Category: Engagement

It seems like yesterday when Pokémon Go took the world by storm, captivating the minds of millions across the globe.  The unintended consequences of its success was an increase in activity of its users.  Some even dubbed the game the next best health app since it got individuals moving while being unaware of the amount of steps they were taking.

As a reminder for those of us who have forgotten about the game, players have to walk one kilometer, as measured by the phone’s sensors, to hatch a new Pokémon from an egg.  Driving is out of the question, as users must stay below the 10 or 15-mile-per-hour speed limit.  This required users to travel the old school way: with their two feet, which resulted in increased activity.

According research published in the British Medical Journal, “Pokémon Go was associated with an increase in the daily number of steps after installation of the game.  The association was, however, moderate and no longer observed after six weeks.”  Specifically, the analysis found that the daily average steps for Pokémon Go players during the first week of installation increased by 955 additional steps.  However, this increase gradually attenuated over the subsequent five weeks, and by the sixth week after installation, the number of daily steps had gone back to pre-installation levels.  The study found no significant differences for users by sex, age, race group, bodyweight status, urbanity, or walkability of the area of residence.  It is important to note the study surveyed 1,182 Americans, all of whom had an iPhone 6, and a little under half of whom were Pokémon Go players.  The participants were found on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which at this point seems like something of a niche population.

What can employers and health plans learn from this study?  It seems on the surface that the novelty of Pokémon Go wore off, and as a result, users were walking less because chasing Pokémons were no longer appealing.  This is not meant to be a slight on the game, but an observation on the reality of keeping the attention and interest of individuals.  Even the creator of Pokémon Go, Ninantic Labs, recognizes the importance of novelty, which is why they are constantly launching new games based on augmented reality.  The takeaway for employers and health plans is that if gamification is a major driver of engagement in their programs, it is important for them to design wellness challenges that regularly change to keep things fresh.  Otherwise, the novelty of a challenge wears off and users disengage.  To keep things fresh and tailored to a specific population, organizations need to leverage a wellness challenges platform like Wellable that allows groups to customize and configure challenges to their specific needs.

Category: Facts and Research

Contrary to the popular belief that healthcare expenses are becoming a larger part of total employee compensation, new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that employers paid the lowest amount for health insurance as a percentage of total compensation since 2011.  Specifically, health insurance costs equaled 7.6% of total compensation for private employers in September.  This is equivalent to $2.44 per hour worked.  This is the lowest percentage of total compensation since March 2011.  The cost for health insurance as a percentage of total compensation peaked at 7.9% in March 2014.


It is important to note that using the percentage of total compensation does not mean total health insurance costs per employee did not go up during this period.  The percentage could be impacted by a number of factors, such as wage increases and shifts in costs to employees.  The rise in high-deductible healthcare plans is certainly contributing to the latter.

Also contrary to popular belief is that smaller employers are being disproportionately impacted by rising healthcare costs by having to pay more per employee than their larger counterparts.  Companies with 50 to 99 employees spend $1.94 per hour worked, which amounts to 7.0% of total compensation.  This is lower than the spend for companies with 100 to 499 employees and companies with more than 500 employees, which spend $2.77 (8.5%) and $4.28 (9.0%) per hour worked, respectively.

Regardless of how health insurance expenses as a percentage of total compensation is trending, employers remain deeply concerned about budgeting for health insurance.  Outside of wages and salaries, health insurance still comprises the largest portion of total compensation spending.  In the highly competitive global economy, human capital management continues to be critical to success and getting the most productivity from total compensation dollars is key.  This is why total compensation and benefit plans need to be optimized to recruit and retain talent as well as assist employees in being productive at work.

Category: Engagement

Employers and health plans have long sought after a clear understanding of the benefits derived from engagement.  It is widely understood that engagement results in positive business outcomes for both types of entities; however, some would argue that too much engagement is a bad thing.  Regardless, few studies have been published that quantify the financial impact of engaging employees and members…until now.  A new report shows the value of consumer engagement in health plans.

