Strategies for Creating a Culture of Corporate Wellness

Ann Burke
Posted: 11/27/2011

Ann Burke, Executive Director of Benefits for Boehringer-Ingelheim, speaks with HRIQ about how BI addresses every aspect of health and wellness-- from physical, mental to everything in between!

What makes your wellness programs successful amongst your employees?


We understand how difficult it is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. A fast-paced schedule can make it difficult to find time to exercise and cook a healthy meal. However, getting healthy and staying healthy requires that we make time for these good habits, because they bring multiple benefits including longer lifespan, improved quality of life and fewer illnesses. Staying healthy helps lessen your risk of cancers and various diseases. With our strong focus on improving the health of our employees, we have been successful in a number of ways.

First, we started focusing on the environment they worked in. By making changes in the cafeteria, bringing screenings onsite, adding walking paths, etc. we began to send a message that things were changing at BI – for the better.

Next, we added incentives to promote those behaviors that we thought were most important, including preventive care, health assessment completion, participation in disease management programs and smoking cessation. As we move forward, we will begin incorporating some "disincentives" as well, but we felt like incentives were a good first step and the employee response was positive. We have also incorporated wellness into our plans so that it was not as easy to avoid.

Finally, we created a plan design that incorporated incentives so that employees could have a clear line of sight when it comes to wellness and how it impacts their personal medical costs. The combination of environment changes, positive reinforcement and active engagement has helped us build a successful wellness program for our employees.

What aspects of wellness do your programs address?

Early on we recognized that our employees and their family members had health and wellness goals that were both personal and varying. While no two people have the exact same goal, we have tried to base our wellness initiatives around a few key themes that will support the goals of many. The key areas of focus of our wellness program have been, and will continue to be:

  • The importance of preventive care – preventive visits and screenings covered at 100 percent across all of our medical, dental and vision plans.
  • Understanding your health risks – incentives for completing the health risk assessment; access to wellness coaches; onsite Metabolic Syndrome Screenings in 2012.
  • Focus on increasing physical activity – a number of our locations have onsite fitness, walking paths and personal training services.
  • Healthy eating initiative
  • Prescription drug compliance
  • Support – we know that we can’t ask our members to improve their health and not provide them with the resources and tools they need to be successful.

How did you go about engraining your wellness programs into the corporate culture?

Over the last few years, we have worked aggressively to build our business case on why a Culture of Health was so critical at Boehringer Ingelheim. Our employee population tends to be slightly older, have larger than average families and stays an employee of BI longer than U.S. national averages. The long term health of our members is critical. Knowing this about our population we have worked to: engage senior leaders to gain commitment to our Culture of Health initiative, created a top down communication plan with corporate branding "commit to health" and established a corporate based incentive program. This has helped employees to better recognize our goals and understand when we are communicating with them on wellness topics. We continue to strive to not just "talk the talk," but to also "walk the walk" of wellness.

What do you do to make sure that your wellness programs are consistently aligned with your corporate goals (and benchmark against employee performance)?

Creating a Culture of Health aligns with our corporate mission "Making More Health." Our mission at BI is to focus on quality of care, prevention, lifestyle, early detection and diagnosis. Our goal is to empower individuals, families and communities to address their health issues. Boehringer Ingelheim just celebrated its’ 125 year anniversary. As we look ahead, we are focused on "125 years of More Health." We recognize that in order to accomplish that goal, the health of our employees will be critical.
What are some steps you have taken to engage employees and promote productivity?
  • Engaging employees in wellness can be challenging. We continue to try different ways to engage and encourage our employees including:
  • Reaching them through multiple communication vehicles – we use print pieces, electronic and have even created a wellness blog so that people can receive information about wellness and interact in a way that makes sense for them.
  • Secured employee testimonials so that we could share successes.
  • Partnered with key departments within our own organization to create a clear link between the goals of our organization and our wellness goals.
  • Provided resources and tools to support employees in achieving their goals.
  • Wellness champions and wellness leader champion.
  • What are some questions a company should ask themselves to make sure their wellness program will fit into their unique corporate culture and resonate with their employees?
  • Are you ready and willing to commit to creating a culture of health?
  • Can you actively and aggressively engage leadership support? Health and Wellness champions?
  • What are the unique characteristics of your employee base including demographics, geography, cost drivers, utilization patterns, etc.?
  • If you were successful at creating a culture of health, what would your organization look like? What are you trying to accomplish?
  • How will you keep it fresh?
  • How will you get people to make the connection as to why this matters to them?
How do you measure the efficacy of your programs?

Boehringer Ingelheim is an organization that is very focused on building multi-year strategic plans. We are always looking at what we want to accomplish over the next 3 – 5 years. We have embarked on a number of successful multi-year initiatives that delivered significant savings to the organization while maintaining high levels of employee satisfaction.

We have found that measuring the improvement of member health is difficult. How do you measure a heart attack that never happened? How do we quantify early detection of cancer? These are tough metrics to quantify. While we have established long-term savings goals based on beating market trend, we have also developed other key metrics that we believe showcase a successful wellness program. Some of these key metrics include improvements in: preventive care visits and screenings, health assessment completion, prescription drug compliance results, disease management engagement, smoking cessation program completion, and – in 2012 – Metabolic Syndrome Screening participation.

We are confident that improvements in these metrics will lead to lower costs down the road.
Ann Burke
Posted: 11/27/2011

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