A recent article highlights how BP’s wellness program was able to produce a 2:1 ROI for the company. The hallmark of the program is the Million Step Challenge, which gives employees a Fitbit and challenges them to walk 1,000,000 steps in a year to earn a $1,000 reduction in their insurance premiums for the following year. The program boasts a 75% participation rate and has changed the lives of numerous employees.
As wellness professionals, it is incumbent that we learn from the successes of other programs and challenge ourselves to make wellness programs even better. When thinking about BP’s program, it is important to remember that current public health recommendations call for 150 minutes of exercise per week, which amounts to about 7,000 to 8,000 steps per day – about 1,000 to 2,000 more than the average American walks daily. This begs the question of why have 1,000,000 steps, which is equal to less than 3,000 steps per day, as the rewards threshold. The rationale is very strategic, and BP deserves significant credit for a forward-thinking program. Below are some of the reasons why this number is appropriate.
- Activity Tracking Works – A review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined 26 studies involving more than 2,700 participants and found that “overall, pedometer users increased their physical activity by 26.9 percent over baseline.” The study also concluded that pedometer users significantly reduced their body mass index as well as their blood pressure. Setting a goal, such as 10,000 steps per day, was a strong predictor of increased physical activity. Employees only need to walk 3,000 steps per day to earn a reward, but the act of tracking their activity will result in that goal being significantly surpassed.
- Attainable – Employees will not work toward goals that they do not think they can achieve. Making the rewards threshold low enough “that anyone can do it” will drive “anyone” to participate and result in high engagement.
- Marketing – If 7,000 steps per day is the ultimate goal, the program would have to be renamed to the Two Million Five Hundred Fifty-Five Thousand Step Challenge or have an asterisk by the name. Both scenarios aren’t good marketing, and good marketing helps drive participation. Without engagement, BP would not be able to extract an ROI.
Based on the information above, it sounds like a no brainer to launch a similar program today, but the upfront and ongoing Fitbit costs may be prohibitive for employers with limited budgets. This is why we suggest a BYOD wellness strategy and believe that mobile apps, not wearables, will drive wellness technology in the workplace. At the launch of BP’s program five years ago, the mobile health and wellness app community and smartphone adoption were still in infancy, and a BYOD strategy probably wouldn’t make sense. With the current technology environment, companies are able to leverage existing technology to launch similar programs at much lower costs. Employers do not need expose themselves to upfront costs to purchase and distribute wearable activity tracking devices to create ROI positive wellness programs.