Category: Rewards and Incentives

how to pick affordable rewards that people will love

In our podcast, we talked about how wellness programs are becoming a must-have, as more and more employees expect their employer to provide some wellness benefits. Yet, there’s this notion that you need to be a big corporation with a deep pocket to have a comprehensive program. This is simply not true.

Small companies can deliver a quality wellness program on a tight budget, and this is because of a simple principle: good employee wellness programs are ones filled with genuine care and the desire to help, not dollar bills.

We’ve previously discussed the technical aspect of running a step challenge, as well as ways to communicate with employees to increase retention and engagement in the first two articles of this Wellness on a Budget series. In this article, we’ll talk about the third biggest component of a wellness program: coming up with thoughtful and affordable rewards.

Rewards are important for several reasons. First, having something to work towards can be a significant incentive for some employees to join. Critics argue that sustainable behavior changes come from intrinsic motivation and providing external rewards might not be enough for participants to keep their habits after finishing the program. We don’t disagree, as there are merits to this argument. However, it is undeniable that some people just need a little push. They might be entirely happy with their lifestyle and would not even give wellness habits a try. In these cases, giving employees the incentive to stay healthy and enticing people to participate in wellness programs for a prize acts as a bridge from the couch to a 5K, from McDonald’s to a salad.

Another important question that program organizers need to ask themselves is: Who am I trying to help? Most of the time, the target participants are not the ones who are already active and eat healthily. These employees, regardless of company’s effort, will go out of their way to continue their wellness habits. It is the people who are less health-conscious that need external motivation. They would benefit from employee wellness programs and challenges the most.

That said, companies with small budgets still have to be mindful about the cost since the price tags of healthy goodies can be hefty. Activity trackers can go above a hundred dollar apiece, and other wellness subscriptions, when purchasing in bulk, can cost a small fortune. On the other end of the spectrum, getting $20 gift cards might not act as big enough of an incentive for people to join. The best solution lays somewhere in the middle: a reward that is meaningful, attractive, yet affordable for the organizer.

Here are three of our favorite affordable rewards:

#1 Public Recognition
affordable employee wellness rewardsPublic recognition is a powerful way to motivate employees, especially in a competitive environment. While it typically goes with other perks such as gift cards or goodies, the recognition on its own can be a good start.

The fastest (and easiest) way to recognize outstanding participants are:

  • Create an email shout-out or send a message in the company’s intranet recognizing their hard work.
  • Make a poster of the program featuring the winners’ photos.
  • If your organization has bulletin board (physically or virtually), pin a flattering photo of the winner with some decorations around it.

Be sure to make it clear why the person is being recognized; did she walk the distance between Boston to New York? Did he climb Mt. Everest? Whatever it is, highlight the achievements of the winners.

There’s a potential drawback: as attractive as public recognition is, some people might not like to be put in the spotlight. You can avoid making them feel uncomfortable by clearly communicating your intention to publicly recognize the winners beforehand and encouraging people to come to you if they have any concerns.

#2 Extra Vacation Day
Who doesn’t want an extra day off to unwind and relax? If you can afford it, offer additional paid vacation days as the prize to the winner.

It has also been shown that employees who take a break from work come back with improved productivity and reduce burnout. Therefore, not only will you motivate employees to create healthy physical habits (in the case of a walking challenge), you will also enable the winner(s) to relax mentally.

However, not all organization can afford to provide extra paid vacation days, especially small businesses. In these cases, allowing employees to work from home (or remotely) can be a good alternative, especially if the work can be done anywhere.

This flexibility is actually becoming more crucial to workers. According to a Gallup report on the State of the American Workplace, “51% of employees said that they would change jobs for one that offered them flextime, and 37% would do the same for a job that offered them the ability to work whether they want at least part of the time.” Ideally, you should consider offering flextime or telecommuting to most employees if the situation allows. Regardless, using this perk as a reward for the winner in the short run can drive significant engagement.

5 real and unique wellness rewards
#3 Freebies From Community Partners
Q: How do TV shows offer big-ticket prizes to winners without having to pay for the expensive rewards themselves?
A: They partner up with brands that want to advertise their products or services to provide the best rewards while keeping the cost low.

The good news is that you can emulate this formula in your organization and get great rewards for your program participants too. Many local businesses would love the free press and will be willing to give a discounted/free prize to your participants. Reach out to places like gyms, yoga studios, movie theaters, and even local healthy restaurants and ask if they’d like to contribute to your “gift basket.”

To pull this off, you will need to show these businesses that you’ll go out of your way to promote their products (either by flyers, shout-outs, press releases, social media blasts, etc.). If you get the buy-in, you can put together a fabulous gift basket for participants while helping your local businesses grow. That’s a win-win for everybody.

There’s a rule-of-thumb to follow when you go this route: only promote things that you’d feel comfortable using yourself (i.e., don’t give out fat-burner pills if you are skeptical about the chemicals that go into it). Every partnership that you make reflects who you are as a person and who your company is as an organization. If you choose a business with bad practices or is known for disrupting the community, you may harm your organization’s brand and your own reputation. Free is great, but exercise due diligence to make sure that you’re only working with positive brands.

