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80% of Americans work at jobs that are sedentary or require only light physical activity. In a previous post we talked about the harmful effects of a sedentary lifestyle and urged company leaders to promote walking meetings as a way to get employees moving throughout the day.
An alternative (or a supplement) to walking meetings is walking at your desk. Walking at your desk is made possible with a treadmill desk. A treadmill desk is simply a treadmill under a desk. There are companies like TrekDesk who sell prepackaged treadmill desks and also plenty of online videos and articles that provide instructions for those who want to convert an existing treadmill into a treadmill desk.
Treadmill desks have grown in popularity over the last few years and can be found in the offices of many wellness savvy employers. Staying true to our wellness goals, Wellable has treadmill desks in its Boston office. Here’s Nick Patel of Wellable using one of the treadmill desks.
A recent study highlights some of the benefits from using a treadmill desk, including increased employee productivity. “On average [researchers] found that supervisor ratings of employee productivity increased 10% (on a 1-10 scale) and energy expenditure per day shot up 70 calories.” While productivity benefits were observed, the benefits were not immediate. “The productivity of 40 treadmill users dropped at first as they struggled to master typing and manipulating a mouse while walking at speeds of up to two miles per hour.” Like other wellness activities and programs, the ROI is not realized day one. It takes time for employees to adjust to the new work style and for wellness benefits to be noticed. With a cost of ~$1,400 per treadmill desk, it can take months to see a return on investment. Investment in wellness resources always requires some patience and an eye for the future – treadmill desks are emblematic of the wellness movement in this way.
Treadmill desk skeptics have sited increased potential for injury or difficulty concentrating while walking as reasons why treadmills may not be a great fit for the workplace. After a few months on a treadmill desk, many of these skeptics like cnet journalist, Danny Sullivan, are converted treadmill desk enthusiasts. Sullivan writes, “I didn’t think I’d be able to work standing up, much less while walking. I figured that for any serious work, where I might need to concentrate to write a story, deal with spreadsheets, or other ‘heavy lifting’ tasks, I’d use my regular desk.” By the end of two months his initial skepticism was gone and he was a converted treadmill desk user.
For those American’s who don’t walk to work, using a treadmill desk might be a great way to get some additional light physical activity. Surprisingly, a very low percentage of Americans walk to work. Only 15% of Boston residents walk to work and Boston ranks 5th out of all American cities!
If you’re looking to get a more intense workout while on a treadmill desk, take a few tips from actor Jack Black, who suggests using jazz hands to burn more calories.
The young adult population (a.k.a., the young invincibles), is considered crucial to the Accountable Care Act’s overall success. According to CBS, “If enough young people decide not to buy insurance through state or federal marketplaces, it could throw off the market’s equilibrium and cause insurance rates to rise dramatically the following year.” The Washington Post reports that “roughly two in five Americans in the plans should be young adults” to prevent insurance rate increases.
With such importance placed on attracting the young invincibles to the individual insurance marketplace, what exactly is being done to appeal to this demographic?
Various young adult-focused strategies have been tried since open enrollment began in October 2013 – these are some of our “favorites”…
Rappers Delight-ed with ACA
The Washington state insurance exchange spent $2.6 million to create ads that “feature a fictitious rap duo who interview people who have successfully signed up for coverage through the Washington Healthplanfinder.”
While these fun marketing campaigns can certainly play a role in helping improve young adult enrollment numbers, the key to high enrollment rests on technology. The technology used to attract and enroll individuals must work (this is a given), but more importantly, and often overlooked, the technology must be optimized for the audience. To optimize technology for young adults, it’s essential to understand how young adults use technology.
In “Millennials and Healthcare: 3 Tips to Reach Young, Stubborn Patients,” author Ritika Puri writes, “Organizations like the ACA will frequently invest significant time and energy in marketing to millennials — but marketing isn’t enough. Health-focused organizations need to understand how young adults actually use technology.” Alex Bratton, a writer for Chicago Business says that “had the HealthCare.gov team understood its audience, the website would have likely been developed as a mobile app first.”
The ACA and other organizations tied to the ACA should look to young adult technology success stories to understand how best to optimize an experience for this demographic. Mobile, clean user interface, seamless design, and quick access to information are a few of the young adult-centric suggestions made in Puri’s article. Rather than reinvent the wheel, research how young adults are already using technology, and find ways to leverage these themes to increase enrollment.
