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**This podcast was originally published August 17, 2016 - some details and dates may no longer be accurate.**
Brandon: Welcome to the HR for business podcast, this is your host, Brandon Laws, and back with me is 3rd time returning guest, Benjamin Prinzing from Kadalyst. Good to have you Benjamin.
Benjamin: Good to be here, Brandon.
Brandon: So today we are going to talk about how to engage family members in wellness programs. This is so hard, right? [Laughing]
Benjamin: It’s a little tough, for sure.
Brandon: It’s the one biggest things because if you think about it, most employers have a health program that inevitably involves family members. I mean, there is a fraction of the groups that just have employee-only participants, but a lot of times they offer dependent care with their medical program so it makes perfect sense to involve them in wellness programs, doesn’t it?
Benjamin: You would think, but most employers aren’t quite there yet, so hopefully after today we can encourage some employers to do just that.
Brandon: And I think employers who maybe have not been able to quite figure out the wellness program thing are like, if we can’t even figure this out with our employee group, why push it down to the family members? For the sake of this podcast, let’s assume that employers have their wellness programs figured out. How do they reach the family members?
Benjamin: That’s a great question. Honestly the easiest way is really through the employees. If we can get their buy-in and they already have been participating and are enjoying it, they are going to be our biggest advocates. They are going to be our champions. The success that we have seen with employers that have included spouses did start with just having the employees, and then when the spouses were included, it was kind of a big deal. It was like, Oh my goodness my spouse, my family could participate in these programs? And no one is going to be able to sell it better than the employee to their own family. So you definitely have to have some success first with the employees and then it makes the roll-out to spouses just that much easier.
Brandon: Do you think the reason why employers aren’t trying to reach out to the family members is because they haven’t quite figured out the wellness program already or if there is some other reason?
Benjamin: It could be a combination of a few things, one obviously bad, like they haven’t got their own wellness program for employees nailed down yet. One could be budget, including spouses in even just a health screening event is going to cost you an extra 40 to 60 dollars depending on who you are using, so those things can add up.
The other thing is just they’re technically considered remote, right? They work from home and if we are having a hard enough time already working with the employees that are physically here in front of me, how are we ever going to reach to them? So it is kind of out of sight, out of mind and we don’t know what to do. So that old saying, confused mind says no, and so we just don’t do anything.
Brandon: From your perspective, you are working with tons of employers and building the wellness programs and building a plan for them. How many of your clients actually roll down their wellness program to the family members?
Benjamin: Embarrassingly it’s less than half for sure, and it’s definitely one thing that we push a lot, but that’s why I can speak to the reasons why they are not including them yet. One, we are brand new to wellness so we’ve got to start with the employees. Two, it’s the budget or three, we just need more time to be able to reach them and they are not quite there yet mentally, so it’s a work in progress. Usually we see working with spouses takes anywhere from 2 to 3 years or more, depending on the organization, but eventually our goal is to get there.
Brandon: It’s interesting that you’re embarrassed by that, because as somebody who thinks like wow it would be so hard to roll it down to family members, I am like, wow, almost half of your client base – that’s incredible! You must have been doing something right. So hats off to you, I think that’s pretty incredible because most employers will think, No! We are just going to roll it to employees because, for one, it’s all the budget we have, and two, how do we even communicate with them?
Benjamin: That’s a great question. Again, how we communicate with them is definitely through the employees. And because we also have access to the census file, especially if they are on a medical plan, we have the spouses’ contact information and so we always get that from the HR people. So we can start communicating out with them directly and including them in the different initiatives that we might be doing. It allows us to have a little more interaction. We treat them as if they are an employee, because they are part of the company’s family, right?
Studies have shown for years that spouses, even if you are looking at it from an investment cost-end point, sadly, spouses are costing us 30% higher in healthcare costs than the employees are. So even just from looking at that alone, there is a huge need to offer them some kind of health education or health improvement program just to let them be aware. Not to mention that obviously a lot of spouses might be the ones cooking food at home or taking care of the kids, so if we are trying to promote health and wellness over here but health and wellness is not promoted over there in the home, it makes our job that much more difficult. So there is a huge need to include them.
Actually we have seen, and you can Google it, you can actually double your employee participation rate by including spouses. It just makes it that much easier. This is like kind of a no brainer. You want to increase employee engagement? I can give you one easy answer – include spouses.
