferences.

“One of the most important things you can do for your employees is communicate the information in plain English,” Mr. Gottlieb said. “We need to remember that most employees aren't experts in health care or benefits.”

WorldatWork's 2014 Total Rewards Conference will be held May 19-21, at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Dallas.