What’s Next?
You just learned about three excellent (and affordable) ways to reward participation in your wellness program. Combining these tips and the knowledge in the other posts of this series (part 1 and part 2), you’re ready to organize an awesome Walking Challenge that will surely attract and engage participants.

Employee wellness in becoming a must-have, but it does not have to be expensive. If you have the time and resources, you can organize and administer the challenges yourself. However, if you want to get away from the “wellness spreadsheets” and get some extra help, don’t hesitate to reach out to us on social media or through our website. We’re always here for you every step of the way!

picking affordable and thoughtful wellness rewards


Category: Facts and Research

blog header, wellness software helps reduce employee turnover

A recent data analysis from a corporate wellness software vendor shows that engaged employees and wellness program participants are more likely to stay at their jobs and be productive.  Specifically, turnover rates were four times higher for employees not in wellness programs and two times higher for employees signed up but not participating in them intensively.  The data is from more than 500,000 employees working for U.S.-based employers ranging in size from 1,000 to 2,000 workers in the healthcare, retail, and technology sectors.


As noted by the chart above, employees with higher well-being significantly outperform those with lower well-being across numerous categories, all of which are tied to lower employee turnover.  The driver of lower turnover goes beyond just a healthier workforce.  It is attributable to “corporate wellness software”, which when implemented appropriately, drives overall employee engagement.  This is why biometrics screenings and health risk assessments cannot help improve the broader metrics associated with value on investment (e.g., turnover, productivity, etc.).  These services do not engage employees; they are done to employees.  Corporate wellness software allows employers to create fun and interesting programs that capture the attention of employees and makes it easy to engage and see value from the program. As a result, employees can engage with their colleagues in healthy competitions, afternoon walks, and more, improving their connection to the organization while improving their health.

It is important to note that no matter how great an employee software platform is, it cannot be useful if employees are unaware of it, which is why program marketing and communications are so critical.  The role of a software platform is to engage users once they join, so choosing a wellness vendor that will help develop and execute upon a communication strategy is critical.


Category: Engagement

wellness on a budget part II increase engagement and morale through communication

In our podcast, we talked about how wellness programs are becoming a must-have, as more and more employees expect their employer to provide some wellness benefits. Yet, there’s this notion that you need to be a big corporation with a deep pocket to have a comprehensive program. This is simply not true.

Small companies can deliver a quality wellness program on a tight budget, and this is because of a simple principle: good employee wellness programs are ones filled with genuine care and the desire to help, not dollar bills.

Note: This is the second article of our Wellness On A Budget series, where we discuss the roadmap to organizing a wellness challenge while on a limited budget. Part I discussed the logistical and technical side of organizing, while this article focuses on increasing engagement through communication. Part III will provide you with some inspiration on picking thoughtful yet affordable rewards for your program.

Communication is a crucial aspect of a wellness challenge, yet it is often overlooked. If you want your employees to carve out time from their already busy schedule to join the program, you need to be able to communicate the benefits of participation in an engaging and enticing way – make it so attractive they cannot say no.

Essential? Yes, but it is no easy feat; planning and executing effective communications is time-consuming. A thorough guide on this topic would call for an entire eBook. However, to get you started, we’ve included in this article the most important aspects of effective communication, as well as some brilliant (FREE) tools you can utilize in your program.

communication calendar for wellness challenges template
#1 Be Organized
Communication should never be an afterthought; you should have your materials planned out well before being sent. The easiest way to achieve this is by creating an editorial calendar for your communication.

Yes, the editorial calendar that many marketers are using.  In fact, you should put on your marketing hat and approach recruitment for your company’s wellness program the same way you’d “sell” to a customer. That’s how convincing your messages have to be if you want to grab employees’ attention.

After all, the average person receives around 124 emails in their inbox on any given day, and every single one of them is directly competing with you for their attention. Having a flow of communication in place will improve comprehension and relevance, making employees more receptive to the subsequent messages you send out.
What should I include in my calendar?

You should include every communication related to the challenge, including:
– Emails
– Social media posts
– Prints/posters
– Intranet messages, etc.

Each message, regardless of its distribution channel, should be aggregated in one document (your calendar) with its relevant information. Our recommended column headers are:
– Week (to/from launch date)
– Publish Date
– Title/Description
– Status
– Due Date
– Type of Communication
– Producer
– Notes

Planning out these details beforehand will allow you to see the big picture and will also provide you with an actionable plan to follow. Additionally, having a short gap between the due date and the publish date will allow enough time for crafting creative and engaging messages, avoiding the panic of last-minute writing from robbing you of your creative juice!

Below is an example of how you can create your own communication calendar:

communication calendar for wellness program example
The most useful tool to create a communication calendar is the good ol’ spreadsheet (plus, it’s free!). Here’s a template to get you started, but don’t be shy about changing it up and customizing it for your need!

