Category: Facts and Research

Despite increased participation in 401 (k) plans, 85% of employers say they are not satisfied with employee savings rates, according to a study on retirement and financial wellbeing trends by Aon Hewitt.  The study also found that 90% of employers are concerned about their employees’ understanding of how much they need to save in order to meet their retirement goals.  Statistics like these explain why the Aon Hewitt study found 58% of employers offer tools to improve at least one element of financial wellness and that number is expected to grow to 84%.

Assisting employees to prepare for retirement is merely just one element in the financial wellness puzzle, which is why many of the 58% of companies offering financial wellness tools are not fully addressing the need.  This is especially the case in organizations with diverse workforces.  Most employees have multiple financial stressors and need specific tools for each.  Planning for retirement and paying down student debt, albeit related, require different strategies and resources to manage.  This is why 92% of companies are likely to focus on financial wellbeing beyond retirement by offering benefits to aid in managing student loan debt, day-to-day budgeting, and even physical and emotional wellbeing.  Employers need to start acting now to address the problems their employees are facing while they are still manageable and before employees to choose to move to other companies that offer these benefits.  As financial wellness moves to the mainstream, those employers that do not offer more than a 401 (k) will struggle to win the talent they need to succeed.

Manufacturing is not the only industry that is being impacted by automation.  A separate Aon Hewitt report found that automatic 401 (k) features can be very effective in increasing plan participation.  Features like these include automatic enrollment or contribution escalation tools.

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For organizations looking to incorporate financial wellness into their benefits offering for the first time, there are a number of budget friendly options to choose from.  For those employers with a 401 (k) plan, the plan administrator should have free financial wellness resources for their clients to use.  There are also a number of advocacy groups and wellness vendors, including Wellable, that offer a free financial wellness seminar/webinar.


Category: Facts and Research

With millions of individuals across the world relying on nutrition tracking apps for weight loss, a recent study sought to evaluate the efficacy of these technologies on weight reduction in obese or overweight individuals.  Previous studies had discrepancies with regard to the effect of apps due to the several limitations.  This retrospective cohort study, however, based its results on the complete enumeration study that utilized the clinical and logging data entered by Noom Coach app users between October 2012 and April 2014.

The results suggest that nutrition tracking apps are successful with weight loss, assuming they are actually used.  A total of 35,921 participants were included in the analysis, of whom 77.9% reported a decrease in body weight while they were using the app.  Dinner input frequency was the most important factor for successful weight loss.  Also, the more users recorded their weight, the less likely they were to experience the yo-yo effect with their weight.  Per the authors of the study, “This study demonstrated the clinical utility of an app for successful weight reduction in the majority of the app users; the effects were more significant for individuals who monitored their weight and diet more frequently.”

 
This study is important for and valuable to wellness coordinators as they think about potential ways to use nutrition tracking apps in their programs.  Often, wellness coordinators use nutrition apps as tools for managing weight loss competitions, which numerous studies have shown to have negative consequences.  Others try to use these apps to ensure that individuals are hitting their recommended daily intake, which creates a clear incentive to falsify reported data or skip entries of certain meals.  This hurts the impact these technologies can deliver.  Instead, wellness coordinators should encourage the use of these technologies.  Frequent reporting serves as a feedback loop (“I didn’t know that cookie is bad for me”) and is tied to statistically weight loss.  This is why Wellable’s Wellness Challenges platform creates a structure that encourages and rewards users to regularly and accurately input their data.


Category: Facts and Research

During the holiday season last year, Santa gave millions of individuals wearable device fitness trackers and smartwatches.  For wellness program administrators, at least those with the analytics and technology to assess their program in detail and in real-time, these gifts result in increased participation in January wellness challenges.  However, too many coordinators know first-hand that participation often dissipates as individuals lose interest in their device and the program.

The precise percentage of fitness tracker abandonment has never really been known.  When Fitbit filed the paperwork to go public, analysis of its filings and financials suggested that 70% of Fitbit users churn in less than 12 months.  These estimates are from 2015 and device technology has substantially improved since then in meaningful ways, such as in battery life, non-fitness related features like text notifications and payments, and more.  In 2016, Fitbit released reactivation statistics that suggested 20% of those were buyers who were coming back to the Fitbit community after they had been inactive for 90 days or more.

So what percentage of individuals can wellness coordinators expect to give up on their technology?  According to a Gartner survey of 9,600 online consumers in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia, 30% and 29% of the fitness trackers and smartwatches, respectively, are ultimately abandoned.  The study also suggests that top reasons for abandonment include lack of usefulness, boredom, or the device breaking.

