Category: Mobile Wellness

apple watch fitness, apple watch on wrist, corporate wellness
As mid-February approaches, the magic of New Year’s Resolutions is starting to wear off; the excitement surrounding exercising and eating healthy might start taking the backseat (yet again).  By this time, it is quite likely that only 59% of your employees are still hanging on to what they had promised just over a month ago.  If you initiated a wellness challenge in the office to celebrate “New Year, New You,” you might start losing people.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

An encouraging article from Business Insider presented preliminary data from Cardiogram, an Apple Watch heart rate monitoring app.  Of the 66,317 app users analyzed, 52% showed an increase in exercising in January, possibly due to their resolutions.  While only 68% of people will stick to their resolution more than two weeks, the percentage of Cardiogram users sticking with their workout frequency has been quite consistent.

cardiogram data, cardiogram study, new year resolution data, corporate wellness
There are many reasons why Apple Watch (and other fitness devices) users are more likely to exercise consistently.  First, devices and apps provide positive feedback on achievement and workout streaks, providing encouragement and keeping people motivated.  The other upside of sustained motivation is that the longer people stick with a behavior, the more likely it becomes a habit.

Despite the urban myth that says it only takes 21 days for a habit to stick, science shows that it actually takes two to eight months to really build sustainable behavior.  The longer people feel motivated, the closer they get to that tipping point from “just trying to incorporate it in” to “that’s just a part of my day.”

Secondly, smart devices like Apple Watch have many features that are outside the realm of wellness.  Users can check messages and emails, receive calls, and even make purchases with it.  They are constantly interacting with the device for both work and entertainment, and the feedback on health is just one welcomed bonus.  Apple Watch is not relying only on people’s fitness motivation to keep its place on users’ wrists.  This helps reduces device abandonment and allows the tracker to continue doing its job in the background.

This theme of sustainable behavior change assisted by technology is not new and has been highlighted many times on this blog.  In addition to fitness goals, people are utilizing technology to achieve their nutrition, financial, and professional goals as well.  Individuals find following through and achieving their goals becomes much easier when supported by a mobile application.

However, that is not to say that companies should force it on employees.  Allowing people to bring their own technology will eliminate the learning curve associated with adopting a new application/device, decreasing their chance of abandoning it.

tweetable, wellable, corporate wellness

Category: Rewards and Incentives

Rewarding participation is an excellent way to encourage wellness program engagement.  However, picking rewards can be a tricky ordeal.  Good rewards motivate employees to participate and continue to invest in employee health rather than sabotaging efforts (no Wendy’s gift cards please!).  Luckily, in a wellness-oriented market, there are numerous options that can complement wellness challenges, whatever the theme might be.  If you are feeling stuck, below are five tried-and-true ideas for thoughtful and practical rewards to consider.

2 Weeks Of Purple Carrot Meal Plan ($136)
A great way to reward healthy behaviors is to encourage even healthier ones!  If your company already has an activity-based challenge, then a sensible next step is to show them how to nourish their bodies for the daily effort.

Most people know they should eat more vegetables and other plant-based foods, but the prospect of learning how to cook those meals might be too daunting.  Help them kick-start the process by introducing hearty AND healthy meals.  The reward can be a meal plan from healthy meal providers, such as Purple Carrot.  The basic plan comes with three meals worth of pre-portioned ingredients a week, feeds 1-2 persons (or 3-4 at a higher rate).  Even though the subscription only lasts for two weeks, the recipient gets to experience how easy plant-based cooking can be, which may translate to a healthier diet that lasts a life time!

WellnessCodes Gift Cards (Flexible)
Amazon gift cards are common rewards, but what’s the point of hosting a wellness competition if the winner celebrates with a case of Coke or bag of KitKats?  WellnessCodes to the rescue!  WellnessCodes is hailed as the Amazon for wellness goods, as they allow companies to make sure their money awards go to health-related products.  The site has everything from fitness gear to fancy blenders (hello Vitamix!) to books and essential oils.  Employers can subsidize these purchases, allowing employees to upgrade/supplement their health regimen.

ClassPass Membership ($69/Month)
While gym memberships are declining in popularity, other services that allow flexibility are gaining traction.  To accommodate this change, employers can provide cool rewards like a ClassPass membership that offers a set number of visits to participating fitness boutiques and gyms classes.  The base plan allows for five classes as well as two gym visits per month, which can be a fun way for employees to revamp their fitness routine with new activities (Barre, Pole, SoulCycle, and more).