Through an analysis of 14 years of consumer health insights, more than a billion interactions with consumers, and an extensive amount of academic and industry research, the study revealed that health plans can generate significant short- and long-term value by engaging members in their health.  In fact, the report suggests that engaging healthcare consumers can be one of the highest value activities a health plan can undertake.

According to the analysis, health plans could potentially double their net income by engaging an additional 10% of consumers with their health.  “For example, a one million-member commercial health plan in the individual marketplace could produce over $130 million in new value by engaging just 10% more members.  This value is comprised of key medical and administrative cost reductions and revenue increases, resulting from an array of specific actions that consumers take in response to being more engaged.  The report also revealed an even higher value of engagement among Medicare Advantage ($302 per member per year) and Managed Medicaid ($157 per member per year) populations.”

The key takeaway is that small increases in engagement can have big impacts on financial outcomes.  The silver lining is that most employees and health plan members are woefully disengaged, which means the opportunity to achieve small increases in engagement are certainly attainable.  With 60% of human resource leaders viewing wellness as an engagement tool and health plans focusing on engaging members in wellness, technologies and solutions that can engage users effectively and affordably will be highly valuable to these entities.

It is also important to note that this analysis considers a broad range of benefits that result from engagement.  Traditionally, employers and health plans tried to constrict the gains from engagement through an analysis of hard savings, or return on investment (ROI), rather than considering all the benefits, often referred to as value on investment (VOI).  Employers are beginning to shift their perspective to VOI as noted by a survey suggesting the majority of employers now consider VOI.

Category: Corporate Wellness

According to the Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, 2015 marked the year that millennials surpassed Gen Xers as the largest generation in the U.S. workforce.  At that time, millennials represented 34% of the workforce.  By 2020, it is estimated that millennials will comprise nearly half (46%) of the workforce.  The prominence of this generation makes it critical for employers to consider the specific needs and dynamics of millennials when creating and communicating benefit packages.  The Millennials Come of Age report from Colonial Life uses industry and internal company research to illustrate the best strategies, communication tools, and technology human resource professionals can use to ensure their companies find and keep the best and brightest among the largest generation in U.S. history.  Below is the biggest highlight from the report.

capturePositioning Matters
Insurance, whether it be health, dental, life, or other, has long been a staple of benefit plans.  These benefits have also been seen by other generations as tools to protect employees and their families from bad events that impact everyone.  Millennials view insurance benefits in a different light.  They see these benefits as an important piece of overall physical, emotional, and financial health.  As such, millennials want benefits designed to keep them healthy rather than protect from adverse events.  For example, rather than considering dental insurance as a way to protect themselves against tooth decay and high-priced dentist bills, millennials may be more willing to consider dental insurance as a way to stay healthy.  Stephen Bygott from Colonial Life says of millennials, “being healthy doesn’t just mean not feeling sick.  It’s commitment to an ongoing healthy approach to life, including eating habits, exercise and avoiding activities that can be viewed as damaging.”  Employers should embrace this viewpoint when communicating benefits to millennials.

Expansion Of Benefits
It is clear that the definition of healthy differs for millennials.  It includes proactive behavior to do more than just avoid being sick.  This is why employers looking to hire and retain this generation need to expand benefits beyond insurance products.  Millennials want access to wellness solutions and technologies that allow them to address this need and want to work for employers that understand their perspective.

Category: Facts and Research

According to a new report from IDC, market share in wearable device shipments for Q3 2016 saw fairly little shifts relative to previous quarters but growth dropped significantly, reaching the single digits for the first time.  Most notably, the Apple Watch saw its number of shipments drop 71% year-over-year.  Fitbit and Garmin were the only two leading brands to reach double digit growth.  Total shipment volume for the quarter came to 23.0 million units, up just 3.1% from the 22.3 million units shipped in Q3 2015.  The table below breaks down the details of the shipments and ranks the leaders by market share.

It is important to note that these numbers reflect both basic wearables, which account for 85% of the market, and smartwatches.  Basic wearables still grew in the double digits despite a significant slowdown and the number of smartwatch units dropped.  The data provides a number of insights into the wearable market so we thought we would talk about some of them below. 