After successfully enrolling young adults (and other technology savvy individual consumers), health plans need to utilize technology to engage and retain their customer base. We’ve suggested before that employers should take cue from consumer trends to help shape an engaging employee wellness program. This suggestion should also be applied to wellness programs associated with health plans on the exchanges. Health plans should embrace the mobile movement and rise of health and wellness mobile apps and devices by making them a pillar of their wellness program. In addition to benefitting from cost containment through prevention, health plans can also use a technology-centric plan to retain their young invincibles.
Wellable’s work with the Coachella Valley Health Collaborative was featured in the latest addition of Desert Health News. Check out the full article here.
We are excited to announce that Wellable is one of 14 companies joining PayPal’s Start Tank program.
Check out the full article in The Boston Globe.
In a recent article that appeared in The Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health titled, “Incentives to Shape Health Behaviors: How Can We Make Them More Person-Centered?”, the authors address the importance of making wellness incentives relevant and appealing to each person. The authors claim that taking a person-centered approach and offering a range of wellness incentives that appeal to each individual “could lead to better [wellness program] participation and more successful goal achievement.” In other words, person-centered incentives increase wellness program engagement.
In addition to incentives, a person-centered focus can be applied to other aspects of a wellness program. In the past, we’ve referred to this person-centered approach as an individual health and wellness ecosystem. The ecosystem places the individual at the center of the experience and creates a wellness program around each individual’s personal interests and wellness preferences.
Wellness is not one-size-fits-all; wellness is one-size-fits one. Each participant should have a different and unique wellness experience – and this is good! A unique experience means participants choose how and when to engage in wellness. Rather than forcing participants to adapt their wellness preferences to fit within a narrowly defined corporate program, the program should be adaptive and allow participants to determine their own path to wellness. For example, a wellness program should allow users the flexibility to focus on their personal wellness interest, such as nutrition or physical activity.
As the participant engages in activity, a person-centered wellness program should learn from this engagement, adapt, and become further optimized for the individual. A wellness program should recognize a users goals and wellness deficiencies. Through a customized feedback loop, the program should provide tracking, automated coaching, and support specific to each user. Educational wellness content must also be person-centered and tailored to the participant’s individual wellness goals and needs.
Applying a person-centered approach throughout a wellness program will lead to a more effective program and drive higher participant engagement. In a recent post, we offered some thoughts on how mobile app and wearable technology have paved the way for person-centered wellness.
Wellable is excited to announce that the Coachella Valley Health Collaborative’s 2014 Healthy Lifestyle Challenge will be powered by Wellable’s mobile wellness platform. Businesses, non-profits, healthcare providers, schools, and other organizations in the local community will be forming teams to compete in a community-wide Wellable challenge.
This marks an important step forward in Wellable’s mission to promote health and wellness and we look forward to bringing high-engagement mobile wellness technology to Coachella Valley.
In a recent blog post titled, “The Cure for the Common Corporate Wellness Program,” authors Al Lewis and Vik Khanna detail issues they believe are pervading common corporate wellness programs. While aspects of their attack on the wellness industry are certainly warranted, their analysis would benefit from a broader treatment of the wellness industry. Specifically, some of the emerging technologies and innovations in wellness listed below present solutions to their points of criticism
Forcing Wellness on Employees
Lewis and Khanna write that “instead of supporting employees already undertaking their own self-improvement plans and encouraging others to start them, wellness has morphed in many directions that increasingly overlook or even conflict with that original goal.”
While we have seen examples of wellness solutions forced on employees – think unwieldy wellness portal and required HRAs – there has been a recent emergence of wellness solutions that better align with employee interest and don’t force a particular wellness option on employees. This alignment with employee interest is possible because of consumer mobile technology, which allows for greater wellness flexibility and accessibility. As we wrote in a post in January:
“Rather than offering a wellness program that forces employees to adopt a wellness portal or some other technology or service that they have shown no interest in, employers should find a way to allow employees to use the wellness apps and devices they are familiar with and, in many cases, already using on their own.”
Allowing employees to use consumer-oriented mobile heath and wellness apps provides employees with flexibility and optionality to construct a personal wellness experience based on their own wellness interests. If you like to run, use RunKeeper. If you prefer to track total daily steps, use the Moves app. New to wellness – start by receiving curated wellness content on topics you choose. Mobile app technology also allows employees to access wellness 24/7 – which means employees can engage in wellness activities on their terms, when they want, and not when they don’t.
Focusing on Wellness Participation Leads to Over-Diagnosing
Lewis and Khanna believe that by focusing on participation metrics, wellness programs that include screening and lab tests run the risk of over-testing and over-diagnosing employees. Lewis and Khanna advocate that employers “encourage checkups only for people likely to benefit from them. Instead of requiring or incentivizing them annually, [employers should] try a more targeted algorithm.” Again, the emergence of mobile wellness technology presents a solution to the problem identified by Lewis and Khanna. Rather than rely only on periodic lab tests or measurements, mobile wellness opens the door for regular and continuous wellness tracking or lifestyle management.