If you have a co-organizer (and you should – administering a challenge is a lot of work!), use Google Sheet to collaborate in real time.

#2 Personalization
With the amount of emails that we get, nobody needs another generic “Hey there” greeting. Luckily, tools like MailChimp makes personalizing surprisingly easy.

Once you’ve imported your participants’ information (name, email, etc.), you’ll have the option to send out emails that address people by their first name. Studies have shown that emails with the recipient’s first name in the subject lines have higher open rates. Again, this is where the research on basic marketing can help tremendously with intranet communication.

You can personalize it further by segmenting email recipients. For example, you can send an additional reminder to people who did not open your email or sign up for the challenge. This way, there’s no redundancy, and people don’t get annoyed by emails that they don’t need to see.

MailChimp’s free version supports up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month. This capacity should be more than enough to support a small-scale challenge. Anything bigger than this scale, things can really get out of hand. You should rely on professional service at that point to ensure the best experience for your employees.

#3 Be Factual
When you are running a challenge, you should also send educational materials out to increase engagement and retention as well as maximizing employees’ adoption of healthy behaviors. For example, if you’re organizing a walking challenge, you should collect and distribute information on the benefits of walking, the health risks of prolonged inactivity and sitting, etc. Below is an example infographic, created by the International Sports & Culture Association’s Campaign to Get Europe Moving.

get europe moving infographic
Whatever information you decide to publish, you need to use trusted and reliable sources. Luckily, you don’t need access to expensive publications to get factual information. There are free and trusted sources out there you can count on. A few of our favorites are:

American Heart Association

Intermountain Healthcare

Fitbase Blog and Research Library
(This one is special, because of the site’s connection with Fitbit – the wearable manufacturer. We would usually take their articles with a grain of salt, but since this section of their resources is based heavily on research, we feel more comfortable recommending it to our readers.)

Health News – CNN.com

Another helpful source that people don’t think about often is their alma mater’s library resources. Most schools extend their library access to alumni, which means that you can access publications from your school’s accounts long after you graduate. If you don’t mind going through the more formal research articles or if you have a particular fact you want to check, being able to quickly search through the library resource can be helpful.

As a rule of thumb, here’s a quick guide to help you judge the legitimacy of your sources (adapted from John Hopkins Medicine’s Website):

Accuracy
Does the site use reliable research? Do they provide links to the original research/source of information? Check many sources for the same information – are the results the same?

Authority
Websites that end in .org, .gov or .edu are usually the most reliable websites for health facts. If the website you got the information on is not a non-profit/governmental website, do they link their claims to authoritative websites?

Bias
Who pays for the website/research? This is not to say that information provided on a company’s blog cannot be factual; you just need to do you due diligence to make sure that you get reliable data or information. For example, in the Wellable blog, we always link our claims to the original research where we got our data. This brings us back to accuracy – make sure that the sites you use have links to the original research or source of information.

Currency
When were the facts last updated? Medical research evolves constantly, so information should not be older than three years.

#4 Get Creative
If you’ve been on social media at all, you can see graphic’s domination across all channels. Media like infographics, short videos, and pictures deliver information in a quick and engaging way.
“But I don’t have a graphic designer to deal with that!”
Well, you don’t need one. With the tools available online, creating graphic is painless and quicker than it’s ever been. For example, an infographic can be created in half an hour (or less) on platforms like Canva or Venngage. Even better, they have an extensive library of templates that you can use – no experience in design needed!

canva screenshot
Both Canva and Venngage have free versions to start out with. Canva’s model is pay-as-you-go, meaning that you only pay for whatever premium add-in you want to put in your design (check out their tutorial page for design inspirations!). Venngage is free to create and share on social media. Their paid (but affordable) subscription will give you access to more advanced templates and allow you to download your visuals.

If you want to run repeating challenges, communicating the success of previous ones can be a great selling point to recruit more participants! Hopefully, your challenge would have generated a lot of word-of-mouth the first time around, and that participants would eagerly recruit their colleagues to join in future programs. To make the evangelists’ work easier, here are some creative things you can do:

– Create a photobook of past challenges in the form of a Powerpoint and share it with the rest of the company.
– Record short videos of people participating/giving testimonials to share (Note: with permissions from employees, this kind of footage is also a great way to showcase your company’s culture to the world on your website and social media.)

What’s next?                                     
You just learned the four key aspects of a successful communication plan; you are now ready to create effective and creative messages for your challenge! Apply them to achieve unprecedented engagement in your program, and let us know how it goes!

*Keep an eye out for Part III of our Wellness On A Budget series, where we provide you with some inspirations on practical and meaningful rewards you can give out to participants. Also, subscribe to our blog to get new articles delivered straight to your inbox!

wellness challenge on a budget


Category: Mobile Wellness

How to set up an engaging step challenge

In our podcast, we talked about how wellness programs are becoming a must-have, as more and more employees expect their employer to provide some wellness benefits. Yet, there’s this notion that you need to be a big corporation with a deep pocket to have a comprehensive program. This is simply not true.