GlobalGiving (Flexible)
Exercising releases endorphins – a feel-good neurotransmitter, but that’s old news.  Do you know what else is scientifically proven to make people feel good?  Charitable giving!  This one is special because it is not directed to the winners themselves but still acts as a sound motivator.  Donating to employees’ favorite charities through GlobalGiving, a gift card service for charitable contributions, helps them pay it forward, empowering employees to feel good both physically and mentally.  As an alternative, the company can choose one or more charities that aligns well with its vision and donate as people win challenges. Whichever it is, tapping into people’s exterior motive is a refreshing way to reward them.

“We have low budget and no money for rewards!” can be an obstacle for all businesses, especially ones on the smaller size.  To assist clients, we embrace smallness and learn to make the best out of what’s available.  One option companies with low budgets for health and wellness can consider is crowdsourcing the prize.  Employees can contribute a small amount of money into a “Prize Fund” at the beginning of the challenge, and the fund can be used to purchase rewards.  The idea is similar to what we discussed in “Carrot or Stick?”, which leverages on people’s risk-aversion and gives them more motivation to stick with the program.  After all, if you have something to lose, you’ll probably work harder to keep it, wouldn’t you?

Category: Engagement

Most companies may not be able to relate to compensation packages so rich that employees leave to explore other opportunities, but the case study in this blog is worth exploring nonetheless.  For compensation packages in their self-driving car unit, the search engine giant Google introduced a unique pay structure in 2010 that included bonuses and equity in the business (fairly typical) that ratchetted up very quickly after applying a multiplier (not typical, especially given the scale of the multiplier).  The goal was to tie employees’ payoffs to project performance, which makes sense on the surface.  However, the multiplier, which was based on the periodic valuations of the business unit, resulted in multi-million dollar payouts to numerous employees.  One member of the team had a multiplier of 16 applied to bonuses and equity amassed over four years.

An appropriate initial reaction would be that the hefty paydays would help Google retain their valuable talent in this division.  This was not the case.  By 2015, many of these staffers made so much money that they no longer needed a job and left Google to pursue other opportunities.  The car unit, which is now known as Waymo, subsequently replaced the previous compensation structure with a more uniform pay structure.

So what lessons can a typical company learn from this experience?  More than one would think.  First, millennials are not like prior generations in that non-compensation factors weigh heavy in their decisions on where to work.  Sure, compensation matters, but millennials want to work for organizations with purpose and that provide autonomy.  Also, they want to work for companies that care about their well-being, both professionally and personally.  Perhaps Google relied too heavily on financial compensation to keep their staff in this unit happy.  A report from Bloomberg suggests that some of the staffers who exited were apparently frustrated by the car unit’s pace of progress and others had doubts about unit head, John Krafcik.  As millennials amassed wealth, the allure of rich compensation was less a factor in their retention decision.  Many left for opportunities that better suited their passion or moved at a faster pace so they could make more of a difference.

The second mistake Google made was tying compensation multipliers to the valuation of a unit but paying individuals in equity of a larger company whose financials are minimally impacted by the unit.  The advertising business at Google was so successful that heavy losses at smaller units, including autonomous vehicles, barely made a dent in profits.  Combined with lofty valuations at the autonomous vehicle unit that may not have been supported, employees were getting large allotments of equity in Google, a business whose value was continuing to rise and more stable than that of the smaller unit.  Compensation practices should more appropriately align with performance.  This is why Google spun out the unit as a new company, Waymo.  This will allow them to more closely align performance with compensation.

Category: Rewards and Incentives

As the talent wars endure, companies continue to up their game as it relates to overall perks and benefits and especially as it relates to wellness related ones.  According to a Glassdoor survey, culture and values rank the highest as the workplace factors that matter most to employees.  This is why wellness benefits continue to expand; they show that employers care about the well-being of employees and value them as individuals, inside and outside of the workplace.  In the spirit of great wellness benefits, check out these amazing and real employee wellness perks at leading companies across the globe.

