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  • Andrew Stephenson

High-Tech or High-Touch?

30-second key point summary for those who are time-poor… People versus Tech can:

  • · Make a real difference! Personality and relevance can sustain wellness program engagement and achieve measurable health outcomes that more than double current industry averages

  • Separate your benefits and boost company engagement with program satisfaction and demonstrating a sense of genuine care-factor recognized by the total workforce

  • Allow an agile program structure that can instantly adapt content and address the changing needs of both individuals and your population as a whole

The more detailed version for those of you with 5 minutes…

A couple of years ago I wrote a simple article called “Back to the Future”, in which I discussed that in our modern tech-driven world, the value and impact of personal interactions were rising. With what I see in the wellness industry today, I’m more convinced that point-solutions and incentive-driven tech-delivered information is a genuine risk to the sustainability of effective health promotion. The information is generic. The games and incentives quickly lose luster. The buzzes and alerts become annoying and, in the end, it just becomes another modern hassle rather than a benefit.

Most tech-driven wellness initiatives lack personality and presence. They are too easily put in the background and thus become reliant on incentives, which undermine their true value.

If you don’t really believe in wellness or you have a wellness program simply to tick the box because everyone else has one, then your content, structure and delivery method probably doesn’t matter much. However, if you are actually trying to make an impact and shift the needle on the health status of your population – then read on.

The number one reason employees do not participate in workplace wellness programs is a perceived lack of relevance. A fancy “health score”, buzzing wrist-reminder, gimmicky games or simply providing access to information (regardless of how “personalized” the suggested reading list is) does not tell your employees you care about them. They basically just become hoops to jump through in order to get a premium discount.

It’s not a lack of access to information or an inability for employees to find health information that’s the problem. On the contrary, data overload and filtering information to what’s most relevant and most important is our biggest problem – and that’s why trying to force employees to participate in generic programs is ineffective, whereas engaging with someone who can give you relevant information and advice can have more value. A real person who can connect with your people (they’re real too you know) and can show your workforce genuine care-factor. There’s no app for that.

Our lives are increasingly saturated by technology and there’s a growing body of research indicating that this is having negative effects on our mental health and our sense of “connectedness”. Having a brief encounter with a real person is refreshing and meaningful. I don’t know about you, but to me, a 10-minute conversation with someone is far more memorable and impactful than 10 emails.

I recently saw an article from a prominent health promotion stalwart discussing how health coaching was only useful or viable for a small percentage of a workforce because of their “stage of readiness”. With all due respect, I think that’s absolute garbage, and the very reason why so many workplace wellness programs do not provide value and measurable impact at the population level. It's a failure of the health industry and approaches to public health in the sense that we too often only cater to people who are ready to take action. Likewise, too many wellness models only cater to those who are "ready", whereas the true value in improving health at the population level comes from engaging more people at earlier stages of readiness. It's not that coaching is ineffective or not viable, but the model in which most programs offer coaching that is not viable. Traditional models of “opting-in” or offering dedicated inbound health coaching simply caters to people who are already motivated to change. The people you could benefit more from engaging are the people less likely to opt-in, as they are the people who often need the coaching the most.

Understanding behavioral readiness and being able to adapt information to make it relevant is the difference between an average program and an exceptional program. Forcing people at the early stages of readiness to have a lengthy interaction with a health coach or incenting a certain number of coaching sessions isn’t efficient or effective. But having health coaches meet them where they’re at and simply deliver small nuggets of relevant information (low volume, high frequency) IS highly effective in progressively educating a population and shifting more people to stages of action and change. While a majority of a population are not proactive enough to seek-out health education or guidance that's offered in the periphery, almost everyone values their health and often appreciates timely and relevant tips and information that can help them on a personal level.

Opt-in coaching models generally see between 5-15% utilization whereas effectively integrating small coaching encounters into your operational workflow sees consistent engagement of 80-90% of most populations and sees significant resultant shifts in total population health awareness and measurable health markers.

But don’t take my word for it. Let me share a snippet of my job that I really love – all the unsolicited “thank-yous” and hearing about small progressive changes that have made a meaningful impact on people's health and lives over time – especially from populations who never engaged with traditional wellness models.

“I want to thank you for coming here, to where we work and ‘being in the trenches’ with us. You see how we work, you understand our environment and you can give us information that’s relevant. Those old programs where we could call a coach were useless. They didn’t know us and they didn’t know the situation we were in.”

“It’s great you come to meet the workers where they’re at. I’ve seen other models where coaches are available for people, and they simply didn’t utilize them.”

“Do you know how much people in the office keep talking about the things you talk about after you leave? I never thought I’d see young people paying attention to their health like your program has prompted them to.”

“We’ve had a wellness program for years. People will go through the motions for a financial incentive, but it’s something entirely different to offer a program that truly engages them. Simply going through the motions doesn’t lead to sustainable results. Now we see results and real change, and it has been a breath of fresh air when the organization really needed it.”

These are just a couple of literally thousands of comments I could share - from both organizational management and from individual employees from the companies we work with. The bottom line is: while a “turn-key” tech-solution is appealing because it’s easy; it’s actually really difficult to get significant measurable and sustainable outcomes long-term. Like any website, app, game, or new device; after the initial fanfare, it simply fades in the crowd of technology competing for our attention. A program with a face, personality, and presence, a program where the content and delivery are agile and relevant at the personal level is far more engaging, sustainable, and effective. Don’t do more of the same. Do something that actually matters.


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