Fitbit Remains At The Top
Fitbit ended the quarter the same way it began it: as the undisputed worldwide leader of wearable devices, although their lead continues to shrink.  In Q3 2016, the global leader was able to hold their top ranking with market share in line with Q3 2015 (23.0% vs. 21.4%).  Growth was driven by the long-awaited refresh for the Charge HR with the Charge 2.  Rumors continue to surface that Fitbit will be acquiring smartwatch manufacturer Pebble, which reflects their desire to move beyond just basic wearables into the smartwatch market in a big way. 

Xiaomi Struggles
Xiaomi’s continues to carve out a market for affordable wearable device with lots of functionality.  The new “Mi Band includes heart rate tracking and is priced well below any competition, making it more suitable for impulse buying than any other fitness band.”  Despite its price advantage, Xiaomi delivered approximately the same number of units year-over-year (3.8 million vs. 3.7 million), resulting in similar market share from 16.4% in Q3 2015 to 16.5% in Q3 2016.  Despite the basic wearable market growing in the double digits, Xiaomi growth was only 4.0%.  Xiaomi continues to struggle to gain any significant traction outside its home country of China.

Garmin Expands Product Portfolio
Coming in third, Garmin offers one of the broadest product portfolios in the market, from the low-cost, corporate-only Vivoki to higher end smartwatches with GPS.  Garmin experienced modest growth of 12.2%, growing the number of units shipped from 1.2 million in Q3 2015 to 1.3 million in Q3 2016.  The brand continues to be a favorite of fitness fanatics. 

Apple Tanks
Apple saw a steep drop in it units shipped.  Apple shipped only 1.1 million units in Q3 2015 compared to the 3.9 million units in shipped in Q3 2016.  It is important to note that Apple launched its second-generation watches in mid-September so those numbers have little impact on Q3 2016.  With the holiday season coming up and a full quarter of results from its new device, Apple may be able to recover from this decline.

This challenge is why Wellable encourages the implementation of a bring your own device (BYOD) strategy for wellness.  A BYOD strategy for wellness allows employers to embrace all forms of wellness technologies, including devices and apps that are not Fitbit, Apple Watch, or Xiaomi.  It will enable consumer choice and result in lower costs for your program.  Download our free white paper for more information on BYOD for wellness.

Category: Facts and Research

Despite the long economic recovery in the United States and the strong performance of the stock market, financial wellness is not improving for many individuals and it is resulting in stress.  According to the Employee Financial Wellness Survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which tracks the financial well-being of full-time employed U.S. adults across the country, “many employees never fully regained stable footing” after the Great Recession.  Below are five statistics from the study that should make all employers concerned about the financial health of their employees and take action by incorporating financial wellness programs at work.

Increased Financial Responsibilities
According to the survey, the percentage of employees providing financial support for parents or in-laws increased 6% from 2016 (22%) to 2015 (16%).  Longer lifespans and lack of adequate long-term health care protection are increasing the financial responsibility onto the next generation.

Inadequate Emergency Savings
Employees are not satisfied with the amount of their emergency savings with 55% saying so compared with 51% in 2015.  Women have it worse with 60% saying they don’t have enough emergency savings set aside for unexpected expenses while 50% of men feeling the same way.

Rising Credit Card Balances
Employees are increasingly turning to credit cards to fill their funding shortfall.  Forty-three percent of employees earning $100,000 or more consistently carried credit card balances in 2016.  In 2015, only 32% did.  Baby boomers have it worst.  In 2015, 37% of boomers carried balances on their credit cards while 46% did so in 2016.

Underwater Mortgages
Eighteen percent of employees who own homes and carry a mortgage said that the outstanding balance of their mortgage is greater than the current value of their home.  Of the 18%, 59% have attempted to modify the terms of their mortgage with their lenders (consistent with 60% last year) and 33% have received a foreclosure notice within the last 24 months (also 33% last year).