Brandon: It makes sense because you almost have a built-in accountability buddy at home.
Benjamin: Oh absolutely! And when wellness programs are typically offered, resources are offered and available for free, and you can offer that to your spouse. Then the spouses starting to rave about your company, saying, Oh my Gosh! You work for an amazing company and they are so supportive. At least that’s what we see.
Brandon: Okay, let’s do a hypothetical. I am a CEO, I am one of your clients, you have built on an awesome wellness program for me and it’s just reaching the employees. Now I have come to you with, Benjamin, I want to include family members, how do we do that? What are the next steps? What are you going to tell me?
Benjamin: Sure! We have done a couple of things. One as I have mentioned, we would have access to phone numbers and email addresses hopefully through that census file, so we will be able engage them directly. We also give some kind of material to the employee to give to their spouse and host webinars and conference calls to get the employees to invite them to participate or at least chime in and learn more about what it is that we are doing. So it’s more of an awareness thing, a fun thing. Like, why it is so important? We want you to be a part of our company as well, you are just as important as the employee working here, right?
And we have seen that employers who have tied their wellness program to their health benefits, so an employer that is covering 100% of the cost for healthcare and as long as they participate in the wellness program, we have seen that like in year 2 or year 3 we are going to have the spouses be included in that, we want them to be able to take their health screening, we want them to be able to take the health risk assessment or engage in health coaching. So by communicating that out by conference calls and through webinars and getting the spouses to participate especially if it’s tied to their benefits, we see a lot higher participation rate in doing that as well. Did that answer your question?
Brandon: It does and I am actually kind of curious, if you are trying to integrate them, let’s say your wellness program runs on a calendar year or something like that, so every year you roll out this new plan and what you are going to do for the next year or something like that, would you involve them in the plan? Or would you just say, hey we are going to do this event, whether it’s a walking challenge or some sort of fitness challenge, and we want to involve family members in this project. Do you think it’s better to just do baby steps and get them into events or build them into the program and just go in like 2 feet?
Benjamin: That’s a great point and again I always say to start small, so if you have events like your summer picnic and things like that where you’re including those families anyway, have some kind of wellness event or wellness day for families too. It’s great and I have seen employers do that, they don’t include them on the day-to-day stuff but once a year they do and it gets them at least in touch and involved in the company in some ways so if down the road we do want to include them in everything else, then we already have made those baby steps to make that happen. Having those family wellness days is a great idea and it’s not invasive and there’s no hidden agenda or tactic to try to get them enrolled in specific things, we’re just including them because we care about them. That’s always a better way to play that out for sure.
Brandon: What about incentives? Do you offer them or no?
Benjamin: Incentives – that’s always a tricky question, everyone always asks about incentives. You know, sometimes they work really well and sometimes they can be just an absolute backfire. Our philosophy at Kadalyst has always been if you can get people engaged on their own freewill and voluntarily, you are going to have a lot more long-term success then dangling a carrot out in front of them because they might only be showing up for that carrot. So when it comes to including spouses, we are big fans of raffle prizes because then your budget is going way down, you can offer everybody one big prize and say, we just want to kind of make it more fun. Because they are not relying on that carrot like a gift card to get them to pay like a cell phone bill or something like that, it’s just something fun. So I definitely think that they can be used in a positive way and that’s the best way that we have seen them used for sure.
Brandon: Let’s dive a little bit deeper on the communication piece. So you talked about having phone numbers, email addresses, as a really good starting point, what are some other ways that you communicate? Whether it’s through the actual employee and they push it down to the family members or not, maybe just give some tips for people who are listening to the podcast on what they could actually do to integrate the family members.
Benjamin: Well obviously the path of least resistance is going to be through the employees. So having some kind of material that can be handed to spouse. I am always a big fan of infographics, so using tools like Freepik.com to put some kind of material to get it to look fun and neat versus some very long-winded email or a letter that got written in a word document, no one’s going to read that, you have to make it a little fun and cool looking, right? Or no one is going to take it seriously. So that’s always going to be the path of least resistance.
