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Employees work to take care of themselves and their loved ones. That means they need to be able to afford necessities like food, clothing, housing, and healthcare to be healthy and productive. If employees are unable to meet these basic needs, they will not be able to work as effectively and may eventually consider leaving their job. Considering the current unemployment rate, they’d likely have a good shot at getting a new role, so employers must be accountable to their employees’ health and well-being to maintain trust and productivity and retain top employees. Companies that have a culture of accountability to employee wellness will position themselves to handle change and perform at a high level long term.  

Michelle Golden, Executive Director of Human Resources & Public Relations at Chippewa Falls Area Unified School District, Jennifer Pagels, Vice President of Human Resources at AprilAire, and John Stephens, Chief Strategy Officer at WPS Health Solutions spoke at The Alliance’s 2023 Spring Symposium: Commitment to a Healthy Workforce, to share how they as employers practice accountability to their employees’ health and well-being so others can do the same.  

This is a summary of the conversation, but you can watch the full panel discussion here.  

Listen to Your Employees  

Showing accountability to your employees means truly listening to their needs and doing what you can to meet them. Instead of adding benefits you think your employees want, begin by focusing on what they need – and then meeting or exceeding it.  

One way to know your employees’ needs is through surveys. Golden regularly conducts surveys to keep a pulse on her employees’ needs, and she actively works to meet those needs by tailoring the benefit plan to what is expressed in the surveys. For example, when employees requested additional mental health services, Golden took swift action to add additional mental health services and providers to the benefit plan. If employees were to express difficulties accessing care, an employer would need to first recognize the barriers their employees are facing and then work to remove them. Potential solutions to reduce physical and financial barriers to care include adding more telehealth and virtual care services or removing copays for providers that offer quality care at low costs.  

Think About Your Employees Holistically 

To demonstrate accountability to your employees’ health, you need to think about your employees holistically. The Chippewa Falls Area School District made a commitment to help their employees be their best in every aspect of their life. They support employees’ holistic health and strive to remove barriers to care by bringing wellness vendors like acupuncturists, chiropractors, and yoga instructors on-site. This encourages employees to practice self-care and stay consistent by incorporating wellness into the workday. School leaders take advantage of these services and model the importance of taking care of their health to the rest of the employee population. You can also bring preventative services onsite using external vendors or investing in an onsite clinic to provide convenient care during the workday.  

Pagels’s perspective about caring for her employees was changed when a long-term employee passed away from complications from obesity. This was a turning point for her to think about how employers can take responsibility for their employees, help them make healthy decisions, and support them in their wellness. Pagels coined the phrase “happy, healthy, and alive” and began educating her employees about the “why” behind living a healthy lifestyle. She continues to empower employees to make healthy choices through educational and wellness programs.  

Educate Employees About Their Healthcare Decisions 

When employees save money on healthcare, their self-funded employers can reinvest those savings in improved benefits and higher wages. Employees focus on their own out of pocket costs, however, and may lose sight of costs impacting the plan that do not affect them directly. They may not actively seek high-value care which makes it essential for employers to educate employees on the importance of being a smart healthcare consumer for themselves, their coworkers, and their company.  

Think about how you are communicating with your employee population and make sure you are addressing the “why” for the behavior you want to see. Pagels thought she was communicating effectively with her employees, but realized she could do more to reduce out-of-pocket expenses for employees as well as the company’s overall healthcare spend. She changed the way she communicated with employees, emphasizing how employees’ healthcare decisions affect themselves, their coworkers, and the company.

Pagels inspires her employees to practice accountability to themselves and the company by prioritizing their health and seeking high-value care because when employees make better healthcare choices, they save money and can take better care of themselves and their family.  WPS engages its employees through health literacy programs. Employees take required online educational modules and test their knowledge through quizzes about general health and the company’s benefit plan. This method is a cost-effective way to educate employees about how to take care of their health with the benefits available to them.  

Explore Self-Funding

Self-funding gives employers access to their employees’ aggregated claims data so they can see where their employees are spending their healthcare dollars, and where they can save. The Alliance empowers our employer-members with their data through our Smarter HealthSM analysis, a customized, in-depth analytics report that allows employers to design an effective benefit plan that meets the needs of their employees. Golden uses her employee population’s data to show Chippewa Falls Area School District staff where their healthcare dollars are being spent and how they could save. Like Pagels, she emphasized that the more money employees save, the more the district can afford to put in their Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and 401(k)s. Golden also created an open dialogue and encouraged employees to come to her with questions.

Make a Positive Impact  

WPS, AprilAire, and the Chippewa Falls Area School District have a higher rate of employee satisfaction and fulfillment and lower levels of employee stress because their people are able to take care of their health and their families’ health.  

While these companies have built robust health benefit plans and wellness programs over time through accountability, you can start small and still make a positive impact on the cost and quality of healthcare for your employees. Celebrate your initial efforts, whether they are a success or failure. Prioritize attending events where you can network, gain ideas and solutions, and benchmark what you’re doing against other self-funded employers.  

The Alliance hosts multiple virtual and in-person events per year to learn from experts and network with other employers for ideas.  

Click here to register for our next virtual event to learn how to identify low-value care and what you can do to encourage your employees to participate in shared decision-making with their providers to avoid it. 

Register here for The Alliance Fall Symposium and Annual Meeting to hear stories from innovative employers who are moving healthcare forward for their employees and their businesses. 


Health & Wellness


Events by the Alliance Members & Employers


Health & Wellness


Events by the Alliance Members & Employers