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January 12, 2021

Well-being vs. Wellness: What is the Difference For Employee Benefits?

Artemis Health

Artemis Health and Employee Benefit News recently conducted new research on the goals, motivations, and challenges facing employee benefit leaders. One really interesting finding stood out: 78% of survey respondents told us that helping employees maintain their health and well-being was their top priority in 2020. Everyone from top C-suite leaders to benefit managers agreed that employee well-being was the most important aspect of their jobs. 

You often hear the terms “employee wellness” and “employee well-being” used interchangeably, but they are distinct aspects of human resource management. We’ll dive into what makes them different and how employee benefits data is crucial to achieving total well-being for employee populations. 

What is employee wellness? 

Employee wellness usually refers to a series of benefits programs and policies that contribute to employee health. These can include: 

  • Smoking cessation programs
  • Fitness and weight loss challenges challenges 
  • Health incentives (think money back on premiums for gym attendance) 
  • Chronic condition management solutions
  • Health risk assessment surveys 
  • Biometric testing
  • Yoga classes on campus 
  • Healthy snacks in the breakroom 
  • Access to behavioral health, sleep or meditation apps  

And many more. The concept of employee wellness is tied to a larger “wellness movement” in society, and the vagueness of this term sometimes leads to confusion. In some circles, wellness can involve new age trends like reiki healing, essential oils, or crystals, which don’t generally overlap with formal employee benefit programs. Many common employee wellness programs focus instead on “lifestyle diseases,” conditions like obesity, Type II diabetes, COPD, or sedentary lifestyles that can lead to chronic health conditions or additional complications. 

There is growing concern about a number of conditions that are likely tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, including depression and anxiety, and even musculoskeletal conditions stemming from remote work. Many employers are looking for new wellness programs and policies that will help employees access care and get relief.  

Wellness programs often offer cash incentives to employees and their families with the aim of encouraging participation. It’s not easy for employers to promote wellness participation among their populations, but they take a number of steps to get employees on-board with healthy living practices. Some use communications strategies, encourage friendly competition, or tap coaches to check-in frequently with participants. These efforts can pay off if the right employees and members are participating. To the dismay of employers, though, they often find that healthy, active members are the most likely to join a yoga class or start a steps challenge. Those at risk of lifestyle conditions are often not the most active in wellness programs and incentives. 

What is employee well-being? 

Often called “total well-being,” employee well-being is a much broader term that takes into account the physical, mental, financial, and social health of employees and their families. Employee well-being takes a more holistic approach to measuring, encouraging, and incentivizing employee health. This strategy can include a number of benefits programs, but also takes a less “tactical” approach; it’s more about creating the right conditions for healthy employees instead of incentivizing specific actions or programs. 

That being said, there is a lot of overlap between traditional wellness and total well-being programs. Well-being efforts can include:

  • Behavioral health care management 
  • Chronic condition management (like diabetes, heart disease, etc.) 
  • Telehealth and virtual care options, including virtual physical therapy and mental health care
  • Preventive services and well visits
  • Benefits data analytics 
  • Fitness/yoga/mindfulness programs
  • Financial education and well-being 
  • New employee orientation, mentorship, and buddy programs 
  • Weight loss support and incentives (gym membership, saved premiums, etc.) 
  • Price transparency services
  • Second opinion benefits 
  • Onsite clinics 
  • Annual vaccination clinics
  • Family planning and fertility programs 

As you can see, while wellness and well-being can focus on the same health concerns, there is a broader focus when it comes to employee well-being. Programs and strategies within this umbrella focus on the whole person, not just one measure of their health. Benefits leaders are looking at physical health, emotional health, integration into the workforce, happiness and employee satisfaction, spiritual fulfillment, financial security, and preventive healthcare. 

How Employee Benefits Data Supports Total Well-Being 

Employee benefits data is key for benefits teams focused on total well-being. It arms benefits leaders with the information they need to prove their strategies are working: 

  • Data is the only way to accurately measure employee health 
  • Data can show the changes and improvements in employee health over time 
  • An effective data analytics partnership will help benefits leaders make the case for new programs
  • Analysis can reveal the effectiveness of existing programs 

Here’s a good example from a real-world employer. Danaher Corporation noticed a trend in their employee health. They found that musculoskeletal conditions like back pain, neck pain, and injuries were a growing problem for their workforce. In looking closely at their benefits data in the Artemis Platform, they found several opportunities to improve employee well-being. Together with their consultants, carriers, and other vendors, Danaher organized a “health summit” to brainstorm new initiatives, find possible solutions, and pilot interventions to help address employee musculoskeletal health. Their efforts included both wellness programs focused on musculoskeletal health and holistic solutions that address employee well-being. 

Read the full case study here to learn more about Danaher’s musculoskeletal health initiatives. 

This is just one example of how benefits data analytics is the first step in addressing employee well-being. It’s where employers and their advisors turn for trustworthy information, insights, trends, and gaps in their well-being strategies. A great data analytics partnership can not only help identify potential areas of concern, but also show how they are improving over time. 

Employers and advisors should look to data solutions to find out if their well-being initiatives are actually working holistically. It’s not enough to simply say, “This program has 70% participation and that’s a win for us.” A data solution can help “crosswalk” and compare data across feeds to see the larger effects of a program or point solution. Let’s use the example of a diabetes care management program. Using a platform like Artemis could you help you justify the results by looking at: 

  • Program participation for a cohort of diabetic members 
  • Full or partial participation within that program
  • Gaps in care for diabetic members 
  • Healthcare and prescription costs for these members 
  • Appropriate use of medication or diabetic testing supplies
  • Participation in both a diabetic care management program AND other wellness programs (weight loss, exercise, etc.) 
  • Absenteeism and disability claims for diabetic members 
  • Biometrics data 
  • Out-of-pocket costs for these members 

And many more. You can see immediately that you’re getting a view of total well-being, not just one measure of employee wellness, with a robust data analytics solution. 

While employee wellness and employee well-being are often used interchangeably, they are distinct concepts for employee benefits professionals. They refer to different-but-related measures of employee health and happiness. Both wellness and total well-being efforts benefit from the use of employee benefits data to help employers effectively measure the health of their populations. 

Want to learn more about Artemis Health’s benefits data solution? Watch our 2-minute demo video. 

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