And then like I said when I mentioned webinars and communicating what it is that you are doing, they can do that from home, the office, calling in on class time or on work time. We also have created videos, which is huge. For our client ControlTek, we helped create a storyboard for this animated video that went through the details of what their program is. That was a huge help because you can send out that link to the spouses as well so just they have a short video clip to watch. One of my favorite animated software systems out there is a tool called GoAnimate.com.
Brandon: Yeah, absolutely!
Benjamin: It’s awesome! It’s a super easy drag and drop user interface and you can create simple videos to communicate what you need to communicate. We are all competing with the attention of our employees and their spouses. We are just inundated with brands all day long and messaging, so wellness unfortunately has to compete for those eyeballs and that attention, so we need to use the same mediums that technically our “competition” is using. They are using videos, they are using infographics, they are using different ways to get the messaging out, so that’s critical.
And also making sure that we are consistent. You can just start with something small, like a fun newsletter that goes out every quarter but maybe it’s intended for spouses only, like, hey, did you know that this is stuff that’s happening at your husband’s or wife’s work? So it doesn’t have to be necessarily physically being there to do a Fitbit challenge or something like that. It could just be a digital newsletter to get them involved with hey these are the best practices, and these are the benefits or did you know, these doctors over here are taking new patients, or here is a great physical therapy clinics that is 5 miles away from our worksite. These are little tidbits that you can start to incorporate or at least communicate. So maybe not necessarily them doing things but at least get some information out to them so they feel a part of the company.
Brandon: Good segue into my next question for you. So that’s the communication piece, and the awareness is half the battle, but what about engagement? How do you actually get them to participate and do it?
Benjamin: Yeah that’s the tricky part for even just employees, right? The national average for wellness program participation as of at least 2014 is 19% and that’s after the bio-metrics and screenings are done, we see about a 50 to 60% national average for those, but once that’s done, when it comes the actual health improvement programs, we are at 19%, it’s awful. So obviously spouses are even lower than that, so this is really the biggest program of all.
I truly believe it gets back to communication on how to get people engaged and finding their “why” and the reason they participate or why they should even care. If we don’t do that then we are already at a loss and we just don’t see consistency with these programs, so that’s why I mentioned SAIF Corporation in our last podcast. And yes, they do happen to have a dedicated person there running their program and of course they are engaging spouses over there as well, so if you don’t have that ability as a small business, really look toward your wellness committee to take on some projects around how do we better communicate to our spouses? How do we get them to participate and actually keep it top of mind? That way there is constant communication and messaging that’s going out.
You know, in our last podcast we talked about wearables, and there are apps out there that are free. Nike has a running app, there is Runkeeper, and there are other tools that we can absolutely use, that spouses can use, for free and include them in some of the challenges that we are doing. And again, including some of those raffle prices in there that maybe the spouses can participate in and long-term maybe we do look at including them in the wellness program and giving them premium differentials for participating.
I worked with a group for years and we eventually got their program to what’s called an outcomes based wellness program. That’s when you connect an actual dollar amount to a specific health risk. And it was well-received because we took time to get in there.
The positive spin on this of course is, the healthier you are, the less you pay. We were able to roll that out to spouses too because they were already participating in some of the aspects of the wellness program or at least were aware of it. So when we moved to this and said, hey, you are going to be incentivized and pay less as a family plan on your medical benefits if you do this, this, and this or if your number reach this.
So, again, you’ve really got to put plan a together. Defining what your intentions with the spouses are is the best way that I can explain it. Hopefully that wasn’t too long-winded for you.
Brandon: No, it’s great! And you actually said something about a minute ago that was subtle but so profound. You mentioned purpose around the program and I think when you are talking about communication, if you are really trying to build awareness and also get people engaged, I think making sure everything has that why and that purpose coming through in it will make you more likely to have the employees rally around it. And then the employees are going to be so excited that they go home and talk to their spouses about it and get their other family members involved – I think that’s the way to do it.
Benjamin: I think you’re right. And you can do things that are outside of your traditional wellness stuff, like eating healthier or physical activity. For one of our clients, we are including spouses right out of the gate in year-one of their program, so we are super excited about that. That was one of their biggest things, like, hey when we start this we have to include spouses. And this is a big company, they have about 2,300 employees throughout the country and so we have a pretty big challenge. So one of the things we wanted to do was focus on community based wellness. We are going to be doing some donation drives like coat drives and shoe drives and food drives. What better way to get the spouses involved than something as simple as that? Employees can go back and say, hey it’s wintertime and we are trying to collect some coats! We actually have a company goal that we trying to hit with each of the locations and we are going to be constantly updating the employees on where we are at with those goals, how many coats we actually did receive. So it kind of puts a little bit of peer pressure on the employees to go home and talk to their husband or wife and say, hey what coats we do have here and what can we donate? And same things for the food drives and for the shoe drives.
