Category: Engagement

“Allowing your employees to bring dogs to work is a perk.  Texting an employee after they had to put their dog down is culture.”

The quote above from a Wall Street Journal article sums up the difference between perks and culture fairly well.  The article goes on to discuss the importance of and distinction between perks and culture.  In short, perks can do a great job in recruiting talent (who doesn’t want flexible work schedules and free food?) but contribute little to retaining them.

Per the author, perks lead to short-term happiness and are easily compared between companies.  Free beer and bean bag chairs can only do so much for a finite amount time, and there are no amounts of perks that can keep an unsatisfied, disengaged worker at an organization or performing to his or her best ability.  Also, companies lacking perks can easily “catch up” to recruit new talent.  This is why employers fighting for talent to drive their businesses must combine perks with culture.

Culture is made up of “emotion and experiences.”  It includes a genuine interest in the welfare of employees, professional and personal development, building a strong sense of community, and fostering transparency.  For employers, culture is much more difficult to build and often requires sacrifice.  Painting corporate values on a wall means nothing if an employer doesn’t remove the top performer who doesn’t embrace those values.  It often requires transparency as a two-way street, which means leadership must publicly own up to mistakes made and the consequences that arise from those errors.  As a result, culture is much harder to compare between companies and lends itself to being a more difficult tool to use in recruiting.  The good thing about strong cultures is that they are hard to replicate so employers without them cannot easily catch up, and positive cultures make it hard for employees to leave, which drives retention.

As employers seek to optimize their recruiting and retention strategy it is important for them to understand the dynamics and underpinnings of what constitute great perks and great cultures.  Despite their differences, both have a key role in talent management.

Category: Facts and Research

Loyal readers of the Wellable Blog know how important it is for corporate wellness administrators to embrace the consumerism of their industry.  Wellable has dubbed this embrace a consumer wellness strategy and encourages everyone involved with employee wellness to consider it.  In short, a consumer wellness strategy suggests that employee wellness should be built around increasingly popular consumer wellness technologies (wearable devices and mobile apps) rather than rigid proprietary technologies and practices that dominate the market today.  More data from Adobe on the state of the mobile app market affirms the merits of a consumer wellness strategy.

Consumer Wellness Strategy
According to the report, it’s getting harder to get people to try new mobile applications as consumers are sticking to what they know when it comes to the apps on their smartphones.  App installs are only up 6% year-over-year.  This is in contrast to launches of existing apps, which were up 24% year-over-year.

The report also found that app abandonment is also on the rise with five out of every 10 apps being used fewer than 10 times and two out of every 10 apps being used only once.  Specifically, 55% of health apps were used less than 10 times and 19% were used only once.  The number one reason for why people delete their apps is because they were perceived to be “not useful”.  The analysis is based on more than 290 billion visits from 16,000+ mobile sites and 85+ billion app launches.

These stats seem fairly dismal, but one hidden gem is that the best apps, as defined as those in the top 20%, saw significant growth in launches (62%) and installs (41%).  This means that existing apps that consumers are familiar with are the ones they will most likely continue to use.  These apps also are the ones in the best position to see a growth in new users.  From the perspective of a wellness coordinator thinking about launching a technology platform at their organization, it is important to consider the merits (or lack thereof) of launching a proprietary app from a wellness vendor.  Even without the findings from this research, proprietary apps have always had an uphill battle.  They lack critical features most important to users because they focus on the employer rather employee, do not provide choice or options that exist in the consumer market, and do not implement leading product management philosophies.  As a result, the usage of these apps is very low relative to the membership base touted by vendors and have incredibly low reviews in the app store.  Combined with the extra challenges in the market highlighted by the Adobe research, it becomes clear that wellness coordinators should focus on embracing consumer wellness technologies rather than enterprise wellness technologies in their organizations.  The sole focus of enterprise wellness technologies should be to empower and embrace consumer ones, not interfere or distract from them.