Despite the amount of stress many individuals experience trying to assemble IKEA products, the Swedish furniture giant bends over backwards to relieve the pressures of raising a newborn baby.  The company offers up to four months of paid parental leave to both full-time and part-time employees who have at least one year at the company, regardless of whether they work at a retail store or the corporate headquarters.

Bain & Company
Rated as one of the Best Places to Work, Bain holds an annual three-day “World Cup” interoffice soccer tournament every year and invites employees from all of its global offices to participate.

Scripps Health
It is widely known that caregiver benefits help relieve the pressures of supporting loved ones for numerous employees.  These benefits usually apply to human loved one, but Scripps Health is taking these benefits to the next level.  The company’s interest in their employees’ well-being extends to even their pets with access to health insurance for cats and dogs.

The ticket seller and concert promoter also promotes good health by offering a monthly $60 wellness stipend, which can be put toward anything from gym memberships to juice cleanses.  For those organizations that want to tie wellness stipends to attainable goals or verified usage, using a platform like Wellable is a great way to make sure gym reimbursements don’t go to waste.

Whole Foods Market
Individuals who prepare home-cooked meals tend to eat better and live healthier lives.  Whole Foods, which is known for its pricey produce, offers a 20% discount to all employees, including part timers, so they can have access to fresh fruits and vegetables for some delicious home cooking.

Amazon offers two programs for new all parents, regardless of whether they work in the corporate office, customer service, or fulfillment center.  The first program, Leave Share, allows employees to share paid leave with their partner if the partner’s company does not offer paid leave.  The second program, Ramp Back, gives new moms more flexibility easing back into work.

Category: Corporate Wellness

In Aon’s 2016 Consumer Health Mindset Survey, 83% of consumers said they needed the most support for emotional well-being.  Of those respondents, 68% ranked managing stress as the most important way to being emotionally well.  The survey of 2,320 consumers, including employees and dependents covered by employer health plans, identifies a clear area that employers can target with employee wellness strategies.  According to Stephanie Pronk of Aon’s U.S. National Health Transformation Team, onsite services like yoga, mindfulness, meditation and resiliency training could help employees and organizations with emotional health.

The move to technology in wellness programs is clear.  However, mental and emotional health is largely being addressed by services for a number of reasons.  First, the technology landscape for mental health technologies is limited.  There are apps like Headspace for meditation and mindfulness training, but these technologies have fractions of the users of technologies that track physical activity and nutrition.  This is not to say that mental health applications are not destined to have the same adoption; it merely suggests that they have a long way to go.  When employers embrace the consumer market in their wellness programs, which is strongly encouraged, understanding where technologies are in the adoption curve is critical.

Second, despite mental and emotional health being a more public area of concern for millennials compared to other generations, many consumers are unfamiliar with methods to improve their well-being in this area.  Unlike being active and eating healthier, many consumers have not tried meditation or mindfulness.  As such, employers are better off exposing these well-being methods to employees with human interaction in the form of onsite classes and seminars rather than technology.  Once initially exposed to these remedies, employers can then move to more scalable technology alternatives.  Also, onsite services allow employers to start small.  Unlike technology deployments, you can offer a single class, collect feedback, and grow a program from there.

Category: Engagement

Below is a video excerpt from Simon Sinek, a leadership and organizational development expert, speaking on an episode of Inside Quest.  During the excerpt, which we strongly encourage people to watch (it has 5.3 million views and counting), Sinek addresses what he calls the “millennial question.”  In short, the millennial question addresses the challenges with managing this generation in the workplace, including tackling common perceptions about millennials, such as their sense of entitlement, narcissism, and self-interest.

The conversation opens with a discussion on what millennials want from their employer.  Leadership in organizations continue to ask millennials this question, and millennials continue to respond that they want to work in a place with purpose and make an impact.  He also quipped that millennials want “free food and bean bags.”  Despite clearly knowing what they want, millennials are still not happy, even when they find a company with purpose that offers free perks.  Sinek explains the struggle of millennials through four influences.  Below are the four influences and how they impact the mindset of millennials.

Millennials grew up with failed “parenting strategies” that told them that they were special, taught them to believe they can have anything they want in life, and provided them with personal advancement from parental hard work or complaining rather than their own merits.  This may be best exemplified in the concept of participation medals.  When millennials enter the real world, they learn the hard way that they are not special, they can’t have everything they want without hard work, and last place does not get a prize.  It an instant, millennial self-image gets shattered, resulting in an entire generation growing up with lower self-esteem than previous generations.