The study also found that consumers think wearables are priced too high relative to their perceived usefulness.  This is partly being driven by numerous free app alternatives that track everything wearable devices can and more.  The survey found that people younger than 45 tend to think a smartphone can do everything they need.  This continues to make the argument that employers implement a bring your own device (BYOD) strategy for wellness.  A BYOD strategy for wellness allows organizations to embrace all forms of wellness technologies, including devices and apps from all brands.  It will enable consumer choice and result in lower costs for your program.  If employees want to use devices they can, but employers do not need to buy devices for the 30% that will ultimately abandon their devices (this number may be conservative since one would think that devices purchased by an individual on their own are less likely to be abandoned).

BYOD For Wellness
The study also reported on market adoption rates.  For fitness trackers, U.S. consumers lead usage at 23% followed by Australia at 19% and the U.K. at 15%.  The leading smartwatch country is the U.S. at 12%, while the U.K is at 9% and Australia at 7%.  The overall adoption was 19% and 10% for fitness trackers and smartwatches, respectively.


Category: Mobile Wellness

Last week was CES 2017, the largest global consumer electronics and consumer technology tradeshow.  For wearable device enthusiast, this is the opportunity to see all the major brands (and some new ones) launch their latest products and technologies.  There were several product releases that deserve attention and numerous online outlets that covered them, but one in particular caught our attention – the Motive Ring.

Per the company’s video, “the biggest thing in fitness is really small,” and it happens to be a ring that promises to offer full wrist-worn fitness tracking functionality into that sort of form factor.  The Motive ring, which is currently in pre-sale for $199, tracks everything customary wearable devices track, including fitness, sleep, and even heart rate, but in a much smaller package.  The ring boasts a battery life or three to five days, which is quite impressive given the size.  Also, the device is waterproof up to 50 meters for those avid swimmers looking for a device to match their lifestyle.  The one feature it is missing that most wrist-worn devices have is a display or the ability to support notifications.  The benefits of the form factor may trump the lack of display but only time will tell.

The device will begin shipping to U.S.-based iOS (Apple) users in Spring 2017.  There are seven different sizing options, and rings will be available in either gray or rose gold as well as feature an LED band for charging and syncing notifications.  If you’re interested in reserving a device, you do so risk free.  Motiv will not charge individuals who pre-order devices until the devices are shipped.  Orders can also be canceled at anytime.


Category: Facts and Research

The second annual survey from Rock Health on consumer health adoption revealed numerous interesting statistics on the current state of digital health in America.  Most notably, the number of Americans who own wearable devices increased to nearly one out of every four individuals, which is up significantly from 12% in 2015.  With a sampling of more than 4,000 representative U.S. adults, the survey also found that 75% of wearable owners purchased the wearable for themselves, 22% received the wearable as a gift, and fewer than 2% received the device from their employer.  Of those who bought their wearable, a third did so in the last three months and two-thirds made the purchase in the last six months.

The survey also measured market share from major wearable device manufacturers.  It found that the most popular manufacturers for all ages are Samsung (30%), Fitbit (26%), and Apple (22%).  This breakdown in market share is in contrast with reports from IDC that suggest Samsung is not as well off and Garmin and Apple are neck-and-neck.  Regardless, it is clear that more and more Americans are choosing to adopt wearable devices and no single brand owns the majority of the market.


As such, the results of the survey continue to make the case for employers and health plans to implement a bring your own device (BYOD) strategy for wellness.  A BYOD strategy for wellness allows organizations to embrace all forms of wellness technologies, including devices and apps from all brands.  It will enable consumer choice and result in lower costs for your program.  With corporate wellness programs having engagement comparable to wearable device ownership, it only makes the case even stronger.  Organizations should embrace the consumer market trends for wellness program success.

BYOD For Wellness
The survey went beyond wearable devices to study all digital health tools and found that 46% of consumers are now considered active digital health adopters, up from 19% in 2015.  An active adopter is defined as an individual having used three or more categories of digital health tools.  The number of Americans who are non-adopters dropped from 20 percent in 2015 to just 12% in 2016.


Category: Corporate Wellness

Few would question that 2016 meant changes in lots of areas, and workplaces were not spared.  Let’s ring in the new year with the top five ways work changed in 2016.  The list below is in no particular order.

Sharing Economy = Side Jobs
Stagnating wages and the need for additional income are leading more workers to freelance part-time in 2016.  According to a new analysis by LinkedIn, younger professionals in particular are gravitating toward part-time freelancing.  With apps and digital marketplaces making it easier than ever to connect buyers of services with sellers of services, employees are using their free time to earn extra dollars and in some cases, pursue their passion.  Lack of stability, predictable income, and benefits prevent these employees from freelancing full-time.  However, as their reputation and personal brands grow with part-time work, it is more likely that employees will freelance full-time and quit their jobs.

