Unsure of outcomes? Try pilot program first

Results may be unpleasant surprise

Sometimes an idea for a wellness program looks great on paper, but in reality it's a financial disaster of low participation combined with high expenditures. Wouldn't it be good to find that out before it's fully implemented?

"A pilot program is sometimes helpful when you are unsure of outcomes," says Judy A. Garrett, health services manager at Syngenta Crop Protection in Greensboro, NC. One of Syngenta's pilots was for a year-long fitness

A group of employees with specific risk factors agreed to participate in the pilot. A year's membership at a gym was provided. A certified instructor was available to everyone in the group, and individualized programs were set up.

"There were guidelines with regard to participation, and the number of days and group meetings that were required," says Garrett. "But when we did the pilot, we found that we needed to make specific changes to be more effective."

For one thing, Garrett learned that it was necessary to be more strict with the trainer requirements for the team members. Also, travel required by work demands often interfered with the participants being able to go to the gym.

Employees were initially screened with lab work, a physical exam and fitness assessment. This was repeated quarterly. After a year, it was determined that the results didn't justify the overall expenses of the program.

"In weighing the results of changes in overall fitness, lab results, and follow through with the program, we determined that we would not offer this exact model to our employee population," says Garrett. Instead, shorter exercise programs with group competition were offered.

In the pilot program, the participants went to classes as a group, "but were operating individually. Perhaps that missing link was accountability with a buddy or a team," says Garrett. "We now do all our exercise challenges with a little group competition. We try to make it long enough to help develop a habit, but not so long that they lose interest in the goals or prizes."

Switch gears

At one point, Syngenta planned to do a program to help employees at risk for cardiovascular illness with meal planning, but decided against it, with good reason. "We invited persons identified through their physical exams and lab work. We had good attendance for the first session or two. But then they just sort of dropped off," says Garrett. "We ended up not having enough interest to complete the program."

Similarly, after implementing a costly smoking cessation program in-house, Syngenta found that it just didn't pay off. "We found that it was very time-consuming for our staff members. Take up and success was small. Also, we have less than the national average of smokers within our company," says Garrett.

Instead, a telephonic smoking cessation program is offered through the company's insurer, with the call initiated by the employee. Also, co-pays for smoking cessation drugs were reduced.

The changes were made mostly because of the disappointing success rate of the first program. Several of the individuals who quit smoking started again within three months. By the end of the first year, only one or two were still smoke-free.

"We found that with the telephonic program, they were calling when they had reached that point that they were ready to try, and not just when we were having a program," says Garrett. "The persons reporting that they have used the program, for the most part, are still smoke-free."


For more information on use of pilot programs for wellness, contact:

• Judy A. Garrett, Health Services Manager, Syngenta Crop Protection, Greensboro, NC. Phone: (336) 632-6499. Fax: (336) 632-7062. E-mail: judy.garrett@syngenta.com.