Category: Corporate Wellness

Many companies are investing in wearable devices, such as Fitbit and Garmin.  These investments come at a significant price, often as high as $100 per device.  They also result in ongoing expenses as companies find solutions for new hires and replacing broken or lost devices.  Despite these purchases, it remains unclear whether investing in wearables for employees leads to better health outcomes.  Regardless, Canadian insurance giant, John Hancock, announced that it will be subsidizing the Apple Watch Series 2 (approximately $400 retail) so employees can get one for as little as $25.

Similar to Aetna, who also is subsidizing Apple Watches for employees and its customers, the subsidy is part of the company’s wellness program.  Employees are asked to pay $25 upfront, and if they remain active and track their activities through the Apple Watch, they will not be asked for any more payments.  If employees fail to meet their goals, there will be a monthly fee on the device spread out over the course of 24 months that they will be required to pay.  It unclear what the policy is for employees with Android devices or if an employee loses or breaks the Apple Watch.  Either way, the investment is quite significant, and as such, the expectations from the program need to be equally grandiose.

The appropriate question for Aetna, John Hancock, and other companies considering a similar investment needs to address the opportunity cost for the subsidy.  With more than $300 in capital being contributed per employee, could these companies make better use of these funds while delivering on similar objectives?  Before we render any judgement, let’s see how things programs turn out and whether or not the companies continue to invest in the program.16

Category: Facts and Research

There is no shortage of studies assessing the ability of fitness trackers to promote physical activity, weight loss, disease management, and more.  Fitbit even created a research library just to manage and promote the hundreds of studies utilizing its technology.  Despite the increasing volume of research, there has been very little analysis about how communication surrounding such devices may contribute to their success.  Through interviews with 25 fitness tracker users, a recent study explores how and with whom people communicate fitness tracker messages and ventures to explain the effects of sociomaterial practice on interactions between wearable fitness device users.

Participants in the study communicated data from their fitness tracker through face-to-face communications, traditional technologies (text messaging, photo sharing, etc.), and social media.  The participants described, through interviews, the effects of the communication of their fitness tracker information, which are outline below.

Fitness Messages
The social interaction of sharing fitness results with acquaintances and strangers allowed for continued discussion on healthy behaviors.  The results of these interactions varied from user to user, but the common theme is that it added fuel, relevance, and importance to the physical activity that supported the one-way feedback the activity tracker alone could provide.

Interactions Between Fitness Tracker Users
Participants discussed how the social features built into fitness tracker apps helped them compete with peers, meet their goals, and stay motivated.  Most fitness tracker apps have leaderboards that allow users to compete in step challenges, which prompted them to keep pace with others, as well as goal setting that provides updates throughout the day about how someone is tracking toward their goal.  Combined with push notifications and easy access to app information, leaderboards and goal setting helped the users stay motivated.  This information could also be communicated to non-users to enhance adherence and achievement.

The results of the study highlight two important characteristics of fitness trackers that many people ignore when assessing their value.  First, they encourage users to share their information by allowing them to use their data as a vehicle to communicate about their physical activity.  Second, fitness trackers communicate information back to the users in the form of leaderboards, progress towards goals, calories burned, etc. to help them stay motivated.  The impacts of communication on the efficacy of fitness trackers should be represented, to some extent, in many of the other studies available to the public, but this study focused on communication as an engagement tool.  Kudos to the authors.  The study certainly has limitations, including the sample size, that are outlined in the document so follow up research is certainly needed.

Category: Corporate Wellness

A recent article in Employee Benefits News discusses the growing importance of “soft” benefits in recruiting and retaining talent.  Hard benefits, traditionally defined as health insurance and retirement plans, used to be sufficient for employees, but as these benefits have become more mainstream, leading employers are expanding offerings to attract employees.  The article reviews six emerging benefits that are increasingly being implemented as ammunition in the talent wars, and it should come as no surprise that five of the six benefits are related to employee wellness.  The five wellness benefits that made the soft benefits list were:

  • Subsidized gym memberships
  • Activity tracker competitions
  • Incentives for bicycle commuting
  • Healthier food and beverage choices
  • Flexible work arrangements

As a company that facilitates activity tracker competitions (a.k.a., wellness challenges), we were proud to see that the article mentioned the use of free smartphone apps.  Employers do not need to purchase every employee an activity tracker to support these challenges.  They can leverage free smartphone apps to track steps, distance, nutrition, and more.