Millennials grew up in a Facebook/Instagram world, which means they are good at putting filters on things.  Based on Facebook profiles, millennials are incredibly happy when the reality is that their generation suffers from high rates of depression and anxiety.  Science shows that people who spend more time on Facebook suffer from higher rates of depression than those who spend less time on Facebook.  Sinek makes it clear that social media and technology are not bad, but too much social media and technology are.

Millennials grew up in a world of instant gratification.  Want something?  Order it on Amazon and have it arrive the next day.  Want to watch a movie?  Stream it from Netflix.  Millennials are not even accustomed to waiting each week for a new episode of a TV show.  They have access to all the episodes at once.  Instant gratification has created a high sense of impatience within the millennial generation.  Unfortunately, when it comes to job satisfaction and strength of relationships, there isn’t an app that provides these needs on-demand.

Millennials are being thrown into organizations that are making things worse, not better.  Most organizations care more about the numbers than the people, and as a result, they are not prepared to assist millennials with the transition to the real world.

Category: Corporate Wellness

An article in the Wall Street Journal discussed the growing market for online fitness classes and services, like ClassPass, that offer a set number of visits to participating fitness boutiques and gyms in a given city for a monthly fee.  As a result of these innovations, many people are choosing to ditch their gym memberships for more flexible and often more affordable alternatives.  According to data from Cardlytics, payments to on-demand fitness services jumped to 7.7% of total spending on workouts last year, up from 4.8% two years earlier.  Spending for on-demand fitness now exceeds spending at yoga and Pilates studios.  Traditional gyms still comprise the vast majority of the market but have lost 5% of the market to 73% in 2016.

All signs point to further deterioration of gym memberships.  Consumers are becoming increasingly accustomed to on-demand access, choice, and lower costs, all of which are available from alternative options currently eroding gym memberships.  This trend should raise interesting questions for wellness coordinators, employers, and health plans that promote or offer gym reimbursements.  Gym reimbursements are typically limited to traditional gyms, and if sponsors of these programs truly want individuals to utilize this benefit, they need to update programs to address current trends.  This goes beyond just allowing reimbursements to cover streaming services or alternative membership plans.  Some individuals love to run, hike, or bike outdoors, and these activities come with their own costs (shoes, equipment, etc.) that sponsors should want to reimburse for because they provide the same benefits as going to a gym.  However, this is not the case in most programs.  Most programs are limited to traditional gyms, and by doing so, they completely ignore the growing desire of employees to engage in non-gym fitness activities.

As an alternative to traditional gym reimbursement programs, Wellable suggests employers build programs that tie the reimbursement to tracking of the physical activity, and individuals can choose what activity best suits them. By verifying these activities have occurred, program sponsors can not only meet individuals where they are but can also link the reimbursement to verified activities.  This helps solve the problem of paying for gym memberships that are never utilized.

Category: Facts and Research

One of the many million (billion?) dollar questions in the digital health and employee wellness communities ponders what can lead to long-term engagement and activity increases.  As it relates to steps specifically, studies show that adherence to and use of a pedometer or activity tracker will result in increases in step counts; however, with so many individuals throwing their devices in the drawer after limited use, the impact of these technologies is minimal from a practical perspective.  To improve adherence and activity levels, device manufacturers and others are creating engagement tools, but a recent study published in Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism suggests an old fashion prescription from a doctor can do the trick.

According to the research, a physician-delivered step count prescription strategy with an individualized rate of increase can result in an increase in steps per day.  Specifically, the researchers found that there was a 20% net increase in steps per day for active versus control participants (1,190 steps).

Participants were provided pedometers to record steps and randomized into a control group and active group.  Physicians reviewed patient records over a one-year period and provided a written step count prescription with a goal of a 3,000-step per day increase.  Physicians individualized the rate of increase.  Participants in the control group were advised to engage in 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity per day.  Of the 347 participants, 79% completed the final evaluation.

In addition to a 20% net increase in steps per day, participants with type 2 diabetes in the active group experienced a lowering of hemoglobin A1c as well as a decrease in homeostasis model assessment-insulin resistance (for all patients treated with insulin).

