All Articles Leadership Kaiser’s Christine Paige, on designing a wellness program that works

Kaiser’s Christine Paige, on designing a wellness program that works

5 min read


The annual conference for the Society for Human Resource Management is right around the corner. One of the speakers this year is Christine Paige, senior vice president for marketing and Internet services for Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest not-for-profit health system. She will be speaking on Wednesday, June 30, at 10:00 a.m. about “Total Employee Health: Creating a Culture of Health, Productivity and Next Generation Strategies for Integration.”

For most employers, investment in their workers’ health starts and stops with paying health insurance premiums. Is that enough?

Given what we know about the negative impact of unhealthy behavior, for both employees and businesses, it is not enough to focus solely on insurance premiums when we have an opportunity to do so much more. Employees represent a company’s most valuable asset, and creating a healthy workforce is a business strategy that can lead to cost savings and increased productivity — as well as improved employee satisfaction.

In fact, employers are likely to see a productivity impact long before they see an impact on their claims experience. So there is a tremendous advantage in helping healthy employees to stay that way — and in motivating those with existing conditions to take a more active role in managing their health.

Workforce health initiatives, such as programs that promote healthy eating, exercise, or disease management, can do a lot to support this effort. A great way to start is by encouraging employees to take advantage of the rich resources already available to them. For example, all Kaiser Permanente members enjoy access to self-care tools, health education classes, coaching, and more. And employers can supplement their employees’ self-care by bringing programs to their workplace, where employees normally spend the majority of their days.

Workforce health programs can change the lives of employees and can also have a real impact on their job performance. Imagine for a moment how much better employees feel when they exercise regularly and eat healthy meals — and when they can manage and control their symptoms of asthma or depression. Consider what effect their positive outlook can have on their work, as well as on the cost of their health care.

Ideally, employers should take a vested interest in overall employee health and wellness, and see creating a culture of health as a necessary investment in their business.

What’s the most common mistake you see employers make when creating a wellness program? How can they avoid it?

It’s important to know that “one size fits all” isn’t the best approach to wellness programs. Instead employers should concentrate on addressing the most pressing, specific health needs of their workforce. In some organizations, inactivity is the biggest issue, so finding proven and engaging ways to help employees exercise or access fitness facilities would be an appropriate initiative.

But offering smoking cessation programs to non-smokers or weight management classes to a fit workforce could be a waste of resources. We also need to remember that everyone may be at a different stage of readiness – some may never have considered their health, while others may even be triathletes! Successful programs help participants engage at their own pace. Working with their respective health care partner, employers may be able to identify the health issues are most important for their organizations — and make appropriate and calculated changes that will yield the best health and cost savings results.

Executive engagement is another critical factor. Fostering a culture of health starts from the top. It takes a firm commitment from management, as well as follow-through in providing tools for employees to manage health issues, workloads, and stress levels.

Kaiser Permanente offers a broad portfolio of services, including online programs that help employees manage chronic conditions, get a good night’s sleep, lose weight, quit smoking, reduce stress, learn about nutrition, manage depression, and more. It’s all about motivation and offering programs that will drive employees to succeed.

What’s the hottest trend you see right now in corporate wellness programs?

The sheer increase in volume of workforce wellness initiatives is the most obvious trend. Employers who do not have workforce health programs in place are requesting them more often, and employers who already have basic programs in place want to enhance them. Many companies now are realizing that they can tailor programs to meet their groups’ specific needs and are working with their health care partners to determine what steps to take toward improving workforce health. Many providers, including Kaiser Permanente, can offer a variety of data that can help employers make better decisions about employee wellness programs.

Recent health care reform legislation has further raised awareness among employers of the need for a comprehensive approach to total workforce health. In terms of both cost and effectiveness, employers have become much more concentrated on the options available to them and the importance of making the right choices.

Another emerging trend is a focus on healthy aging. People are working longer, and older employees want to be proactive about their health to manage conditions that are associated with age. By offering access to programs that can educate aging workers and help prevent complex and costly medical interventions, employers not only positively impact their balance sheets, they also can enhance their employees’ quality of life.

Image credit, 3DStock, via iStockphoto