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Tuesday, 20 June 2017 10:09

Wellness Enthusiasm: What HR Can Learn from Underutilized Programs

Written by Ed Buckley, III, Ph.D.

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The concept of corporate wellness is a good one, but the execution is tricky. Gaining participation, keeping employees interested and forming long-term habits are among the biggest challenges that employers face with their current wellness programs.

Nearly four out of five employers offer health improvement programs including incentives or education on eating right, being active, reducing stress and being aware of health status. But employees aren’t often benefiting from these wellness efforts. On average, employers award nearly $700 in wellness incentives to each employee, but the majority don’t use the full amount. Large employers are investing even more - closer to $900 -- with little of it being used.

Done right, successful wellness programs are vital to the success of a company. A corporate wellness program can help employees be happy, healthy and engaged, which in turn helps them live a well-balanced life and perform better at work. Plus, it builds better overall morale.

The concept of corporate wellness is a good one, but the execution is tricky. Gaining participation, keeping employees interested and forming long-term habits are among the biggest challenges that employers face with their current wellness programs. How do you change employees’ mindset from unengaged and uninterested to enthusiastic, engaged and excited? Here are four keys to creating fun, simple ways to encourage employees to use the wellness programs.

Embrace Personalization
With today’s technology, consumers fully expect a delightful experience that’s catered to their needs and preferences. Yet, many wellness programs take a one-size-fits-all approach that program managers hope will be not only be useful to the most active employees, but also accessible to the least active employees with the least amount of administrative work it takes to run the program.

The result is a program that doesn’t meet the needs of either group. Those most likely to be healthy don’t use it because it doesn’t fit their needs, while the least likely to use it remain unengaged in healthy behaviors.

Personalization gives employees choices about the fitness activities they enjoy; and if they enjoy it, they’ll continue to do it. By personalizing fitness, those most likely to be healthy have opportunities to try new activities, stay interested and become the motivators for their co-workers. Personalization entices those least likely to use it with easy access points and the ability to personalize their wellness journey based on their needs and skill level.

Beyond personalization, the wellness program has to seamlessly integrate into employees’ daily routines. Technology can help wellness program managers scale personalization in a way that’s easy to use for both the employee and program manager. Ask if corporate wellness technology solutions fit three criteria:

1) Would this technology be successful as a consumer solution? In other words, would I or my colleagues pay to use it on our own?

2) Is the technology so simple and pervasive that it can be used wherever and whenever my co-workers want to use it?

3) Can it integrate with existing programs?

Provide Variety
The ABCs of fitness today might just be aerial yoga, barre and CrossFit. Boutique fitness studios are growing at eight times the rate of big box gyms, yet many employers continue to provide fitness subsidies to big box gyms which are notorious for low engagement and high turnover.

Part of boutique fitness studios’ success lies in being nimble enough to offer the latest trends in fitness like high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and hybrid classes, like cycling and boxing, in one session. They’re offering fresh takes on fitness experiences that keep people interested and engaged in fitness. Variety and flexibility in choosing fitness classes are key to a successful wellness program.

Tampa-based Laser Spine Institute started leveraging personalized fitness for its employees in 2015. Its flexible fitness membership allows employees to participate in classes around their favorite fitness studios. In addition, the company regularly holds workouts for its team members at different studios once per month, which gives employees the chance to test out different workout styles with co-workers while driving wellness dollars to local studio owners. There has been five times more participation in the program than in previous wellness programs.

In addition to trying latest trends, employees expect that convenience be considered. A single option near work is no longer acceptable for fitness. Employees expect their fitness studio to be located near them, which might mean near their home, office or near a friend who works out with them.

Designate Wellness Champions
People who join a fitness social network exercise 100 percent more than people without online workout buddies, according to new research from the University of Pennsylvania. Seeing how often others exercise and what they’re doing builds a competitive spirit that motivates people to exercise more.

Internal wellness champions take this idea of digital motivation into the physical workplace. At Canaveral Port Authority, three employees are designated as wellness champions, and they personally invite colleagues to join them in fitness activities. It creates opportunities for employees to break out of silos and talk across departments about a challenging workout or share tips for trying a new type of workout for the first time. The best part: they’re able to connect and build relationships that might not have otherwise happened.

These wellness champions are game changers. Employers with active and engaging champions see nearly half of employees engage in fitness – significantly higher than the industry average of 30 percent engagement.

Be Data-Driven
Tracking and reporting on the return on investment in corporate wellness programs has traditionally been hard to accomplish. New technology advancements are creating opportunities to use data to drive wellness program decisions.

Subsidies can give a low return on investment because they’re available to lots of employees without knowledge about actual use. Fewer than one in four employees of Jacksonville-based St. Vincent’s Health Care who had received a fitness subsidy for a big box gym actually visited the gym. Think about the wasted dollars!

St. Vincent’s Health Care moved from a subsidy to a personalized fitness program with variety, technology and champions in 2015, and they nearly tripled engagement numbers within a month of the launch. They’ve sustained high engagement since 2015.

Program managers and senior leaders need to know how their wellness investment is being used. Today’s corporate wellness technology should be able to provide the data and personalization the program needs to be successful - while still being easy to implement - and use and provide key metrics to produce a solid return on investment.

Ed Buckley
Ed Buckley, III, Ph.D. is CEO of Peerfit, a Tampa-based digital health company that’s redefining corporate wellness. He holds a Ph.D. in digital health from the University of Florida. For more information, visit Peerfit.com.


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