How to track wellness initiatives’ ROI

Establish concrete goals, prioritize ‘continuous’ listening, and monitor metrics your bosses find compelling.

Tracking wellness ROI

Healthy, happy employees are the foundation for any successful business.

Company leaders would likely agree with this assessment—at least in principle—but it’s incumbent upon those charged with wellness to build a compelling business case for sustaining and maintaining a thriving workforce.

But what are the most reasonable, relevant well-being metrics, and how should you go about gauging employee wellness ROI? Here’s some guidance.

Expert guidance on wellness ROI

Jen Arnold, owner of Redesigning Wellness, says to start by establishing well-being objectives. If your goal is to reduce absenteeism, sick days or disability claims, the hard data is straightforward. To boost recruitment of new employees, Arnold says, “use a net promoter score,” which is calculated by subtracting the number of employees who are “detractors” from the percentage who are “promoters.”

Arnold advises tempering expectations and being selective in which metrics you track, however. “The two things I encourage organizations not to expect/measure are health care costs (wellness can’t lower these costs) and physical health (there are too many factors that employers typically won’t address to have an impact here),” she cautions.

When determining success (or failure) of wellness initiatives, Arnold says to consider five questions:

  • Do employees want to participate without offering incentives?
  • Would employees recommend the wellness initiatives to other employees?
  • Did you reach the goal you set (assuming it’s a reasonable goal)?
  • Do employees have a higher level of well-being?
  • Do employees feel that the wellness initiatives are made for them?

Making employees’ lives easier

Regardless of your goals, Amy Haworth, a workplace wellness expert and HR chief of staff with Citrix, says it’s crucial to implement a “continuous listening strategy.” Wellness programs are for the betterment of employees, after all, so it’s crucial to consistently gather feedback on what might make their work experience—and lives—better.

“What makes employees lives easier? Your leaders may see value in wellness, but how do we quantify the investment?” she says.

Haworth advises that metrics might not always offer a compelling smoking gun for your efforts. But it’s essential to find ways to make a compelling case for your initiatives in language that speaks to your bosses.

“What’s the ROI of what you’re doing? It’s important to know what your target is. Even if it’s not perfect, put it out there. What difference does it make on retention or insurance claims? Be able to explain your story through data,” Haworth says.

Depending on your organization, you might be keen on showing your impact on discretionary effort, performance or behavioral changes, specific health data, voluntary attrition or number of personal development hours.

Whatever you track, be aware that mental, social and emotional well-being continue to grow in importance. CEOs who care about running a successful business absolutely do care about workplace well-being, so don’t be shy about monitoring “soft” metrics related to emotional health and wellness. Employee sentiment ties directly to productivity, engagement, retention and turnover. Which are all inextricably linked to profitability.

Be realistic with expectations

The “continuous listening” approach advocated by Haworth should entail frequent pulse surveys that monitor employees’ desires and preferences, coupled with messaging on other channels conducive to candid two-way conversation. That intel can help shape your offerings and tailor your approach to what employees will truly appreciate. This information can also help narrow and sharpen what outcomes you choose to measure.

With most employees still working remotely for the foreseeable future, it’s essential to “create shared experiences to keep everyone connected,” Haworth says, adding that “Resilience and capacity of people is what will make the change – not a perfect comms plan.”

Behavioral change also must be modeled at the top.

“It’s important for leaders to walk the talk,” says workplace wellness expert Shira Miller. “Your team members watch what you do as clues to desired behaviors within the organization.” She urges leaders to encourage their teams to “have flexibility in their schedules to make time for movement, mindfulness and other practices to promote their wellness.” Demonstrating these virtues in their own schedules gives workers “permission” to make well-being a top priority.

Miller says it’s also important to be realistic on what you hope to achieve. Your wellness objectives should jive with the daily reality of your workforce, whether they’re frontline workers or hunched over a computer all day.

Whatever you offer, “make things easy to use,” Miller says. Prioritize simplicity and clarity in measurement, too. She advises: “The simplest way to track the effectiveness of wellness programs is monitoring usage. Pay attention to how many employees are registering for and using an app, calling a support hotline, downloading information or submitting reimbursement forms. It gives you a baseline of employee interest in each tool.”

Wellness programs should always be tailored to what workers actually want and will use. Preferences and needs change over time, so be prepared to pivot on what you offer—and measure—accordingly.

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