Despite the popularity of wellness offerings in soft benefits, it should not be surprising that biometric screenings and health risks assessments did not make the list, as employees do not see these as attractive benefits.  Valuable benefits are designed to offer employees highly sought solutions that impact their favorability rating toward their employer, encourage them to recommend their employer as a great place to work, and improve the quality of their life.  Employees often feel uncomfortable sharing their personal health information with their employer.  Also, they would rather see their own primary care physician than having their blood drawn by a stranger.  Since the services of a biometrics screening are required to be covered under every health plan, providing onsite screenings offer no real benefit other than signaling to employees that their employers cares more about managing healthcare costs with an ineffective solution than truly caring for their employees.

The lesson here is that wellness benefits can go a long way in making sure a company has the right talent to succeed but not all wellness benefits are created equal.

Category: Facts and Research

A recent study published in the journal Preventative Medicine looks at whether social support, competition, or teamwork provides an answer to one of the ongoing dilemmas plaguing corporate wellness programs – participation.  Researchers from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania found that competition was a far stronger motivation for exercise than friendly support.  In fact, giving people support made them less likely to go to the gym less than simply leaving them alone.

According to Damon Centola, the senior author on the paper, “most people think that when it comes to social media more is better.  This study shows that isn’t true: When social media is used the wrong way, adding social support to an online health program can backfire and make people less likely to choose healthy behaviors.  However, when done right, we found that social media can increase people’s fitness dramatically.”

The study recruited nearly 800 Pennsylvania graduate and professional students to sign up for an 11-week exercise program called PennShape.  PennShape provided the participants with weekly exercise classes, fitness mentoring, and nutrition advice.  The program was managed through a website the researchers built.  Participants who attended the most exercise classes during the program won prizes.

The researchers split the participants into four groups to test how different kinds of social networks affected exercise levels.  The four groups were: individual competition, team support, team competition, and a control group.  In the individual group, participants could see exercise leaderboards listing anonymous program members and earned prizes based on their own success attending classes.  For each team group, participants were assigned to a unit.  In the team support group, they could chat online and encourage team members to exercise, with rewards going to the most successful teams with the most class attendance.  In addition, those in the team competition group could see a leaderboard of other teams and their team standing.  Participants in the control group could use the website and go to any class, but were not given any social connections on the website; prizes in this group were based on individual success taking classes.

1-s2-0-s2211335516300936-gr3A review of the results showed the competition motivated participants to exercise the most, with attendance rates 90% higher in the competitive groups than in the control group.  Both team and individual competition equally drove the students to work out, with participants in the former taking a mean of 38.5 classes a week and those in the latter taking 35.7.  Members of the control group went to the gym far less often, on average 20.3 times a week.

The researchers were surprised by the number of workouts a week by members of the team support group (16.8, on average).  This is half the exercise rate of the competitive groups.  “Supportive groups can backfire because they draw attention to members who are less active, which can create a downward spiral of participation,” Centola says.

This study is certainly very interesting but should also be taken with a grain of salt.  More studies need to be conducted with populations that go broader than just students.  Nevertheless, employers, health plans, and wellness coordinators should think about the results of this research when creating their programs.

Category: Corporate Wellness

Guardian Life Insurance Company of America’s 4th Annual Workplace Benefits Study revealed that a majority of working Americans are overestimating the knowledge needed to make informed decisions about their benefits to set them on a path toward employee well-being.  Through a 10-question, true-false quiz given to 1,439 employees age 22 or older, the report showed that while 80% of employees believe they understand their benefits very well, only 49% demonstrated they actually do (as defined by scoring an A or B).  The quiz also revealed that millennials received the lowest scores, with one in four receiving a failing grade.

