Cisco creates culture of wellness
Cisco Systems is an example of an employer testing incentives to find what most motivates its employees to improve their health.
The San Jose, CA–based company with 63,000 global employees is in the third year of its wellness incentive program.
Pamela Hymel, MD, MPH, FACOEM, senior director of integrated health and corporate medical director at Cisco, says the wellness programs are a way for Cisco to create a culture of health and improve health outcomes.
“We do want to focus on overall outcomes. Incen-tives are just one way we’re hoping to engage people in taking care of their own health,” Hymel says.
The company in-itially put $100 in the flexible spending accounts of employees who completed a health risk assessment (HRA).
But in the first year, the program saw only a 40% participation rate. Some employees questioned the benefit because they had no interest in opening a flexible spending account.
Another issue was that there was no health coaching component of the program in the first year. This means employees with health risks did not have an outlet to discuss the problem with a program health coach.
Cisco added health coaches in the second year, as well as changing the way it rewarded employees who completed an HRA.
Instead of flexible spending accounts, Cisco added $100 to employees’ paychecks. The company also offers $100 for employees who utilize programs such as telephonic health coaching, online programs, and wellness offerings.
Employees can receive a maximum of $300 annually by participating in Cisco’s incentive health and wellness programs. The goal is to get employees to participate and understand the incentive structure, Hymel says.
Now in its third year, Cisco’s incentive program has about a 55% participation level, and with greater emphasis during open enrollment, the company hopes to reach 65%.
Although more than half of Cisco’s 63,000 employees take part in the program, Hymel says there are still workers who refuse to complete an HRA because they don’t want their employer to have health information. This finding is consistent with studies.
In her report Incentives Entice Employees Toward Wellness, Liz Boehm, principal analyst at Forrester Research, Inc., in Cambridge, MA, reported that nearly one-fifth of U.S. consumers did not support workplace wellness programs because they either objected to employer sponsorship or believed the programs were a violation of employee privacy.
Hymel says Cisco informs employees that the company doesn’t have access to the individual information and that it is given to a third-party vendor, but that doesn’t satisfy some of the employees concerned about privacy.
In addition to the incentives, Cisco is building a 44,000-square-foot fitness center at its San Jose campus. The facility will include four workout studios for Pilates, yoga, group exercise, and cycling and will complement the headquarters’ on-site health center, Hymel says.
Employees who want to use the fitness center will pay $20 per month.
Cisco is exploring whether to waive fees to the facility for those who participate in the incentive programs rather than paying them $300.
“That may translate into a better incentive, even though financially it’s a wash,” says Hymel. “I think we’re still trying to figure out what motivates our population.”
Hymel says Cisco is still in the participation phase of its wellness programs and has not thought about disincentives.
“I think we’re more about trying to motivate people to do the right thing rather than cause those disincentives to cloud what we’re trying to do. We’re not really talking about a disincentive strategy,” she says.
Thomas Parry, PhD, president of Integrated Benefits Institute, based in San Francisco, says if incentives don’t work, employers will try other options because businesses understand that healthcare costs affect the bottom line.
“Employers are not just throwing things out there as the latest fad. They are looking very carefully at what they do, how they do it, and what’s going to work because they have no choice anymore,” says Parry.