Small companies can deliver a quality wellness program on a tight budget, and this is because of a simple principle: good employee wellness programs are ones filled with genuine care and the desire to help, not dollar bills.

Note: This is the first article of our Wellness On A Budget series, where we discuss the roadmap to organizing a wellness challenge while on a limited budget. Part II focuses on increasing engagement through communication, while part III will provide you with some inspiration on picking thoughtful yet affordable rewards for your program.

In an effort to promote healthy living, the American Heart Association (AHA) designated the first Wednesday of April every year as National Walking Day. The tradition started back in 2007 and has been going strong ever since. Every year, the AHA creates resources to encourage individuals and organizations to embrace walking as a form of exercise. Their website also provides great advice specifically for organizations that can be used to kick start a walking program in any office!

As researchers continue to reveal the benefits of moving around and the importance of staying active, walking challenges are starting to become staples of many corporate wellness programs. Companies go as far as purchasing or subsidizing wearable devices for program participants. One of the most popular examples is Target’s decision to buy 335,000 Fitbits for its employees. However, let’s keep it real. Not all companies have the budget to provide expensive devices for every employee. Unless you work for a big corporation, these cool perks may be out of reach.

Does that mean small- and medium-sized companies cannot organize an engaging and effective walking challenge? Not necessarily! In fact, being able to bulk purchase activity trackers has very little to do with engagement in the program down the road. Forcing devices onto employees means putting them through an unnecessary learning curve to get used to a new technology that they may not want. This is the foundation of the rise of the Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) movement.

It is with this in mind that we’ve developed this series to help managers with a limited budget to kick start an office walking challenge. There are multiple approaches to organizing one, and you can get creative with your method. Below are two very popular options:

Note: This article primarily focuses on the logistical and technical side of running a walking challenge.  Keep an eye out for Part 2 of the series to learn how to improve engagement and morale through communication.

#1 The “Dinosaur” Method
This method can be very cheap (if you don’t count indirect cost) since it does not involve working with outside vendors. Additionally, it requires little technical know-how, since you will be working mostly with a white board and a marker or with spreadsheets, hence, the “Dinosaur” part.

First, you’d need to ask participants to report their miles and/or duration of their walks and aggregate all data into a leaderboard. The distance can be planned using Google Maps or free websites like MapMyWalk, and a timer can be used to keep track of the duration. However, if you’re going to offer prizes and need to determine winners (it’s a challenge after all), going with this old-school method will not be very efficient. The accuracy of the result relies heavily on employees’ honesty.

Maybe that’s not a problem for your company, and that you have a burning trust for your team members. If that’s the case, awesome! However, if the integrity of the results are important, then you can adapt the program to make it more manageable. For example, you can organize three walking groups a day (in the morning before work, during lunch break, and in the afternoon after work), each for 15 to 30 minutes. Employees can join whichever sessions works best for them (or multiple ones a day for brownie points). Toward the end of each session, participants can get a small stamp on the sign-up sheet to prove that they’ve finished the walk. The winners are the ones who clocked the most session with their peers.

hidden cost of wellness spreadsheets, wellable, how to create a walking challenge
However, as mentioned above, the indirect cost (including employee hours spent on managing the program) can really add up when using this method. Managers should consider the pros and cons carefully before committing.

#2 BYOT (Optional: Connect To A Platform)
If you have some budget for your wellness program, but not quite enough to burn through like Target, this option might be for you. BYOT in the walking challenge context means allowing people to bring their tracking technology of choice to participate. As a company, you don’t have to put out a significant investment to bulk-purchase devices, since employees will be bringing their own trackers. Consider these survey results: 1 in 5 Americans owns a wearable device (40% for millennials) and another 45% are thinking about purchasing one next year (51% for millennials). It is very likely that most of your members already own one or are considering getting one for themselves.

Additionally, wearables are not a necessity for walking challenges. Many smartphones have accelerometers that can track users’ movements automatically and fitness applications supplement the effort nicely. People who don’t want to invest in a tracker can simply use a free app like Moves to record their walking sessions.

Why BYOT?
There are many devices and applications on the market, each with their own user interface, design, and functionality. For example, while the Fitbit Flex might be good for somebody who’s just starting out and doesn’t need many sport-specific features, more serious athletes might prefer to go with Garmin watches that focus on performance. Even under one brand, there are many different lines to target different market segments.

Similarly, in a diverse workplace, no two people have the same need or goal, so it doesn’t make much sense to make everybody use the same exact device. If people are forced to use a device that doesn’t resonate with them, they are much more likely to throw their hands in the air and say: “I give up!”

By encouraging employees to explore and bring in the technology that they’re most comfortable with, you are setting the program up for success. People don’t have to go through a learning curve typically present when they’re introduced to something new. The focus is now on creating good habits and not getting used to their wearable device. Once everybody has a tracking technology in place, there are multiple ways you can aggregate the data to make a leaderboard.