With so many employee wellness programs encouraging annual physicals, wellness coordinators could benefit from creating a way to prescribe steps as part of this process.  The study did not determine if the results were driven by the physician doing the prescribing, individualized rate increases, or some other factor.  Either way, it warrants some testing by employers and health plans who are in a position to prescribe steps, with or without physician involvement.

Category: Wellness

WebMD released a report (Millennial Health and Wellness Perceptions: Clues to Increasing Wellness Program Engagement) that focuses on millennials and employee wellness.  With millennials representing the largest generation in the workforce, taking a critical look at their specific needs and preferences provides insights on how to best engage these employees in wellness programs.  Below are some highlights that are worth noting from the report.

The Future Matters
The report found that millennials are far more concerned about the future than their older counterparts.  Specifically, 45% of millennials view financial health (bills, debt, and savings) as big concerns for their future.  This is why the growth in financial wellness programs is such an important expansion in the way companies view total wellbeing.  Also, millennials view work life balance (41%) and not enough free time (36%) as major concerns at higher rates than other generations.  Only 29% and 20% of Gen Xers and baby boomers, respectively, feel the same about time spent working.  Millennials view their professional obligations as hindrances to achieving their personal goals for the future.

Their Health Matters
Millennials are more conscious of their health than older generations as well.  They tend to work out more, avoid using tobacco, and consider their health relative to norms.  As such, millennials are more aware of their employee wellness program, which means they are more likely to participate in them.  Only 56% and 49% of Gen Xers and baby boomers, respectively, reported having access to wellness programs compared to 71% of millennials.


Access To Technology Matters
Millennials are digital natives because they grew up in a time where technology was a given, not a novelty.  As such, millennials are far more likely to use or be interested in using digital health technologies.  According to the survey, 46% of millennials currently use health and wellness solutions and 34% indicated that they plan to start using them.  Less than one-third of Gen Xers and 14% of baby boomers currently use digital health technologies and only 26% and 10%, respectively, plan to do so.  Only 8% of millennials are not interested in digital health technologies compared to 21% and 44% for Gen Xers and baby boomers, respectively.

Category: Facts and Research

Despite uncertainty around integrating employee wellness and engagement programs into company cultures, employers continue to view these strategies as a top priority for business success.  A recent survey (State of the Industry: Employee Wellbeing, Culture and Engagement) of more than 600 human resource and benefit leaders explored and revealed key relationships between the three main drivers of positive employee experiences: wellbeing, culture, and engagement.  Through the analysis, organizations can see a measurable impact on business performance and outcomes by investing in these areas.  Below are some interesting statistics from the survey.


  • 78% of organizations view employee wellbeing as a critical component of their business strategy
  • 74% of employers with strategic, holistic wellbeing programs saw improvements in employee satisfaction and 65% saw improvements in organizational culture

One thing the survey did not mention but Wellable finds is becoming increasingly true is that wellness continues to be seen, by both employers and employees, as a critical benefit.  Similar to 401 (k) plans and dental and vision insurance, employees are considering wellness benefits in their employment decisions.  With more and more employers offering wellness benefits, those without them are at a strategic disadvantage when it comes to recruiting and retaining employees.


  • 95% of organizations view culture as important for driving business outcomes
  • 80% of organizations plan to improve corporate culture in the coming year

These statistics are not surprising.  However, employers struggle with defining and implementing their culture.  Groups with multiple office or remote employees have even more challenges to address when managing culture across the entire employee base.


  • Engagement investments have a strong impact on business results with 56% of companies seeing improvements in employee satisfaction, 40% reporting enhanced company culture, and 14% realizing revenue growth as a result of employee engagement programs
  • Improving employee engagement remains a key organizational focus, with 88% of respondents calling it a top priority

The value derived from an engaged workforce is widely accepted, but similar to culture, it is a concept that employers struggle with promoting.  An engaged employee is defined as an individual who is “fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work and so takes positive action to further the organization’s reputation and interests.”  Employee wellness and engagement are often discussed together because employees who feel better about themselves and trust that their employer is genuinely concerned about their wellbeing will be more enthusiastic on promoting the vision of the organization.  As employers try to improve employee engagement, incorporating wellness and other initiatives as part of a multi-faceted strategy will be needed to address the challenges they currently face.