Furthermore, mobile apps and wearable devices can track wellness behavior 24/7 and start to provide new and interesting data points which can be used to fine-tune an algorithm or strategy used for further employee wellness intervention. Rather than a single point on a chart, mobile wellness technology helps produce a wellness life graph, which can supplement and in some cases replace existing periodic tests and measurements.
While Lewis and Khanna are on target with some of their assessment, their post fails to mention some of the existing technology that causes wellness advocates like Wellable to be optimistic of the future of corporate wellness. In fact, this future is already taking strong roots today as more employers are adopting solutions like Wellable.
Last week, we wrote about the productivity benefits of wellness and stressed the need for ALL company leaders (not just the HR team) to champion employee wellness as part of an employee productivity strategy. Today, we are focusing on a simple way that company leaders can increase productivity through promoting employee wellness – with walking meetings.
A walking meeting is exactly like it sounds – a meeting that you have while walking instead of sitting at a conference table. Walking meetings encourage employees to get up from their desks and move.
According to a study by the American Cancer Society, “Sitting more than six hours a day increases premature death risk by as much as 40%.” In an interview, oncologist and author of A Short Guide to a Long Life, Dr. David Agus, argued that prolonged sitting is as bad for an individual’s overall health as smoking. Similarly, in a Ted Talk on this topic, Nilofer Merchant calls prolonged sitting the “smoking of our generation.” She identified that people sit 9.3 hours a day, which is more than the 7.7 hours that people spend sleeping each night.
Most companies have long ago banned smoking in the workplace. It’s now time to start tackling this generation’s cigarette – the sitting epidemic.
Below are some tips to help organize effective walking meetings and get employees up and out of their chairs and moving towards a healthier and more productive lifestyle.
Walking Meeting Tips
Below tips are from London’s Walking Works Program material (with minor edits from the Wellable Team).
Limit numbers to no more than 4 people. This will enable everyone to have a chance to hear and participate.
Set an agenda beforehand and inform everyone of the discussion topics so they can arrive prepared.
Consider the environment you’ll be walking in. Choose routes along quiet streets or in a nearby green space.
Give advance notice for walking meetings so that participants can bring appropriate shoes. Allowing employees to wear more comfortable clothing and shoes in the office is a zero cost employee benefit that also has a direct impact on promoting wellness.
Try walking 2-3 abreast and make sure everyone can hear what is being discussed.
Assign someone to scribe and take along a small notepad to jot down any actions. Be sure to recap and identify next steps and circulate these after your walking meeting.
After the first few walking meetings, it might be a good idea to ask participants for feedback on what can be improved for your next walking meeting.
Employers often focus on improving employee productivity by providing office resources that help employees do their jobs more efficiently. Employees receive new smartphones and other technology tools to help improve the speed of their work. Free lunches are brought into the office and onsite childcare facilities are offered to keep employees in the office and less distracted. Like workplace efficiency tools and office benefits, employee wellness programs should also be viewed as a crucial productivity improvement tool.
A recent study highlights how exercise may have an impact on an employee’s productivity. Robert Pozen, a Harvard Business School lecturer and fellow at the Brookings Institution, explains how regular exercise can help keep you mentally sharper and more productive in the workplace:
As you age, your body generates fewer and fewer brain cells (a process called neurogenesis). However, early research in mice suggests that exercise can help prevent this slowdown. In other words, by the time they reach their 50s, 60s, and 70s, people who exercise might have more brain cells than their more sedentary peers — giving them a major advantage in the workplace.
The impact of exercise on productivity is also evident in a study conducted by Researchers at Stockholm University and Karolinska Institute that found that those who exercised reported “improvements in self-assessed productivity — they perceived that they got more done at work, had a greater work capacity, and were sick less often.”
Company leaders should view wellness as an employee productivity tool and champion healthy lifestyles. Managers concerned with optimizing employee productivity need to find ways to make employee wellness a focus of their team’s culture. Supporting employee wellness may mean allotting time during the office hours to exercise, letting employees leave early for a yoga class, encouraging use of an employee wellness program, or bringing healthy snacks into the office.
Not supporting health and wellness can have serious risks for a company. A recent study found that employees who did not participate in company wellness programs had a 12% loss in productivity or 27 days per year due to poor health. The task of championing a wellness program often solely resides within the human resources team – this needs to change. With the potential for a 12% productivity loss, managers should view promoting health and wellness as mission critical even if it’s not in their job description.