The Free Routefitbit friends leaderboard
Because the social aspect might be the main source of motivation for some people, more and more applications are allowing users to share their statistics with friends and family, even with strangers! Some platforms take one step further to gamify the experience by building in some “friendly competition” and showing friends’ results in a ranking format. You can leverage on this social feature to create your own program leaderboard without having to hire a third-party vendor.

First, you’d need to have all participants synchronize their health data to a single platform that can track steps from a device or a phone like Fitbit.  The Fitbit app is free to download so users without a Fitbit device can participate free of cost.  By doing this, users will all be tracking their steps automatically and can join a challenge or become “friends” with other participants on the app, which will assign them to a leaderboard.

With this method, participants will benefit from automated tracking and employers benefit from real-time, hassle-free leaderboards. However, there’re multiple downsides to this approach. First, your challenge will be committed to a single app, which will exclude not compatible devices some employees have.  Also, you may be limited to just steps (no ability to incorporate distance or time).

Working With A Platform Provider
Companies with budget can look into working with third party vendors. With this option, employees will need to go through a one-time setup to sync their devices with the platform, and the provider will take care of the rest. Managers will then have access to a dashboard to see how their members are doing as well as analytics to measure the success of the program.  With quality vendors, employers will also have greater flexibility to customize programs.

While it might sound out-of-reach, working with vendors is not as expensive as you might think! Most programs’ pricing has a fixed administrative fee and a variable portion based on the number of users. When compare this up-front cost with the indirect fees of the Dinosaur method, the difference can be minimal. Additionally, some vendors have dedicated account managers to help with designing new challenges, creating content for distribution, and troubleshooting any technical problems that users might have. This takes a lot off of the manager’s plate, allowing them to focus on more pressing issues.

It is important that to choose a platform that can pull in statistics from multiple devices/applications. Since BYOT is the focus, the platform needs to be able to accommodate your employees’ technology of choice.

Parting Words
Navigating this ever-changing world of technology is difficult, and it might seem impossible to be on top of the trends. However, here’s a reassuring thought: while the technologies can be a great tool and will make your life much easier, they in themselves are not the solution. The real answer, as it turns out, is to create a strong culture that values health and well-being. Luckily, in most cases, this can be achieved with little to no budget.

*Subscribe to the Wellable Blog to get actionable advice on employee wellness, delivered straight to your inbox!


Category: Engagement

header, culture of health, how to increase engagement
Ben Horowitz recently delivered a compelling talk on “Culture and Revolution.” We highly recommend it for anyone interested in building and improving organizational culture (which, really, should be everybody!).

In the 30-minute post, Horowitz discussed what it means to have a company culture. The topic is certainly important; some of the hottest companies are also ones with great cultures. Think of Google, Facebook, and Zappos. Their corporate cultures are so iconic; it’s an asset they use to sell to customers, employees, and even investors.

While a strong culture brings significant competitive advantages, the reverse is also true. Poor culture hinders productivity on all fronts, including employee wellness.

We see this all the time. The same companies that order burgers and fries for employees are also the ones running step challenges. They’d offer fitness classes but serve soda in the vending machine. While they offer wellness program as a perk, they fail to create a culture that focuses on health. This misalignment signals a lack of commitment to the cause, which is to improve employees’ health, and as a result, impacts engagement in the program.

The antidote for these companies is not the next big flashy wearable; it is a cultural revamp.

The research agrees. Companies with a culture of health reported higher participation rate in wellness programs. They also enjoyed higher levels of employee satisfaction and well-being. Most impressively, employees from those companies have a sense of responsibility to take care of their own health. This attitude is a prerequisite to making any sustainable change.

But what about your organization? Did it miss the culture train? Is it too late to create one now?

Here’s the good news: Culture is fluid, and it can change for the better if there’s a clear intention from the top. In his podcast, Horowitz used the slave culture in 1791 as an example, and how Toussaint L’Ouverture, the mastermind behind the revolution, successfully abolished slavery in Haiti using 4 key tactics. Fortunately, these tactics are not exclusive to his example; managers can adapt them to build a wellness culture at their own companies.

#1 Keep What Works

“You gotta change your culture, but you gotta keep what works.”

This principle is simple; if you want to navigate your way to success, find out where you currently stand. Similar to how you’d use Google Maps, you need to put in both your “Current Location” and the destination for the directions to pop up.

But where do you find that button in your company GPS? The answer lies within the people who make up your organization, your employees. If want to get a bird’s eye view of the culture, you need to understand them from a micro level first. This is where surveys come in handy. They help employers figure out what is working in the organization and what isn’t. Ask questions such as “what are my employees engaged in?’ or “what do they enjoy?” With this information, managers can then build upon what’s already working.

ultimate guide to wellness interest survey
Are your employees hanging out together at the bar after work to destress? If so, it might not be wise to discourage this activity altogether. Rather, create an opportunity for employees to still gather, sans the alcohol. You can host special events, hold on-site classes, or create other office-wide activities after work. The key here is to understand that your employees are already bonding together (what works), they just need a better and healthier way to do it (what needs to be changed).

