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  • Andrew Stephenson

Could the Pandemic Help Us Become Healthier?

Emotion, relevance, and a sense of urgency can be powerful motivators.

Diligently living a healthy lifestyle is a challenge for many. It’s estimated that less than 3% of the U.S. population live a “healthy lifestyle” (defined as not smoking, following proper dietary guidelines, getting at least 150 minutes of exercise per week, and maintaining a healthy body weight). How can that be? Given how much we know about health and disease and our abundance of resources, somehow we neglect these seemingly simple things that we know are necessary to live and perform at our best. This despite almost half of all U.S. worksites stating they have a health promotion or wellness program (CDC, 2019).

Many employee wellness program models, while well-intentioned, unfortunately, have under-delivered. Programs are often generic and disjointed, requiring employees to be proactive and specifically seek and sign-up for varying program elements in order to tick boxes or gain points for incentives. Employees often either don’t engage in enough of the program elements or don’t engage in a single program element consistently enough to elicit behavior change. Programs don't adapt quick enough to keep people engaged, resulting in most employees sporadically engaging in one part of the program, or passively “participating” in “one item from each tier” just to receive their incentive. This doesn’t provide people with value and therefore they don’t continue. Ultimately most employees feel that programs don’t work for them or that they’re just not relevant. In fact, a perceived lack of relevance is the number one reason people don’t participate in employer wellness programs or only participate at minimal levels.

But what if all of a sudden it was relevant? What if there was a contagion that acted as an overt reminder that maintaining strong base health and preventing chronic conditions is critical to health and longevity as well as improving our chances of surviving those "what if" and unplanned moments in life? This pandemic has created a window where people have strong emotions and high levels of personal relevance as well as a strong sense of urgency. These are catalysts that create a significant opportunity to motivate people to improve their health behaviors.

Giving employees the right information at this time could be a game-changer in both helping the employee make significant improvements in their health and health behaviors, but also providing affirmation of the care and value of their employer. Improve health AND boost engagement: Isn’t that the goal of most workplace health programs?

So how do you do it? It’s not a time to keep pushing the same old generic programs. There’s a reason people haven’t responded to those in the past It’s a time when employers can step-up and show their employees they care and value them as assets, but more importantly as people. Providing programs which layer more personalized connections and guidance ups the perception of relevance by ensuring people understand their individual risk, understand how the actions they are being given will directly benefit those risks, and that they are given actions and guidance they are confident they can implement – three critical elements of the “health belief model” which predict the likelihood of a person engaging in health behavior.

Health coaches, like the ones who anchor many of HBD’s industry-leading programs, have the unique ability to “meet people where they’re at” and provide information in context as well as actions that can realistically fit an individual’s real-life – both now, and post-pandemic. Employees don’t need (and actually don’t want) to be given a free wearable or told to get 10,000 steps a day or 8 hours of sleep. What they want and need is to be shown how meaningful and consistent lifestyle changes will directly impact their individual health (physical AND mental), energy, and work performance and be provided with the personalized pathway and accountability to make it happen. Some may think this level of personalization is a pipe dream or unaffordable. Not at all true. For around a QUARTER of the value of the average companies wellness incentive, you could provide coaching and comprehensive programming which returns outcomes that MORE THAN DOUBLE wellness industry averages. The question really is, given how we've harshly been reminded of the vulnerabilities of those in poor health, as well as grappling with rapid adaptations to balancing work and life, how can you not afford to? If you've ever thought you needed a more effective and consolidated employee health program, it’s quite possible there’s never been a better time to explore one.


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