(Rene Macura/AP Images for Network for a Healthy California-LAUSD)

What does it take to get employees to participate in a company-sponsored wellness program? Three critical elements can make it happen: strong communications with the workforce about wellness; powerful incentives up front; and employee rewards on the back end.

So says a study by The Vitality Group, which works with client companies to create and implement wellness programs. Vitality Group reviewed three years of data from its clients’ wellness programs and reached the above conclusion.

These big-picture critical elements were found to be at the heart of client programs that could demonstrate a high level of employee participation, Vitality said.  

“Our research offers hard data and analysis finding the impact of these programs is very dependent on design,” said Alan Pollard, CEO of The Vitality Group. “By better understanding the types of incentives and employer support that has the most impact on health, we can better determine how to help employers get the best results at the lowest costs — tailoring incentives to promote engagement, reduce health risks, and improve employee well-being and productivity.”

Digging into the results, Vitality found:

  • Companies that have wellness champions on staff had 41 percent higher levels of employee engagement than those that didn’t;
  • When these advocates were part of the team, the average number of activities increased significantly, from 31.6 activities for those with low- to medium champions, to 76.4 activities for those with strong champions;
  • Industry and company size had little impact on employee participation and engagement, after taking into account incentives and company support functions;
  • Companies with higher geographic concentrations saw slightly higher participation levels (66 percent) than those with spread out (60 percent) or normal populations (53 percent).

“The maximum value of the incentive offered is one of the most effective levers for increasing employee health participation and engagement,” Vitality reported. “There is a direct positive relationship between the level of both health participation and engagement with that of the maximum incentive offered. Simple company actions such as offering onsite health screening can have a significant impact on employee participation.”