#2 Create Shocking Rules

“… shocking rules, particularly when you get into a company, end up being the important thing because people have to question. They have to ask themselves ‘why does this rule even exist?’ in order to change their behavior… If you get your employees asking themselves ‘why are we doing it this way?’, then they are going to be thinking about the answer when it comes.”

Horowitz’s example for this principle was especially interesting. He referenced Facebook’s old “move fast and break things” rule, which encouraged employees to innovate despite road blocks. Out of all employees, the rule confused the engineers the most. They were trained to fix things, not leaving broken glasses behind. Were they supposed to innovate fast, even when things fall apart? The answer seemed to be yes. Facebookers pride themselves on innovating day in day out. Even better, they do it without a big, bold “Innovation” banner up on the wall. Just one simple mantra: “move fast and break things.”

facebook move fast and break things
When you brainstorm the unique “shocking rule” for your organization, keep in mind that the rule does not have to be related to wellness. It, however, should address common roadblocks that prevent people from living healthier lives.

Here’s an example: We discussed how after-hour emails affect employee productivity in our previous blog post. With that same knowledge, the French government passed a law that required companies to establish “email hours.” Outside of designated email hours, staff should not send nor answer work emails, allowing them to get out of the “work mode” and relax.  At first, it might seem outrageous to set a similar rule in your company. Why should you limit when employees can communicate about work? Shouldn’t you be proud to have devoted people on the team?

However, as you set the rule and confuse people, you get them thinking. When they understand that it is important to the company that they take a break, suddenly, they no longer feel like they’re just working machines that are evaluated on running hours. Instead, the focus is on health. Once employees have a chance to completely unplug and reset, they come back to work feeling well-rested, fresh, and ready to make a difference.

#3 Insert People From Other Cultures
Specifically, make sure to incorporate these people into senior roles within the organization.  To understand why this move is helpful, let’s go back to Horowitz’s definition of culture:

“Culture is the collective behavior of everyone in the organization. It is the things people do behind your back, without your instructions.”

While most people think of culture as the sum of its members, the reverse is also true. Because culture is in everybody, anybody can make a difference. Each person has the power in them to contribute and change the culture at their will. From a higher level, it means that you can change your culture by “planting good seeds” and incorporate people who are passionate about your vision. If you want your employees to adopt healthy behaviors, you should invite wellness enthusiasts to form a wellness committee. Let their passion permeate and spread through the organization, changing lives as they go. Even better, include people from various departments. This will maximize your reach by leveraging the law of word-of-mouth.

#4 Make Decisions That Demonstrate Prioritieshealthy vending machine wellable
An extreme example of this principle is a story about Netflix’s founder, Reed Hastings. Legend has it that when Netflix decided to pivot from movie rental to streaming, Hastings made an important decision: He forbade his DVD team from joining executive staff meetings.

It was an unthinkable decision. At that time, DVD rentals was Netflix’s only revenue stream. Yet, he kept that core team from the meetings where he discussed the company’s next steps. That was his way of saying “DVD, you gotta take the backseat. Streaming is our future now.”

The rest is history. Netflix is now widely recognized as the number one streaming service in the world.

As an employer, you can show the same commitment to improving employee wellness. This might mean taking away the vending machines filled with junk food, regardless of resistance. Or, it can be holding standing meetings to encourage people to stay mobile, despite the complaints.

Whatever you decide to do, show how serious you are about making a change, and it will happen.


Category: Engagement

Health coaching has historically been viewed as the final step in a costly screen (biometrics), stratify (by risk), and coach model.  As such, it often gets a bad rap à guilt by association.  However, with research from HealthFitness and some novel ways to think about coaching, this post hopes to dispel some reservations employers have with these services.

According to a HealthFitness study, coached employees reported a greater health impact compared to non-coached participants.  On average, they gained 70% less weight (.24 lbs. for the coached participant compared to .80 lbs. for non-coached participants).  The study also claims that participants that worked with health coaches recognized an incremental 6.1% in cost savings ($586, or 11.3% of medical costs, compared to $261, or 5.2% of medical costs).  It is important to note that HealthFitness is a somewhat biased sourced.  It offers biometric screenings and health coaching so its economic interests are clear.  That being said, there are certain benefits of health coaching that are not often discussed, especially when new models are introduced.

The advent of new technologies have satisfied a market for digital health coaches, creating new opportunities for traditional health coaching as well.  It is often overlooked, but Fitbit, MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, and other technologies serve as digital health coaches by creating goals, providing feedback, making recommendations, and generating personalized plans.  While not as effective as human coaching, the cost equation certainly makes these options attractive.  For employers looking to drive additional engagement and more effectively and efficiently build upon th`e digital tools, the utilization of health coaches may be the solution.

Having health coaches incorporate and utilize digital technologies in their coaching methodology, which is what Wellable does, allows them to promote these tools to employees and drive engagement in them.  Employees benefit by having access to a digital coach between traditional coaching sessions, and employers benefits through greater program engagement at lower costs.  For example, a health coach can utilize a nutrition tracking app during a session to create a customized plan for an employee.  Between sessions, the employee benefits from the personal interaction through regular feedback from the app, which is based on rules and information created jointly with the health coach and tailored to that employee.  At the next session, the health coach has access to all the data in advance of the meeting so they can be prepared to address roadblocks and other issues an employee may be facing.  As a result, employers and employees realize gains from continuous engagement and personalized feedback at lower costs.


