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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.