Paid Leave Benefits On The Rise
Currently, only an estimated 10% to 12% of U.S. workers get paid leave of any kind from their employers.  This percentage is growing, especially in highly competitive sectors like technology. Also, there is a shift in creating more gender equal benefits for paid leave with companies now including men and women in the benefits programs.  Politics may have an influence on the trend with Hillary Clinton making paid parental leave a key part of her platform and Ivanka Trump also advocating for the benefit.  The vast majority of voters (82% or Republicans and Democrats) support some form of paid parental leave.

5 Real And Unique Wellness Rewards
Employees Paying More For Healthcare, Get New Benefits
The average family paid more than $18,000 in health care premiums in 2016, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.  The growth is slower than it has been in past years but still ahead of incomes.  The silver lining is that employers are at least providing more health-related benefits to employees.  For example, Instacart, Visa, Slack, and others have rolled out genetic testing benefits so employees can get their genome sequenced for a lower price through subsidies.  Employers are also expanding wellness initiatives to help employees improve their well-being.  These initiatives includes wearable device and incentive programs.

Increased Compensation, For Some
Bernie Sanders brought raising the minimum wage to the forefront of the political stage.  Despite losing the primary, his supporters won with major legislation passed in New York and California, which both agreed to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next few years.  This is a huge win for many of the Americans who dealt with stagnating wages during the aftermath of the Great Recession.  However, the Trump presidency makes it unlikely to see increases in the minimum wage from the Federal government anytime soon, as his pick for Labor Secretary is a critic on raising the minimum wage.

Gender Issues At Work Joins National Conversation
This year included Hillary Clinton’s historic nomination, Donald Trump’s unsavory remarks about women, and Roger Ailes’s resignation for sexual harassment.  These events received significant news coverage because they were part of the 2016 presidential election.  As a result, gender issues in the workplace, despite always being a hot topic internally, have risen to the national conversation.  This means employers will need to be more proactive in managing gender issues more publicly.


Category: Engagement

It seems like yesterday when Pokémon Go took the world by storm, captivating the minds of millions across the globe.  The unintended consequences of its success was an increase in activity of its users.  Some even dubbed the game the next best health app since it got individuals moving while being unaware of the amount of steps they were taking.

As a reminder for those of us who have forgotten about the game, players have to walk one kilometer, as measured by the phone’s sensors, to hatch a new Pokémon from an egg.  Driving is out of the question, as users must stay below the 10 or 15-mile-per-hour speed limit.  This required users to travel the old school way: with their two feet, which resulted in increased activity.

According research published in the British Medical Journal, “Pokémon Go was associated with an increase in the daily number of steps after installation of the game.  The association was, however, moderate and no longer observed after six weeks.”  Specifically, the analysis found that the daily average steps for Pokémon Go players during the first week of installation increased by 955 additional steps.  However, this increase gradually attenuated over the subsequent five weeks, and by the sixth week after installation, the number of daily steps had gone back to pre-installation levels.  The study found no significant differences for users by sex, age, race group, bodyweight status, urbanity, or walkability of the area of residence.  It is important to note the study surveyed 1,182 Americans, all of whom had an iPhone 6, and a little under half of whom were Pokémon Go players.  The participants were found on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which at this point seems like something of a niche population.

 
What can employers and health plans learn from this study?  It seems on the surface that the novelty of Pokémon Go wore off, and as a result, users were walking less because chasing Pokémons were no longer appealing.  This is not meant to be a slight on the game, but an observation on the reality of keeping the attention and interest of individuals.  Even the creator of Pokémon Go, Ninantic Labs, recognizes the importance of novelty, which is why they are constantly launching new games based on augmented reality.  The takeaway for employers and health plans is that if gamification is a major driver of engagement in their programs, it is important for them to design wellness challenges that regularly change to keep things fresh.  Otherwise, the novelty of a challenge wears off and users disengage.  To keep things fresh and tailored to a specific population, organizations need to leverage a wellness challenges platform like Wellable that allows groups to customize and configure challenges to their specific needs.


Category: Facts and Research

Contrary to the popular belief that healthcare expenses are becoming a larger part of total employee compensation, new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that employers paid the lowest amount for health insurance as a percentage of total compensation since 2011.  Specifically, health insurance costs equaled 7.6% of total compensation for private employers in September.  This is equivalent to $2.44 per hour worked.  This is the lowest percentage of total compensation since March 2011.  The cost for health insurance as a percentage of total compensation peaked at 7.9% in March 2014.