Category: Podcasts

Wellable Podcast #1 on trends in employee wellness
Earlier last month, we released our blog on 6 Trends in Employee Wellness, which received a lot of attention from informed human resource and health plan professionals alike. The infographic also sparked interesting discussions on LinkedIn, with people from all professions weighing in on the state of the industry.

To better inform our audience, we decided to invite Tom Ciccotti, the Co-Founder and EVP of Shortlister (and author of the survey) to join our very first Wellable Podcast. Tom brought with him his incredible insight and expertise, hoping to provide our audience with a better picture behind the numbers.

(This video is for visual audiences who’d like to follow along with our presentation. If you prefer to listen on-the-go, please use the Sound Cloud option below.)

To make it more convenient, we provided a list of topics and their timestamp in the audio. You can listen to the whole episode, and then come back to specific topics in the future for clarifications!

1:35: Tom Ciccotti and Shortlister
3:50: Well-being Industry Prospectus 2017 overview
5:45: Shift to total-wellness programs
6:45: Disparity between must-have and growing-demand
8:10: Controversies around biometric screening
10:55: Why companies are moving away from carrier solution, embracing 3rd party vendors
12:08: How carriers can adapt
14:40: The increasing demand for mobile solution
17:30: The future of niche solutions
19:00: Is Employee Wellness becoming a must-have?
20:40: Predictions on 2018 trends

Please enjoy this episode, the first of many more to come! Also, we’d love to hear what you think of our content, so head over to our Twitter @GetWellable and join the conversation!


Category: Facts and Research

blog header, do activity trackers work, how to drive values from devices in wellness programs

The use of activity trackers is becoming more prevalent each year.  In fact, it has been recently reported that 25% of Americans own a wearable device.  This means that the number of tracker owners in the U.S. is greater than the entire French population.  That’s a lot!  Consequently, activity trackers are also becoming increasingly popular in employee wellness programs.  After all, these devices promise to encourage physical activity, which improves overall wellness and increases productivity down the line – a win-win for both employees and management.  Despite their popularity, there is still a debate over the efficacy of fitness trackers in promoting health.  Some data from these devices tend to be clinically invalid (though good enough for recreational use), and device abandonment rate is ridiculously high.

Luckily, there’s good news.  A recent New York Times article summarized two studies on the topic and came to a favorable conclusion: Fitness trackers do indeed help users live longer, people just need to stick with them.

According to the study, people with activity trackers who exercised moderately for at least 150 minutes per week reduced their risk of dying prematurely by 35%.  While this reduction might not sound like much, it is a significant improvement for the increasingly unwell American workforce.  Despite these benefits, individuals still struggle with keeping trackers on their wrists.

As a manager with the mission to take care of employees’ health, how do you encourage the sustainable use of wearable?

One of the easiest solutions is giving people a reason to stick with their devices.  Managers can use a tracking platform that pulls data from the wristbands and aggregates them for the whole office.   To increase engagement, employers can create challenges or competitions (studies show they work) and offer rewards.

If employers want to take it a step further, here’s another study to consider: According to researchers, some features of fitness trackers may be more motivating than others.  For example, goal setting is critical for engagement.  Along the same line, participants who received reminders to exercise are more likely to follow through, but the reminders must be personalized to their own goals.  On the other hand, virtual badges are no good; participants found them to be gimmicky.  This study implies that extrinsic motivation, such as the reward to an office program, might not be enough.  Managers should encourage employees to set their own reasonable goals and follow through.  This can be done with goal-setting and other educational seminars that can help employees establish their personal intrinsic motivation (become more fit, stay healthy, etc.).

Frequent communication with staff, preferably personalized, is also helpful.  Having a dedicated person (or committee) regularly check in with people about their goals and progress deepens their engagement in the program.  This way, employees will be more likely to stick with their devices, long after they cross the finish line.


Category: Facts and Research

Several months ago we discussed the value of health plan member engagement.  A new study from the same organization provides support for investing in the health of employees and their dependents.  The research provides the business case to show that health and well-being programs are good for employees as well as the bottom line.  For example, the research suggests that an employer group with 10,000 employees could drive almost $3 million in annual new value by increasing engagement by 10% in key health activities among employees and dependents.  The study also noted high value activities, such as improved emotional health and optimal medication use.  This highlights the importance of engaging employees in a broad array of health and wellness initiatives.

The challenge that all employers seem to face is how to go about breaking down barriers to participation.  Without participation, employers can never engage employees in their health, which makes it impossible to extract value from a program.  As is typical in most solutions, the answer is multi-faceted and requires the coordination of multiple parties.  First, employees can’t participate in something they are unaware of, and surprisingly, many employees have no idea of the wellness benefits their employer offers.  A multi-pronged and ongoing communication strategy is key to resolving this challenge.  Once an employer gets their current employees familiar with the program, they can make it sustainable by including an overview of the program as part of their employee onboarding process.

