Why workplace health? Trust

A recent study by ComPsych, a provider of what it calls “Guidance Resources” for companies, showed that employees place the highest value of trust (51%) in their employer as a provider of wellness resources. On the other hand, survey responses showed that only 27% trusted their health insurance plan to provide the same service (source). I think there are a lot of good reasons for employers to invest in employee wellness, but I’m a bit surprised by this, mostly because I wonder what reasoning upholds that answer. In talking with one of the folks who runs my company’s wellness program, one of the four biggest reasons that people don’t participate in wellness testing and coaching is because of fears of confidentiality. I can see how folks would fear that a company might use one’s health, or more likely, their lack of health, against them when layoffs or other such actions come around. But why do folks distrust the health insurance company?

Related to this, Scott McStravic has written a great series of articles at the World Health Care blog, starting with Healthcare Providers as Health Managers: Credibility Issues. Scott explains that hospitals are hamstrung by “both the inherent conflicts of interest between what makes revenue sense given their dependence on sickness care revenue and what is needed to succeed in employee health management, and their reputations as high-cost providers.” In his other articles, he also tackles cost, continuity, clock (time) and convenience as challenges for health care providers in employee health management. Conversely, companies that utilize in-house wellness programs overcome those challenges nearly automatically:

  • Cost: employer-provided programs achieve economies of scale. The company can tailor programs to meet clear and specific goals, and have the flexibility to shape the implementation of the program accordingly. Plus, although return-on-investment can be difficult to calculate, employers clearly benefit from a healthier workforce.
  • Continuity: employers have an interest in retention and long-term investment in their employees, so again, they can be flexible in building programs that might be quarterly or yearly, or in some cases, driven by the employee and their own personal health goals.
  • Clock: Scott presents here the idea that our society, as a whole, is not good at “lifetime health management.” Although employers are dealing mostly with folks in the “working prime” of their lives, there’s no doubt that the effects of healthier lifestyles can be contagious to the whole family.
  • Convenience: what could be more convenient than wellness at work?

In my view, the advantages of employer-provided wellness programs and management are clear. But the question remains: how do employers overcome problems with trust in getting employees engaged in their personal health?

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