Changes to EEOC Rules Will Affect Workplace Wellness Programs

Tanya Fish

Woman talking on the phone carrying her shoes and yoga mat in an office

Do the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) changes on wellness programs have you questioning the future compliance of your workplace wellness program? You’re not alone.

What’s the issue?

A recent court ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia vacated 2016 EEOC wellness regulations effective January 1, 2019. As a result, at the end of 2018, wellness program compliance will revert back to its state prior to the issuance of the 2016 Regulations.

The court ruling considered the extent to which employers may penalize employees for failing to provide health information regarding themselves or their spouses without violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (ADA). Specifically, participation in a corporate wellness program must be “voluntary” under the ADA and GINA. The court took issue with employers’ ability to provide participation incentives of up to 30% of the cost of self-only coverage under a “voluntary” program.

Looking ahead, expect future guidance on the regulatory aspect of wellness programs, but also bear in mind that employees are saying they aren’t satisfied with wellness programs offered today. With the Net Promoter Score for the workplace wellness industry coming in at minus-52 (no other industry is below zero), it makes business sense to consider a shift in strategy.

Get ahead of the changing wellness landscape

As organizations continue to monitor the compliance landscape, it is equally important to think more holistically about employee wellbeing and employee engagement. So, what does a holistic program look like? Here are four ideas we have for wellbeing programs of the future.

1. Segment Your Audience to Personalize Their Experience

Audience segmentation in the future may look different than the past. Health risk assessments, biometrics and healthcare claims have driven audience segmentation for years. According to the 2017 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey by Willis Towers Watson, employees who are troubled by their finances are twice as likely to be in poor health as those who declare themselves financially “unworried.” They also report considerably higher stress levels, more absences, greater levels of presenteeism (working while sick/ill) and significantly lower levels of work engagement.

Takeaway: It’s time to dig deeper to segment based on contributing factors to poor health such as life stage and causes of stress or disengagement like financial insecurity.

2. Ensure Your People are Equipped to Focus on Health

Identification of chronic disease and health risk factors have been the focus on wellness programs for years. The problem with identifying risk is that it doesn’t motivate people to make a behavior change. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs suggests that the first and most basic need people have is survival: their biological and physiological requirements for food, water, sleep and shelter. If any of these necessities are missing, people are motivated above all else to meet those missing needs.

Takeaway: If your people do not have their basic needs met, take time to refine your benefits and environment to support employees before seeking greater engagement from them in their job or a wellness program.

3. Create Conditions That Foster Emotional Connection at Work

Once an employee’s basic needs are met, the focus turns to “belongingness,” or social needs. Employees desire to work in an environment where they are accepted in the organization and have some interaction with others. Simply put, friendships at work matter. Nearly half of employees (48%) from around the globe seek out support from family, friends, colleagues or their manager during periods of high stress while only 23% use a program offered by their employer or health plan, according to the Willis Towers Watson 2017 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey.

Takeaway: Create opportunities for special projects, interest-based groups, book clubs, committees or community volunteerism and reward employees for getting involved. Mentor/mentee programs are another particularly strong option for employee connection, and provide learning and development opportunities in demand by today’s workforce.

4. Provide Options to Maximize Motivation

Having met an employee’s basic needs, and satisfying their need to develop relationships and build trust, your employee can focus on personal growth. Maslow defines growth needs as:

  1. The need to know and understand
  2. Creativity/Individualization
  3. Self-actualization

Offering a variety of ways to engage in personal growth with your organization—social, development, physical wellness, financial wellness, just to name a few— provides employees with control to participate based on their personal preference and relevance. To further amplify the effectiveness of your offering, leverage your audience segmentation to tailor options to specific life stages, employee personas or roles within the organization. Don’t underestimate the power of a modest tangible incentive or environment in kick starting behaviors. Consider giving people new workout outfits, health devices, headphones or access to a gym, subsidies for water in the vending machines or discounts on healthy food items.

Takeaway: Aligning and motivating employees has never been more challenging, but a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators can cultivate a working environment that promotes personal growth and wellness.

This is certainly a time of change for organizations. But it’s also a time of great opportunity. Take care of your people as people first, then get them engaged in your organization throughout their employment journey. Encouraging your people to focus on their personal wellbeing goals will motivate them to address behaviors they want to improve upon while continually growing and developing with the organization.

Tanya Fish

Tanya Fish

Tanya’s focus is on creating innovative solutions across industries that engage the hearts and minds of employees to drive better results. She loves inspiring passion in people, something she believes impacts the individual, the organization and the community. Tanya’s past work and studies on organizational leadership in business, employee health and well-being, culture and health insurance guides her unique perspective on driving organizational health and success. Tanya is driven through achievement, learning and empowerment and balanced by time with family and friends, a good margarita and time outdoors.