How to Build a Better Wellness Program in 2015

It’s that time of year when people start making predictions about next year’s trends or when we reflect and set goals for the year to come. In that spirit, we wanted to give you some practical advice which can actually help you improve your wellness program outcomes in 2015.

Firstly, to qualify this advice, you should know that our programs average over 80% ongoing monthly engagement from our client’s total workforce every month, without incentives. But engagement is only half the goal, along with this comes an average achievement of over 60% of our client’s workforce making sustained improvements to their health, safety, or performance. How does that compare with your outcomes? Did more than half of your workforce voluntarily improve their health this year? If not, these tips might help.  

I think a major reason why many fail to achieve similar outcomes is due to them focusing too much on…well the outcomes. That is, many are so concerned with the specific physical metrics they are trying to push, they forget to think about, and creatively design an effective pathway for people to get there. The common method is to test and set the goal, offer an array of optional resources that give people some assistance to get there, and then dangle a carrot at the finish line. Hoping people go from A to B by simply providing options X, Y and Z isn’t really a strategy, it’s wishful thinking – especially when the activities of X through Z appear to be stand-alone programs and require people to proactively opt in.

So TIP #1 is:
Focus more on the process, strategy, content, and design, rather than the end point.    
Obviously outcomes are important. But if you create a solid process, the outcomes become a foregone conclusion. Focusing on the outcomes and trying to add targeted activities to achieve each specific outcome results in a very disjointed program. Instead, focus on creating a more centralized and cohesive program which can engage everyone on a common pathway. From there, provide relatable activities which help address the individual aspects of health needed to achieve your outcomes, but ensure they link back to that overall original group vision.

Tip #2:
Track progress of the process before the outcomes.
Tracking your program progress and making changes along the way will also improve your outcomes. Many companies base their assessment of a wellness program solely on the outcomes. This has several issues. One is that outcomes are lagging indicators. Say you wait long enough for outcomes to change before you assess your program. What do you do if you discover they aren't changing? How much time have you lost and how much disengagement has occurred during this period? In the spirit of Tip #1, if you build a meaningful strategy and then measure leading indicators (like ongoing engagement, satisfaction and progressive changes in behaviors), then you know you are on the pathway to positive outcomes before you even measure them. Consequently, if your leading indicators show that engagement is dropping, you can make adjustments to your program as you go, rather than waiting to find out about its poor performance later.

Tip #3:
Focus on tangible employee value, not your organizational outcomes.
Finally, although your goals may be for organizational value, the way a program is promoted and designed for employees needs to be centered on their tangible benefits. There is much evidence in behavioral science to suggest that people are more likely to make sustainable changes in behavior if there is immediate personal tangible value. Educational messaging which focuses on tangible personal value are up to 3 times more successful in influencing change rather than generic messages of longevity (couple of resources include this interesting TED Talk by Jenni Cross, this article from UMICH HMRC, or go back to our blog page and review some of the previous posts on Behavior Change).

In short, many wellness program managers are constantly frustrated by their battle to try and get (and keep) employees meaningfully engaged in their programs. While I understand the frustration, what I don’t understand is that despite limited success, most corporate wellness programs simply continue to use the same strategies. What’s that quote from Einstein about the definition of insanity? The answer isn’t higher incentives. The answer isn’t to keep adding additional layers of program activities. The answer is to stop, and think more about the actual foundations of the program structure. By learning about how to integrate health promotion programs into your work flow, more consistently market programs to boost engagement, and to provide a clear pathway to change you will make your programs far more successful in 2015. Of course if you need help with that, then you know who to call.  

Wishing everyone a safe, healthy and happy holiday next week.     

Published on by Andrew Stephenson.