Second, programs that are not user-friendly will certainly fail.  Creating a rich and custom user experience is only attainable by embracing the consumer technologies that are flocking to the market.  These solutions, like activity and nutrition tracking apps, have tens of millions of users for a reason.  By incorporating them into a program, employees can pick from a wide array of highly functional and easy-to-use technologies, all of which will make participation easier and seamless.

Lastly, employers need to offer multiple aspects within their program to attract employees to engage and stay engaged.  This goes beyond just financial incentives, which will certainly motivate some individuals.  This includes communicating how the employee benefits from being healthier and incorporating team elements for those that are motivated by social reasons.  Each employee is unique so offering multiple “incentives” to engage will ensure there is something for everyone.


Category: Mobile Wellness

wellable news fitbit alta hr
Fitbit recently released Alta HR, their newest activity tracker.  The device is an upgrade from their popular predecessor, the Alta tracker, the main difference between the two being the heart rate tracking functionality.  Thanks to PurePulse, Alta HR can now measure continuous heart rate data and improved sleep data.  Below is a quick look into the new features of the watch and how it can play into the success of an employee wellness program.

PurePulse Heart Rate Tracker
Given the popularity of the heart rate tracking feature, it is a no-brainer that Fitbit adds this functionality to one of its most popular devices.  PurePulse uses photoplethysmography, a technology that shines green LED light through the wrist skin to detect blood flow.  The standard and clinical way to measure heart rate is by using ECG, which reads electrical activities.

There is still a debate over the accuracy of photoplethysmography.  In fact, Fitbit got into a messy lawsuit last summer after the release of a validation study, which claimed that Fitbit heart rate measurements are incorrect and inconsistent.  The company rejected the claims, saying that it was “baseless and biased.”  They also provided a Consumer Reports test, which concluded that the technology used on two tested watches was “very accurate.”

Regardless, one should take both claims with a grain of salt.  Consumer Reports conducted the test with a sample size of two, and the validation study had only 43 participants.  Both are limited in scientific rigor and clinical research methodologies.

The verdict: Consumer heart-rate monitoring technologies are still young and underdeveloped.  Users should treat the result from these devices as a point of reference, not a clinical or medical data.  For that reason, heart rate calculated by these devices should not be used as a scale of measurement in wellness programs.

Sleep Tracker
Fitbit sleep stages mobile appSleep-tracking seems to be increasingly important to users when choosing wearables.  In this arsenal, Fitbit devices beat Apple Watches, mainly because of their longer battery life.  Apple Watches have significantly less battery life and need to be charged nightly, making them a less attractive option for people who want to track sleep.

Older Fitbit wearables, like other wearable devices, use the accelerometer to track the movement of users when they sleep.  However, this information is only helpful to track sleep duration (even this is debatable).  Sleep quality is not only about how long you sleep but also about the duration of each sleep stage.  Accelerometers are not useful when it comes to this measurement.

With the addition of the heart rate monitor, Alta HR has a new sleep-phase tracking feature. Fitbit claims that they can now accurately measure which sleep stage user is in.  However, since the device and technology are so new, there is limited evidence on whether this data is accurate.  To date, the most accurate way to measure sleep quality is to measure brain waves and eye movements, which can only be done in clinical sleep labs.  Further unbiased testing is needed before we can judge the accuracy of Alta HR’s sleep phase data.

The verdict: As mentioned before, consumer sleep tracking technology is still unreliable. Managers should not rely this data when making decisions on employee health and other wellness initiatives.  You can, however, start other initiatives in the office to improve employee’s shuteye time.

Call, Text, And Calendar
While Alta HR is not comparable to other smart watches like the Apple Watch or Samsung Gear (nor does it cost nearly as much), it still allows users to check their calls, texts, and calendars from the small screen.

Some people may be hesitant when it comes to sending phone notification to watches, as they can be real productivity killers.  There is nothing more aggravating than trying to focus when your watch is constantly buzzing with people spamming in a group chat!  However, a quick Google search on the topic provides lots of articles on how wearable can improve productivity.  Most of them have to do with the use of big data and the positive impact on physical health.

The verdict: “Know thyself” when it comes to the use of wearable devices.  Managers should know both the disruptive potentials of buzzing watches and the ability to upgrade office productivity using big data.  Make decisions based on what works best for employees and company culture.

Final Words
Alta HR is a good addition to the Fitbit family; it is aesthetically designed and functional.  However, users and managers should only consider health data collected by a device as a fun way to become more conscious of their everyday activity and not a medical-grade data used in decision making.  The wearable device market has come a long way since the original Fitbit Zip and still has a long way to go.  In the future, heart rate, sleep, and other data tracked from wearable devices will have a place in employee wellness programs, but as good stewards of organizational health, companies should wait until the technology matures prior to incorporating them into their program.