A Better Wellness Experience

It was only halfway through the first day of HRE‘s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference in Las Vegas, but already the topic of wellness and the ever-elusive ROI had come up a few times.

160476428If you ask Sarah Lecuna, benefits program manager for Intuit, maker of the popular TurboTax program, her organization has yet to reap an ROI from its wellness efforts.  (I suspect the company isn’t alone in that respect.) But that hasn’t diminished the software maker’s commitment to building a culture of wellness.

Intuit’s journey, which was recounted at an afternoon session yesterday that was titled “Beyond ROI: Wellness and the Employee Experience at Intuit,” has very much been a journey of trial-and-error. Lecuna pointed out that the company offers a rich menu of wellness tools, including walking tracks, health fairs, fitness centers at some sites (with basketball and volleyball courts), and the ability to borrow a company bike for an unlimited period of time.

Senior management gave the green light to a companywide wellness program in April 2007, according to Lecuna. The program, she said, was announced to employees through an intensive communication campaign that included emails, posters and the like. At the time, employees were given a $100 incentive to answer a 15-minute questionnaire.

In ensuing years, she said, Intuit’s wellness efforts seemed to run into something of a brick wall. “People,” she recalled, “didn’t want to participate in the health questionnaire. People weren’t engaging in coaching. People weren’t changing behaviors.”

To address this challenge, Lecuna said, Intuit decided to use a health-risk assessment as a gatekeeper. “We said ‘Not only do you need to do the questionnaire, but if you want to cover your spouse or domestic partner, they will have to do the questionnaire too.’ ”

As a company, Lecuna explained, Intuit is all about creating “delightful experiences” for its customers. “But this wasn’t delightful at all. Everyone hated the experience.” The negative feedback was “endless,” she said.

In an effort to fix the problem, Lecuna said, the benefits team decided to hold a series of focus groups to listen to what employees had to say.

Taking employees’ feedback to heart, Intuit decided to stop using the HRA as a gatekeeper (putting it back into the Virgin Pulse program) and moved to an outcomes-based incentive program, which turned out to be much better received by employees, Lecuna said.

In communicating the change, she added, “Intuit took a top-down approach,” featuring a videotape of the Intuit’s CEO telling his own story about how a biometric screening was an eye-opening experience for him personally. (One more example of a C-suite leader taking the lead, the subject of HRE‘s March cover story.)

Obviously, the Intuit story is still being written. Today, Lecuna told attendees, HRA participation is just a fraction of what it used to be; but the use of biometric screenings has increased, with 82 percent of employees and 79 percent of spouses now participating.

No doubt many factors have contributed to Intuit’s success, but I have to believe somewhere near the top of the list has to be its ability to pay close attention to what its employees were thinking and saying. There’s no guarantee that it will someday result in the company achieving a notable return on its investment, but one thing’s for sure: It certainly doesn’t hurt.

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