It can start small and, again, it doesn’t have to be about like, hey honey you need to lose weight or hey you need to stop smoking. It can be things other than that, like community based wellness or even financial wellness. Like, say, hey let’s take a look at some of these online videos. KeyBank is a great example that has a really cool financial wellness program that’s available to employees for free. Those are things that you can engage employees with and say, hey take this home and do this worksheet with your spouse. So there’s definitely a lot of ways to get creative with that but again it doesn’t always have to be focused on physical health alone and I think that’s an issue with wellness is we get too concerned with the weight, the numbers. It’s so much bigger than that, right?
Brandon: Yeah! And I totally agree with that. Let’s wrap this topic up by talking about the benefits. So if employers do a really good job of integrating the family members, what do you see as the long-term benefits? You mentioned reduced healthcare costs, I think that’s an obvious one, what are some other ones?
Benjamin: To clarify the healthcare cost, what I am really referring to it is, it’s really hard to quantify that sometimes.
Brandon: Yeah absolutely! I totally know what you mean.
Benjamin: Because you can have the next employee that gets hired on who sadly happens to have cancer, but what you can do, and absolutely have 100% control over is benefit utilization, is really educating employees and their spouses, any applied member, on when they go to the doctor and when not go to the doctor. You know we had a group that we just got introduced to that people were going to the ER because they had a sore throat. That was over a thousand dollars per visit and it was just a lack of education. So by including spouses on that and, remember what I said before was that spouses are costing us about 30% higher than employees, so there is a huge need for that benefit education too, it just makes our job a lot easier to actually get employees engaged and even get their numbers healthier if the spouses are included. And again, the beauty, the whole point of wellness is to have happier healthier lives, so if we can affect an entire person’s family, one of our employees family, how cool is that? Not just kind of just an added benefit. So I would love to see more employers doing it, I think that a confused mind says no, so we just don’t do it, but I think if we just attempt it, I think we would see a lot of positive results more than we see with not even trying.
Brandon: Agreed! Hey Benjamin this has been an awesome discussion. I really have enjoyed it. Why don’t you give out like your website where people can learn more about Kadalyst and what you are doing. Also I know you are still involved with other things; for example, you have some speaking engagements coming up, so why don’t you give listeners some sense of where they can find out more about what you are doing?
Benjamin: Sure! I mean obviously our website is Kadalyst.com. It’s spelled a little funny, I named it after an employee that had passed away about 12 years ago, his name was Darrell so that’s why we do what we do.
And for more information on how to really get connected within the community and other employers that are having a lot of success or need some help, we have what’s called a Worksite Wellness Network, we meet every other month at the downtown MODA building. It’s free to attend, there is no solicitation allowed. We have been doing it for 4 years, it’s been a great turnout. We have about 350 members representing about 250 organizations. 40 to 70 people are in attendance at every event, so if you go to worksitewellnessnetwork.org, or sign up for the invite list, it’s right there on the homepage. We have our annual Worksite Wellness Summit coming up on September 7th at the Oregon Convention Center, so that website is worksitewellnesssummit.org and there is information on the agenda and topics and the speakers. So hopefully that will get your listeners some opportunity to get involved.
Brandon: Absolutely! I will put in a plug, too, that Worksite Wellness Summit, which you partnered with the American Heart Association for that. Benjamin does such an awesome job on that event, same with the American Heart Association and all the other volunteers. I have been to that event, it’s an amazing event, especially if you want to learn more about wellness and connect with people in the community, and it’s a phenomenal event. What do you get, about 500 people to that event?
Benjamin: Well, we’re shooting for 500 for this year and it was 400 last year, and so it continues to grow year over year.
Brandon: Awesome! Benjamin Prinzing of Kadalyst, thank you so much for joining the podcast! We will definitely have you back in the future again.
Benjamin: Great! I will talk to you soon Brandon. Take care.