Workplace health promotion strategies continue to evolve. But are the ideas really changing, or are we just throwing new tools at old problems? For many employers the problem lies not within their specifically chosen vendor or this year’s “beta version” of their favorite tool, but rather in the structure of their approach in general. Program pieces are not implemented with a strong strategic process or alignment. Instead, many programs have strong start points and end points but lack considerable consistency and strategy to help people navigate the area in between. Unfortunately it’s that “in between” where people’s behavioral journey evolves.
In the wellness industry new companies, new technologies, and new iterations seem to germinate constantly. And yet while so much changes, there’s so much that stays the same. New products and technologies are touted as innovative and game changing, and yet many of their applications rely on principles of traditional approaches which are known to be flawed – short term challenges, self-directed learning, sleeker looking platforms or apps, more accurate activity trackers, smarter bean-counters for incentive systems…
Many of these strategies still rely too heavily on the employee being proactive. That is, making the assumption that they are at an advanced enough stage of readiness to engage with the platform or be convinced to engage via incentives. However, the majority of people are not at an advanced enough stage of readiness, and incentives do not foster the type of inherent motivation required to get them there (refer to previous posts for more discussion on the down sides of incentives). Many of the strategies we continue to see defer to the traditional: testing to identify risk, filter high risk into disease management while trying to get the rest to proactively engage in optional challenges, opt-in coaching or requiring people to maintain or improve their test results in order to receive incentives the following year.
Improving health and changing behavior (in a sustainable way) is a lifelong endeavor. Stop-start programs like challenge based programs can be disjointed and begin to feel repetitive. Testing, triage, clinical compliance and retesting puts a lot of emphasis on outcomes without giving people the physical and mental tools to sustainably evolve their behaviors in the middle – that is, people might reach goals in the short term, but you haven’t changed their mindset or behaviors for the long term.
More evolved programs are ones that blur the boundaries between the separate health promotion activities. Rather than a distinct series of events, services, challenges or programs which people opt in to or are ushered into via incentive plans (which inevitably leads to employees participating in some aspects but not others), elements of advanced programs seamlessly fit together and flow from one to the other. Each additional element builds on and progresses the previous. Each additional element reinforces the last and provides a new layer of information that builds motivation and skills for change. The result is less of a disjointed “two steps forward, one step backwards” stumble towards the finish line, and more of a strategic and progressive journey towards a healthier workforce.
Program integration is not about having the data from your HRA vendor filter in to your disease management vendor. Integration is about the perception from the end user. Health behaviors are complex and do not occur in isolation. Integrated programs that show the relationship between different aspects of health (i.e. an overall health program instead of separate programs for weight loss, stress management or smoking cessation...which are all inter-related) and which provide ongoing and consistent reinforcement of key skills and benefits make more sense and are more actionable in the real world compared with isolated activities.
So perhaps your next true advancement in workplace health is not looking for that next great product or technology that could add another layer or new dimension to your program. Your program may already have too many dimensions. Instead the real innovation might be stripping back some layers and getting to the core of providing a more structured and progressive approach to filling the gaps between your start and end points.
HBD are experts in population health behavior change. Our programs are designed and tailored to fit into our client’s work flow and employee life flow. The result is more sustained engagement (programs average over 80% ongoing month to month participation from the whole workforce without incentives) and high sustainable behavior change across multiple risk areas (our programs average over 65% of the entire workforce improving health behaviors or health risk measures). We don’t rely on gimmicks, just hard work. From stress, engagement and high performance to general health and injury prevention; If you want to learn more about what we can do for you, why not give us a call?