There seems to be a communication breakdown as the survey shows that working Americans are less positive about their company’s benefits education efforts, including the effectiveness of benefits meetings and health fairs.  This is an important opportunity for human resources, which 46% of Americans rely upon as their source of benefits information, to make a difference in helping their employees become educated and feel confident in their benefits choices.

How To Guide For Health Fairs
Results of the quiz indicate workers are most interested in the following employee benefits topics, which clearly indicate a desire for financial benefits and wellness.

  • 38% savings for retirement
  • 19% protecting income
  • 17% reducing debt
  • 16% how benefits work

As employee wellness programs fall under benefits, the workplace remains an integral part of working employees’ financial security.  With approximately 50% of employees having a good understanding of their workplace benefits, more can be done to help them make benefits decisions.  The good news is that most employers want to facilitate these decisions as well.  The report showed that “helping employees make better benefits decisions” is the second most important benefits strategy behind “making plan design changes to reduce costs”.  If employers want to react to the suggestions of employees, below is the list of top recommendations.

  • Simple, clear explanation of benefits
  • Personalized information tailored to employees
  • Access to expert guidance to answer questions
  • Online support including interactive tools

In the end, research findings show that more effective communications can lead to employees valuing their workplace benefits and having increased loyalty to the companies they work for.

Category: Corporate Wellness

Last week, we published a post about five of our favorite examples of unique wellness benefits currently being implemented by leading companies.  After incredible interest in these examples, we thought we would create a Bay Area edition.  In the hypercompetitive arena of Silicon Valley, the march toward innovation has companies heavily investing in the recruitment and retention of their most valuable asset – their employees.  These organizations also have a strong desire to keep their employees healthy and productive.  As a result, many of them  offer unique and differentiated wellness benefits that are worth sharing.

Time from work is essential for recharging and staying fresh.  This community-driven hospitality company offers their employees a $500 travel credit every quarter for a stay at any Airbnb listing worldwide.  The benefit allows employees to recharge while regularly connecting with their host community.  Employees also receive four hours of paid time off each month to volunteer around the globe.  Combining the two benefits may be a popular choice amongst employees…

Unlimited paid time off is critical to Dropbox’s work-life balance strategy.  Employees can use benefit for new parent leave, family vacations, sick days, and more so they never worry about being unable to detach from work.  Combined with charitable contribution matching and other social impact benefits, Dropbox provides employees with the time and resources to connect and support their communities.

As a customer-oriented company, Salesforce takes care of their employees so they can take care of their customers.  It is no surprise that wellbeing is one of Salesforce’s fundamental values.  From treadmill desks to workout classes to a wellness reimbursement program ($100 every month to be used on health and fitness programs), Salesforce has it all.  They also have wellness zones in which employees can put away their devices and practice mindfulness.  To provide employees with opportunities to expand their minds away from work, Salesforce launched a Press Pause speaker series.  Speakers discuss subjects relating to core values, which includes numerous sessions on wellbeing.

Unlike the tweets that made this company a household name, Twitter’s wellness benefits do not come up short.  Health benefits include meditation rooms and ergonomic consultations for your workspace.  The company also has an in-house fresh juice and smoothie bar and onsite exercise classes throughout the day.

In addition to purchasing Fitbits for every employee, Zillow has wellness days where the whole office takes a full day off to “press the reset button” and participate in Zillow-sponsored fitness events (hiking, biking, Soul Cycle, boot camp, etc.), eat healthy food, and get massages.  The company offers rich maternity and paternity benefits, and once mothers are back at work, they can take advantage of fully-equipped nursing rooms with hospital grade pumps and fridges as well as overnight breastmilk shipping when traveling on business.

