The prevalence of corporate wellness programs is at an all-time high, with over 80 percent of mid- and large- sized corporations having a wellness program in place.1 As these initiatives grow in number across industries, it becomes even more important to understand what approaches have been most beneficial to increasing employee engagement.
The Five Attributes for Achieving a Successful Wellness Strategy
Experience from nearly three decades in the corporate wellness industry shows that greater health improvement is possible when employees are intrinsically motivated to make healthy behavior changes as part of an employee wellness program.
This preference of intrinsic over extrinsic motivation is well documented in many studies, including the groundbreaking research on motivation at MIT.2 To be successful, a wellness strategy needs to be rooted in a clear understanding of human motivation and behavior change. This led to our identification of five essential qualities of a profitable wellness plan:
- Universal Access - We all lead busy lives. If you have too many barriers for employees to use or engage with your wellness strategy, it will limit participation.
- Community Engagement and Support - We are social creatures, and building a strong community of support and teamwork holds employees accountable and helps them to feel part of a larger goal.
- Personalization - We all want to feel like we have a say in programs and policies that affect us. The ability for employees to personalize their wellness strategy helps them take control over their own health.
- Fun and Enjoyment - No explanation needed here! If something is fun and enjoyable, we're more likely to do it.
- Measurement and Reporting.
We know that wellness programs grounded in behavioral science are successful, but let's push this idea a step farther. For corporate wellness to remain relevant in our increasingly digital lives, we have to think about how innovative technology can take the wellness attributes we already knew to be successful to the next level.
How Technology Is Revolutionizing Corporate Wellness
We've spent a lot of time in the field of technology habit formation with experts like Nir Eyal, author of the book Hooked - How to Build Habit-Forming Products. Here we've identified how the user experience within technology platforms can be optimized for better participation and increased health improvement.
What we've learned is that for next-generation wellness platforms to remain relevant we need to reframe corporate wellness priorities to highlight the individual, ask participants the right question, and embody the five attributes of a successful strategy.
Let's start with a focus on individual improvement instead of company-led directives. A wellness portal experience that puts the participant in the driver's seat will yield much higher engagement than a focus on company-sponsored incentive requirements. This shift in approach empowers each participant with a unique wellness path and makes each individual his or her own "Health Hero".
That's how you achieve sustained interest and engagement. Interestingly, it's this very focus on personal improvement that will drive better participation in the company-sponsored program and incentives overall. Next, make sure your program is asking the right question.
Wellness programs and platforms need to stop asking "Are you ready to change?" but instead, "What change are you ready to make today?". This means providing choice in the level of commitment (we have super simple one-week activities and master level six-week courses), a broad subject matter focus (we include gratitude and financial health alongside more traditional exercise and nutrition), and the opportunity for people to find the right step for them.
Get away from the model of viewing corporate wellness as a compliance checklist and instead, provide a choice that everyone can embrace. Lastly, ensure your technology platform incorporates the five attributes of a successful wellness strategy. The platform should provide:
- Availability on any device. (universal access);
- Community and social support so participants can share successes and resources with their colleague community and track corporate progress towards a company-wide goal (community engagement and support);
- Recommendations and options so participants can create their own wellness toolkit with trackers, food logs, health coaches, and other helpful tools, as well as set and track the wellness goals that are most important to them (personalization);
- "Surprise and delight" features like personal photos and achievement badges, making it fun and enjoyable to use (fun and enjoyment); and
- Performance indicators to make it easy for C-suite executives to see how the program is doing in real-time. The platform should also be able to document expanded value such as the connection between wellness programs and total Employee Engagement. (measurement and reporting).
The Next Step
The objective of a corporate wellness strategy is to get a return on investment, and better technology is a critical next step to achieving this more holistically. It's bringing these critical attributes for behavior change to the places employees are today, regardless of geography, work day, or device.
We've already seen how powerful these strategies can be. Within our client base, we've recorded as much as 3 times higher participation in our portal and higher levels of repeat participation (with 10% using the platform once a week or more).
Workplace health is a growing issue of national importance, so our industry has to be innovative and diligent about examining what approaches work and which do not. Our research shows that greater engagement in wellness programs is possible when people are intrinsically motivated to make behavior changes that impact their futures. Personal, flexible, strategically-driven technology solutions can accomplish that.
1 Hewitt, Aon. "Aon Hewitt Survey Highlights Important Role of Incentives in U.S. Employer's Efforts to Improve Workforce Health and Performance." March 25, 2013. Accessed January 3, 2016. http://aon.mediaroom.com/2013-03-25-Aon-Hewitt-Survey-Highlights-Important-Role-of-Incentives-in-U-S-Employers-Efforts-to-Improve-Workforce-Health-and-Performance.
2 Herger, Mario and Janaki Mythily Kumar. Gamification at Work: Designing Engaging Business Software. Interaction Design Foundation, 2013. https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/book/gamification-at-work-designing-engaging-business-software/chapter-5-58-motivation.
About the Author
Laura Walmsley - Chief Business Development Officer - PreventureLaura's Walmsley's mission is to create long-term, behavioral health changes to form new habits and improve people's lives and well-being. Laura started with Preventure in 2002, bringing with her experience in business development in the employee benefits area.
At Preventure, Laura is responsible for sales, marketing, and innovation projects and assures Preventure provides its clients the full cultural and financial benefit of a healthier workforce. She is a firm believer in the connection between highly valued employees and rising corporate profits.
"I love to deepen the mutualism between engaged, healthy employees and optimal, profitable business growth. Our work directly improves lives and company success - I get fired up to expand this impact to more and more people."
Preventure is a corporate wellness company that has impacted 10 million lives at hundreds of diverse, medium and large-sized organizations over the last 25 years. Preventure connects employee engagement with company performance and proves it through its proprietary Return on Wellness guarantee.
By continually integrating technology and innovation into their programs, Preventure ensures that employees are engaged and making long-term behavioral changes that impact companies' bottom lines.