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It is important to note that using the percentage of total compensation does not mean total health insurance costs per employee did not go up during this period.  The percentage could be impacted by a number of factors, such as wage increases and shifts in costs to employees.  The rise in high-deductible healthcare plans is certainly contributing to the latter.

Also contrary to popular belief is that smaller employers are being disproportionately impacted by rising healthcare costs by having to pay more per employee than their larger counterparts.  Companies with 50 to 99 employees spend $1.94 per hour worked, which amounts to 7.0% of total compensation.  This is lower than the spend for companies with 100 to 499 employees and companies with more than 500 employees, which spend $2.77 (8.5%) and $4.28 (9.0%) per hour worked, respectively.

Regardless of how health insurance expenses as a percentage of total compensation is trending, employers remain deeply concerned about budgeting for health insurance.  Outside of wages and salaries, health insurance still comprises the largest portion of total compensation spending.  In the highly competitive global economy, human capital management continues to be critical to success and getting the most productivity from total compensation dollars is key.  This is why total compensation and benefit plans need to be optimized to recruit and retain talent as well as assist employees in being productive at work.


Category: Engagement

Employers and health plans have long sought after a clear understanding of the benefits derived from engagement.  It is widely understood that engagement results in positive business outcomes for both types of entities; however, some would argue that too much engagement is a bad thing.  Regardless, few studies have been published that quantify the financial impact of engaging employees and members…until now.  A new report shows the value of consumer engagement in health plans.

Through an analysis of 14 years of consumer health insights, more than a billion interactions with consumers, and an extensive amount of academic and industry research, the study revealed that health plans can generate significant short- and long-term value by engaging members in their health.  In fact, the report suggests that engaging healthcare consumers can be one of the highest value activities a health plan can undertake.

According to the analysis, health plans could potentially double their net income by engaging an additional 10% of consumers with their health.  “For example, a one million-member commercial health plan in the individual marketplace could produce over $130 million in new value by engaging just 10% more members.  This value is comprised of key medical and administrative cost reductions and revenue increases, resulting from an array of specific actions that consumers take in response to being more engaged.  The report also revealed an even higher value of engagement among Medicare Advantage ($302 per member per year) and Managed Medicaid ($157 per member per year) populations.”

The key takeaway is that small increases in engagement can have big impacts on financial outcomes.  The silver lining is that most employees and health plan members are woefully disengaged, which means the opportunity to achieve small increases in engagement are certainly attainable.  With 60% of human resource leaders viewing wellness as an engagement tool and health plans focusing on engaging members in wellness, technologies and solutions that can engage users effectively and affordably will be highly valuable to these entities.

It is also important to note that this analysis considers a broad range of benefits that result from engagement.  Traditionally, employers and health plans tried to constrict the gains from engagement through an analysis of hard savings, or return on investment (ROI), rather than considering all the benefits, often referred to as value on investment (VOI).  Employers are beginning to shift their perspective to VOI as noted by a survey suggesting the majority of employers now consider VOI.


Category: Corporate Wellness

According to the Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, 2015 marked the year that millennials surpassed Gen Xers as the largest generation in the U.S. workforce.  At that time, millennials represented 34% of the workforce.  By 2020, it is estimated that millennials will comprise nearly half (46%) of the workforce.  The prominence of this generation makes it critical for employers to consider the specific needs and dynamics of millennials when creating and communicating benefit packages.  The Millennials Come of Age report from Colonial Life uses industry and internal company research to illustrate the best strategies, communication tools, and technology human resource professionals can use to ensure their companies find and keep the best and brightest among the largest generation in U.S. history.  Below is the biggest highlight from the report.

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Insurance, whether it be health, dental, life, or other, has long been a staple of benefit plans.  These benefits have also been seen by other generations as tools to protect employees and their families from bad events that impact everyone.  Millennials view insurance benefits in a different light.  They see these benefits as an important piece of overall physical, emotional, and financial health.  As such, millennials want benefits designed to keep them healthy rather than protect from adverse events.  For example, rather than considering dental insurance as a way to protect themselves against tooth decay and high-priced dentist bills, millennials may be more willing to consider dental insurance as a way to stay healthy.  Stephen Bygott from Colonial Life says of millennials, “being healthy doesn’t just mean not feeling sick.  It’s commitment to an ongoing healthy approach to life, including eating habits, exercise and avoiding activities that can be viewed as damaging.”  Employers should embrace this viewpoint when communicating benefits to millennials.

Expansion Of Benefits
It is clear that the definition of healthy differs for millennials.  It includes proactive behavior to do more than just avoid being sick.  This is why employers looking to hire and retain this generation need to expand benefits beyond insurance products.  Millennials want access to wellness solutions and technologies that allow them to address this need and want to work for employers that understand their perspective.