Category: Corporate Wellness

As employee health and wellness continues to become an area of focus for employers across the world, leading companies are making unique and differentiating wellness perks a staple of their benefits package.  These benefits are becoming the norm and are critical for companies to recruit, retain, and engage talent.  Below are five of our favorite examples currently being implemented by companies.

JP Morgan Chase
Despite the prevalence of autism in the United States (one in 68 children), few companies offer autism benefits.  JPMorgan Chase offers autism benefits to its 160,000 U.S. employees, many of which are being affected by the disease.  Benefits include coverage for the initial autism diagnosis and the various types of therapies that are often prescribed for the neurobiological disorder.  This includes applied behavioral analytics, cognitive behavioral therapy, nutritional counseling, periodic developmental screening, individual or group family therapy, speech and occupational and physical therapy.

Boxed takes helping employees with large life event expenses very seriously.  It starts with paying for college tuition for the children of employees and includes covering the wedding expenses for all unmarried employees.  With benefits like these, Boxed likely enjoys high employee retention.  Don’t be surprised when parents tell their children that they spent their entire careers at Boxed!

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)
Employers are beginning to see the toll that student debt is taking on their employees.  This includes higher stress and personal distractions.  PwC responded this summer by helping nearly half of its 46,000 employees pay down their student loans.  The company will contribute $100 per month ($1,200 per year) for up to six years (a maximum of $7,200) to help non-management employees pay down their student loans.  With an average employee age of 28, the impact will certainly be felt and recognized.

Last year, Microsoft made a number of changes to its benefits package, including doubling the amount of paid time off new parents will receive, adding companywide holidays, and reworking its 401(k) matching program.  The company also began to offer one-on-one financial coaching sessions with a Fidelity representative.  According to the Microsoft benefits team, one of the goals of the changes was to equalize healthcare and retirement benefits, which highlights the increasingly important role financial wellness is playing in overall well-being.

La Macchia Enterprises
Content is king!  La Macchia posts new health and wellness content on their website every day and employees are regularly encouraged to check it out.  The company also hosts an annual “Wellness Action Day,” a daylong event for employees and their families that features wellness vendors, healthy snacks, and fitness games.  With more than 95% participation in the program, the wellness program must be doing something right.

Category: Corporate Wellness

Twenty years ago, the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) conducted the Innovative Benefits Survey to measure the state of employee benefits at that time.  The recurring survey, which has been modified over the years, continues to follow changes in employee benefits and, as expected, shows the evolution of employee benefits in a world where recruiting and retaining talent continues to be more challenging.

According to the 2016 version of the survey (2016 Employee Benefits Research Report), the types of benefits programs grew from 60 in 1996 to 344 in 2016.  This number reflects benefits programs covered in the study, which does not mean it captures all types of benefits.  In addition to various forms of health insurance, the stable benefits include prescription drug coverage, employer assistance programs, medical flexible spending accounts, long-term care insurance, paid vacation, retirement preparation planning, and wellness programs.

In regard to employee wellness, 92% of employers responded that they offer some type of wellness benefit.  The specifics of what is offered varies significantly from employer to employer.  Wellness resources and information grew from 54% in 1996 to 72%, in 2016 while smoking cessation programs decreased 4% (45% to 41%) during the same period.  Onsite health screening programs decreased the most (22%) from 53% in 1996 to 31% in 2016.  This should come as no surprise because employers are realizing, albeit very slowly, that biometric screenings do not work.  In the past 12 months, organizations that increased their employee benefits were most likely to increase health-related (58%) or wellness (45%) benefits, showing the importance employee health has become within the benefits paradigm.

Another interesting piece from the survey was the increase in popularity of standing desks.  The use of standing desks at work increased from 13% in 2013 (the first year it was included in the survey) to 33% in 2016.  This increase is shocking given that research shows that standing desks do little to support health.  This is because the incremental number of calories burned by standing vs. sitting is minimal.  When wellness advocates report that sitting is the new smoking, employers should not think that avodng sitting is the cure.  The cure for the problem is walking or other physical activity.