Increasingly, organizations are using technology to improve the delivery and effectiveness of employee well-being programs. The fact that technology is important to the innovation and implementation of these programs is indisputable.
However, many organizations do not capitalize on the best aspects of technology to get optimal results, engagement, and return on investment. Of utmost importance is using the best technologies, ones that engage employees as they drive behavior change.
The search for the best technologies has many organizations introducing health portals and wellness apps to employees as part of their well-being offerings. To everyone's disappointment, these technologies alone do not affect the desired behavior change. What these technologies lack is a reason or incentive to engage.
But coupling technology with a fun, social experience changes everything. Include the employees' real-life networks, and that is when things really become exciting - and when well-being actually does improve.
Socializing Health Change
Health change is a social experience, one that inspires conversations, questions, thoughts, and opinions. That is why well-being technology products must have an "open social" platform. With an "open social" platform, employees are not limited to connecting with a handful of co-workers.
They can invite friends, family, neighbors, and others who matter most to be a part of their well-being journey. By providing tools that seamlessly connect to platforms like Facebook and Google+, employees can easily invite others to join them in their pursuit of improved well-being.
We have found that when employees can share in this kind of setting - a place where it is safe and fun to share everyday health challenges and victories - meaningful connections form. As these connections strengthen and the employee's entire social network is behind him or her, it sets the stage for improved well-being and long-term behavior change.
Good behaviors (and bad ones) spread across social networks like viruses; research shows that health habits can be "catching." People within social networks are influenced by one another, and the actions of those who are virtually nearby provide encouragement to engage. Connecting people creates a genuine support network for employees.
Connecting technologies is also essential, because it increases distribution of the intervention while diffusing healthy activities and positive behavior change among populations. Instead of simply spreading status updates or vacation pictures, we are able to spread best practices for well-being virtually.
The Gamification of Well-Being
As children, we played. We played a lot of things: sports, video games, backyard games, and board games, to name a few. What many of us enjoyed most about playing was that we were being social. We were part of a team, with our friends. As we grow older, life's responsibilities shift from play to work.
We become adults, start working full-time, and take on grown-up duties. However, one thing that has not changed is that play can still be a part of our lives. Adults find fun ways to connect with others, whether it is by hosting a game night, tossing a ball with a child or teaming up with gamers online.
Everyone still wants to be social and part of a team. The power of games and the use of game mechanics are critical to increasing engagement in well-being programs. Naturally, the game is never the most important feature, but it provides a fun way for people to track their achievements, celebrate their successes, and compete with others to improve their well-being.
The actions of a player in a good game mirror what we need in employees on a quest to improve well-being: the understanding that they are their own agent for change. Games can motivate employees to take charge of their own health, even as they are part of a team.
When employees are winning virtual points and badges while forming partnerships, it makes behavior change fun - and provides ample encouragement to return day after day. In addition, achieving health goals often seems overwhelming, so instead of asking employees to make major changes immediately, it is critical to create a journey.
Game mechanics underscore that behavior change is a journey, making long-term engagement a reality. An employee may make big advances one day and none the next, but there is always another chance to come back and try again.
Tools such as the Daily Challenge allow employees to make small, realistic changes to everyday habits, which will have an impact on their overall well-being.
Assessing Well-Being Programs and Technologies
When it comes time to assess the success of a well-being intervention, organizations should also make this a fun and rewarding activity that's driven by the user. In addition, creating a familiar context - one in which the assessment is woven into the overall experience - is key. Providing employees with the tools to track their own well-being and explore it in detail includes them in the solution and can give them the insight they need to make adjustments on their own.
By asking only a few questions at a time, we are not only able to gather data on a frequent basis, but bring value to the user, as well. With abundant data from employees, it becomes possible to truly measure the success of a well-being program.
In fact, having a measure is so important that it is worth designing the program in such a way that it puts the data at the employers' fingertips. When an employer can quickly surface the most important data, it can learn what matters most to a population, see where the program is strong or weak, and respond with any changes.
A story is even better when one can show - rather than simply tell - it. Visual social network graphics can represent employees, their level of well-being, and how connected they are to others. With these graphics, we begin to see how social a group really is - and how well-being really does spread through social clusters.
The power of influence extends out to three degrees, which means an employee is influenced by his or her friends' friends' friends. By assessing this and understanding who are the key influencers, employers can tap in to these employees to help drive more change.
Finally, it is critical to acknowledge that technology and metrics are only meaningful if they make an impact on the population they serve. Making use of a tool such as the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index allows organizations to use science to demonstrate that improvements in well-being score equate to improvements in health and productivity, along with decreased costs.
Over the last few years, there has been an emergence in using technology to promote improved health and well-being. It will be exciting to see what develops in the future. Making health change social and engaging will mean we are making meaningful progress.
About The Author
Chris Cartter, MeYou Health's General Manager, has worked in the areas of networking technologies, health and social change for more than 25 years. Before starting MeYou Health in 2009, Chris was SVP of Internet Innovation at Healthways, where he helped shape the company's Internet strategy.