3. Collecting Data to Drive Health EffortsBenchmark #3: Collecting Data to Drive Your Health Efforts
Your Dashboard for Success
Building a health promotion program that impacts the health of the organization is hard work. More recently the field of health promotion has shifted from activity centered programs to results-oriented.
So what is the difference? Activity centered programs are those that sound good, look good, and allow people to feel good, but contribute relatively little to the bottom line. On the other hand, results-oriented programs are carefully researched, intricately designed, and flawlessly executed. Sound difficult? It’s not as complex as it may seem. Perhaps the most important thing you can do to build a wellness program is to collect data.
What You’ll Learn In This Online Monograph
How Not to Plan for Corporate Health
Your company employs many women under the age of 45 in telephone sales and customer service. The health promotion committee, however, is mostly upper management, and they don’t conduct any objective needs assessment. They decide to build a nifty executive fitness center and offer prostate cancer screening annually. Morale improves in upper management, but health claims continue to soar, and the company keeps losing valued employees from the rank and file. Without collecting data the real needs of the company go unnoticed.
In a 1992 survey, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion found:
Why you need to gather data before planning health interventions
In our market-oriented society, businesses wouldn’t dream of introducing new products without doing market research. Likewise, politicians barely speak without taking polls, and Hollywood screens movies with focus groups before releasing them. Yet 73% of businesses offering health promotion activities do so without conducting needs assessments. They plan activity-centered programs with no objective information to indicate that the activity is needed, wanted, or even useful. And here’s the worst part — even if they’ve guessed well, and the activity was productive, they’ll never be able to prove it without “before and after” data.
And as you know, market reserach is going to cost money. Where are you going to get a bundle of money and advanced research techniques? Not to worry. You have immediate sources of information at your fingertips, and other resources available which don’t have to cost a fortune.
The two types of data to collect
Your team should ask and answer these two questions: 1) What does the business need out of their health promotion efforts? and, 2) What do the employees want?
If you ignore the first question, sooner or later your health promotion efforts will get downsized out of existence. You have to provide a business benefit to justify your existence — and the best way to begin is by meeting business needs.
If you set up your program without knowing what the employees are interested in, you’ll be doing aerobics by yourself. You need to know what’s going to attract participation and enthusiasm from the onset.
1. Where to find business needs data
Medical claims. How much is your business paying for employee medical care? Are there trends in the claims data? Are injuries increasing?
If you’re self-insured, your benefits manager can analyze claims and tell you where the dollars are going. If you’re under a managed care plan, check with your provider.
Disability. What causes employees to become disabled? Are your claims related to injuries from heavy lifting, repetitive motion, or perhaps stress due to extensive travel? Disabled employees can be very expensive; the more you can learn about this area, the better.
Facility Assessment. This is an objective look at the health and safety of your building. It includes looking at work stations, ergonomics, eating facilities, temperature, lighting, security, hygiene, crowding, isolation, fire safety, slippery floors — any factors which affect the potential health of your workers.
Health Risk Appraisals. HRAs are health questionnaires that may contain from 15 to 50 questions which your employees answer about their health habits and histories. You can write your own, or purchase them from vendors, who score the answers and provide confidential health risk reports to employees and an aggregate report to the company.
HRAs should be done annually so you can track the health of your employee group, and alert individuals to their health risks.
Screening Data. This data, often collected at health fairs, is a great supplement to HRAs. Blood pressure, height/weight ratios, cholesterol levels, hearing, and other variables can be directly measured. Your employee population should determine which tests are appropriate, since age and gender are factors in many health conditions. It may be too expensive to screen for everything — you may want to gather this information every two years.
Culture Audit. A culture audit, often a questionnaire, assesses the organizational culture and whether it promotes health. It looks at the unwritten rules and assumptions which pervade the company — the stuff that may not be in the policy and procedures manual, but which everyone goes by. For example, are employees who are coming down with colds (when they’re the most contagious) expected to come to work anyway? If you have a flex time policy, are those who take advantage of it penalized, or is use truly allowed?
It’s great that the CEO says that “Our number one concern is the health and well-being of our employees.” With a culture audit, you can find out whether the message has gotten across, by asking the employees if they feel the company’s concern.
Absenteeism. Your absenteeism rates are a good indicator of the health and morale of your employees.
These business needs data provide a good picture of corporate health issues. Without this information, you risk making poor decisions. Knowing what’s happening at the business level isn’t enough — You also need to know what the employees care about.
2. How to get employee interest data
Now that you’ve collected information that helps you identify the status and needs of your organization, it’s time to find out what the employees want. This is a matter of getting in touch, of asking questions and really listening to the responses. It can be done through focus groups, individual interviews, simple surveys, open-ended E-mail questions, or in meetings.
Insightful health promotion professionals will balance corporate needs and individual interests — not an easy task. But unless you keep employees interested, you won’t get the participation you need to make a difference. Your goal is a marriage of the best interests of the business and the employees.
Up to this point, you and your team have spent time gathering needs data and interest data. You have a lot of information to sift through. As a group, it’s now your job to use the data to make strategic decisions. Not all information is equally important—you have to figure out what really counts to your organization.
It’s not an easy job. But one thing’s for sure, you now have objective data to make critical decisions and create responsive programs which relate to the real needs and interests of your employees and business.
Who to tell about your results . . . and how
Once you’ve collected this important data, it’s time to get the word out, but how? Our experience is that the most effective means is a formal written report. It doesn’t have to be exhaustive, but should include an introduction, an explanation of why you gathered the data, how and when you collected it, what you found, and what it means. Get it proofread and appropriately formatted.
Now tread carefully. Our first word of caution is to stamp the report “Confidential/For internal circulation only.” Submit it to your supervisor or to the senior level people to whom the wellness team reports.
It’s essential that you don’t jump the gun and “go public” with your findings. Work through the chains of command. Why? It’s not your call to release the data to the shareholders, employees, or public at large. This is sensitive information and it should be handled thoughtfully and with care.
Tips For Successful Data Collection and Analysis
The best health promotion programs collect data regularly and use it to make critical decisions. It may seem like a lot of work — and it is — but a lot of companies are doing it because they understand the importance that data collection has on the impact of their
programs. You can build a world-class wellness program — and you can use these tips to help get you started:
Chapman, L.S., Planning Wellness Getting Off to a Good Start. Seattle, WA; Summex Corporation, 1996.
Green, L.W., and Kreuter, M.W., Health Promotion Planning, An Educational and Environmental Approach, (2nd ed.). Mountain View, CA; Mayfield Publishing Company, 1991.
Hunnicutt, D., Deming, A., and Baun, B., Health Promotion Sourcebook for Small Business. Wellness Councils of America, 1998.
McGinnis, J.M., Worksite Health Promotion Activities Summary Report, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 1992.