4 Simple Lessons from Seattle’s Amazingly Effective Workplace Wellness Plan

Posted by on Monday, July 28th, 2014 with Comments Off on 4 Simple Lessons from Seattle’s Amazingly Effective Workplace Wellness Plan Comments

Let’s be honest: local governments aren’t always famous for their efficiency. But when it comes to workplace wellness, the folks in the public sector in King County, Washington — where a little city called Seattle presides as the county seat — are doing something very, very right.

A recent report from Stateline, a news outpost from the non-profit Pew Charitable Trusts, described the astonishing success of Healthy Incentives, the King County workplace wellness program. Over the course of its first five years, the county invested $15 million into the health of its employees. And Healthy Incentives worked: smoking rates dropped from 12 percent to under five percent, and more than 2,000 overweight or obese employees lost five percent (or more) of their body weight. Oh, and the county saved $46 million in health care costs along the way.

Sound like wellness results your company could use? Workplace wellness is a tricky beast: it can boost employee morale, reduce absenteeism and boost productivity, and save money… but research shows that actually achieving results can be quite challenging.

That brings us to the point: what can your workplace learn from King County’s success? Whether you have $15 million or $1500 to invest in employee wellness, there are a few lessons that any company can learn — and apply — from this inspiring case study.

healthy meeting catering table

Providing healthy meeting food is one way King County helped promote employee wellness.
Image source: Flickr user taedc

1) Invest in education

King County spent $7 million in the first two years of their wellness program to make sure every employee knew what was available to them. Six employees still work full-time to maintain its 90 percent participation rate, which is pretty incredible — the national average tends to hover around 45 – 50 percent. Make education your first priority, whether you communicate via e-newsletters, message boards, or by old-fashioned letters to employees’ homes (a trick one Cincinnati company found incredibly effective at involving employees’ family members in wellness plans).

Provide financial incentives

In King County, financial incentives were the biggest draw to participation. And they made it pretty simple: by filling out a health assessment, employees could save $200 from their $500 deductible. If they completed an individual action plan – like attending on-site Weight Watchers meetings, or completing over-the-phone sessions with a smoking-cessation coach – they saved another $200.

Those who didn’t participate saw their deductible rise to $800. They also paid about ten percent more towards co-insurance. In the end, wellness program participants saved around $1,000 annually.

Financial incentives can be touchy, because employees don’t like to feel penalized. But the industry trend — and the data behind it — seems to be in favor of providing incentives.

Practice what you preach

King County provides a comprehensive list of suggested healthy foods and snacks for meetings and receptions. All employees in charge of planning workplace functions are encouraged to follow the guidelines to make it easier for attendees who are trying to stick to a healthy diet to meet their daily goals. And this is key! From leadership participation to the actual food in the break room, it’s important to send a clear and consistent message that health matters in your workplace.

Listen to feedback

One of the major complaints King County employees had was how cumbersome it was to actually log their wellness-related activity, which was required to keep them at full-participation status. So the program developed a way that participants didn’t have to log into their computer to chart every activity — they could text their activities into the program.

Listen to your employees’ feedback, and respond. Just like in other areas, making people feel heard is a big part of building engagement in a wellness program.

Want to incorporate some of King County’s successful tactics into your company’s wellness plan? Start by taking advantage of Waiter.com when it comes to providing high-quality food: from donut-free breakfast meetings to wholesome midday snacks to healthy takeout lunches, make it easy for your employees to eat right and improve their wellness at the office.

When it comes to feeding employees and coworkers, make your company's food program really count! If your workplace dining plan needs to take it up a notch — or if you don't have one at all — Waiter.com is here to help. From Virtual Cafeteria Service to diverse menus to local takeout & deliveryWaiter.com offers customizable dining solutions for every business and budget. Contact us today to get started!

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