Say "NO WAY" to Plug and Play.

"Plug and Play" wellness initiatives serve vendors, not employers. The more generic and automated a company can make it's wellness program, the more scalable it is and the less man-power it requires. That makes it more profitable per user, however it sacrifices the specificity or personal attention needed for people at early stages of behavioral readiness.

You don't create a healthy culture by paying people to count steps and visit a website. You create a healthy culture by immersing people in an environment which actively encourages progressive health education and consistently healthy behaviors. This is most effective when information can be tailored to meet people at their current level of behavioral readiness.

Sure, Plug and Play packages looks nice: a slick web portal, maybe integration with some wearable devices or cool apps... but don't be fooled by good looks. We all know real value comes from substance and engagement. The best platforms are useless if no one uses them.

Greater automation sometimes means lower cost, but it also means less customization, less adaptability to your unique work environment and unique workforce. But most of all it means less personal attention to the individual behavioral needs of your employees. Yes, there are amazing stats around the number of people that now have computers and smart phones. Yes, it's quite staggering the number of people who search for health information on the internet. Does that mean your workforce will embrace a wellness portal provided by their employer? No. They are not one and the same. While challenges, prizes, and slick portals can generate some initial fanfare, the sustainability year on year and the percentage of people who will make sustained life changing health improvements is very limited.  

Meaningful engagement in wellness programs requires more than simply providing access to information and activities. It requires personally relevant content and consistent positive reinforcement. Many wellness programs are a hodge-podge of random activities all brought together by a platform that nobody uses. Many wellness programs are far too reliant on incentives to generate any participation - which in itself is a sign that the program is not a good fit for your population. I want to repeat that: If the majority of your population would not actively participate without an incentive, then the program is not perceived to give them value, and it's not the right fit.

To be most effective, wellness programs need to be relevant to employees and they need to fit into their work flow and life flow. That is, if participating requires specific proactive action then the likelihood that employees in early stages of behavioral readiness will maintain active participation is very low.

The best, and most valuable workplace wellness initiatives are designed for your unique workforce. They are built into your work-flow to maximize participation and natural exposure to your whole population. They account for employees at varying stages of behavioral readiness, and they help provide your employees with value beyond basic physical health - they help them see the connections between health behaviors and a high quality of life.  

HBD's comprehensive programs average active repeat monthly participation from over 80% of our client's total workforce (without incentives). With that type of sustained engagement, it shouldn't be a surprise that our rates of sustained health behavior change are also high - around 60% of the total workforce on average.

When I speak with companies who excitedly show me reports from their "successful" wellness challenge which initially engaged around 30-35% of their population but was only fully completed by around 20% of those who originally signed up (i.e. 5-7% of their population), I have to question their excitement. I'm sure the 5% of your population who participated thought the program was great (and that's clear from the glowing satisfaction report which, by the way, only includes responses from those who completed the program...). But wouldn't you get more value out an initiative that helped over half of your entire workforce make a healthy improvement? If so, you know who to contact...      

Published on by Andrew Stephenson.