Workplace Wellness: Understanding How to Classify Your Employee Population Risk
Incorporating a wellness program into your workplace can benefit both your employees and your organization. Building a workplace culture that values wellness and well-being can boost employee morale, lower stress, increase productivity, and attract and retain talented hires. Many of these benefits can be achieved up to a certain level with a “feel-good” wellness program without any risk-focused elements, but prioritizing your higher-risk employees are going to demonstrate positive wellness outcomes and cost-savings for your organization. A risk-focused wellness program can result in real, measurable changes to both objective health metrics (such as blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.), health behaviors (such as exercise, smoking, etc.), and cost, even over a short period of time.
Before you implement an employee wellness program at your organization, it’s important to understand the health behaviors of your population. Before diving into wellness programming, you need to assess and understand your employee population. Are your employees engaging in many unhealthy behaviors? Do you have a low-risk or high-risk population? Do you have a combination? These are important questions to ask as you think about population health management and the needs of your organization.
The behaviors of employees affect their health status, which directly affects the healthcare costs of your organization. Consider physical activity. Research shows employees that engage in at least 150 minutes of exercise per week spent about $4,500 per year on healthcare spending, while those that did not engage in any exercise at all spent $5,813 per year. Without knowing the risk level of your employees, you may not be able to develop an impactful program. Learning about your population also allows you to create a program that’s inclusive of all wellness needs – physical health, mental and emotional well-being, behavior change, disease prevention, and more.
The best way to uncover the risk level of your employees is through risk stratification, a method of organizing employees based on risk factors. Certain behaviors put employees at an increased risk for developing preventable health conditions (such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, or heart disease) or at higher risk of having complications from existing medical conditions. Employee behaviors are directly related to medical claims costs, with high-risk employees costing more than triple the medical spend of low-risk employees. Knowing this, defining your employee population allows you to tailor your wellness program to the needs of the organization.
How do you define whether an employee is low-risk, medium-risk, or high-risk? Risk scores are based on behavior risks and costs risks. Examples of these risks include physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use, personal safety, blood pressure, alcohol use, body weight, existing medical conditions, life satisfaction, cholesterol levels, and more. The more health risk measures an individual has, the greater likelihood they will fall into a medium- or high-risk category.
Low-risk employees may have 0-2 health risk measures and are generally quite healthy. For example, a low-risk employee may eat a well-balanced diet, have good biometric numbers, and no chronic conditions, but may not meet the guidelines for physical activity, or doesn’t wear a helmet when riding a bike. These employees need support to maintain their healthy behaviors, but they are typically at lower risk for developing chronic conditions and do not have conditions to manage.
Medium-risk employees have 3-4 health risks. These employees need more support and involvement to improve their health, and it’s particularly important to prevent this group from trending towards the high-risk category.
High-risk employees have 5 or more health risks. These are the employees that need the most support. High-risk employees may already have several existing medical conditions, along with unhealthy behaviors that put them at risk for developing farther complications or health conditions in the future. It’s important to provide support for these employees and offer solutions to help them trend to a lower risk category.
How can you determine the risk levels of your employees while still maintaining privacy? This can often be done by conducting a health risk assessment, along with providing biometric screenings. Using these categories, you can tailor and define your program to support the medium- and high-risk employees, while still engaging the low-risk population. It is important to help the low-risk individuals stay low-risk (read: Why Care About the Healthy Employee Population?), and help the high-risk individuals move to low-risk. If you’re not sure where to start with risk stratification and are looking for employee wellness solutions, contact us to learn more about strategic solutions to support your organization.