Financial Stress
Financial stress is the biggest source of stress for employees with 45% saying that it was their biggest stressor in their lives.  Health concerns (15%), their jobs (20%), and relationships (15%) also topped the list.

Financial wellness programs are just beginning to become staples of employee health programs.  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.

Category: Facts and Research

A study published by Jiff evaluated two years of employer-sponsored wearable data and revealed a number of interesting points, many of which counter common beliefs about these technologies.  Below are some of the highlights that we found most interesting.

Workplace Wearables Are Popular And Increasingly So
Nearly one out of three (31%) large employers (> 1,000 employees) offered wearable devices for tracking physical activity in 2016.  That number could increase to as much as 50% with 6% and 17% of employers planning for wearable purchases in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

Extra fun fact (not related to wearables): App sponsorship is also on the rise.  Respondents to the survey revealed that 26% and 19% of employers sponsored apps to track employee diets and sleep.

Wearables Are For More Than Just Millennials
Employers do not need to feel that sponsoring wearable devices can be justified because it is of interest to the largest part of the workforce (millennials).  Based on user data from 219,335 employees enrolled in a company-sponsored wellness program, millennials are not the only generation adopting wearables.  Just over half of all employees under 40 participated in the wearable program (and there was no difference between those in their 20s and 30s). Forty-one percent of those age 40-50 participated, compared to 36% of workers age 50-60 and 35% of those over 60.

Sustained Engagement Through Challenges
Despite industry analysis suggests 70% of Fitbit users churn in less than 12 months, the study found that employers could sustain engagement for much longer through periodic corporate-sponsored wellness challenges.  Across four large employers customers, there was “no measurable decline in engagement for more than nine months following the program rollout, and for one employer, the study found levels of engagement that have been progressively increasing for more than 18 months.”  To be fair, 14 employers were involved with the full study, and since only a limited of number were included in this portion, there may be some selection bias confounding the results.

The study went on to suggest three things employers could do deliver success in their wellness programs: (i) offer wellness challenges, (ii) provide device credits (subsidies for wearables), and (iii) deliver behavioral incentives (action-based rewards).  We could not agree more with this assessment, which is why we offer and encourage use of all three of these options in the Wellable Wellness Challenges platform.  Not mentioned in the report but highly advocated by us is the BYOD wellness strategy that allows employees to use the devices and apps that make the most sense to them.  Employers can reallocate the funds traditionally reserved for devices to other engagement enhancing elements of their programs, such as rewards.

BYOD For Wellness

Category: Corporate Wellness

According to a survey from CareerBuilder, more than a third of workers (35%) said they have called into work sick when they were feeling just fine.  The survey included responses from more than 3,100 full-time workers and more than 2,500 full-time hiring and human resource managers across industries and the United States.  The top reasons for calling in sick when feeling fine were not feeling like going into work (28%) and needing to go to a doctor’s appointment (27%).  Another 24% said they needed to just relax and 18% needed to catch up on sleep.  Meanwhile, 11% took the day off to run personal errands.

The survey also revealed something interesting about employers who suspect employees are abusing the sick day policy.  One-third of employers (33%) checked to see if an employee was telling the truth by requesting a doctor’s note, calling the employee, checking social media, etc.

The survey results highlight a number of problems in the modern work environment.  First, it seems that employees do not feel that they have enough time to detach from work to relax, destress, and take care of personal tasks, such as errands and doctor appointments.  Employee burnout is an issue plaguing workforces across the country.  Employers would be wise to enact policies that do not lead to employees abusing sick days.  In many cases, companies may need to do more; for example, some employers require employees to take vacation.  Another issue raised by the survey was the level of distrust that exists in the employer-employee relationship at many companies.  The consequences of this mistrust can manifest itself in more ways than just sick days.  Transparency in the workplace can go a long way to facilitate trust.

For whatever it’s worth, the silver lining in the survey results may be that the percentage of employees calling in sick when feeling fine was down from 38% from last year.  Regardless, this is an issue that employers need to be aware of and proactively address.

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.