Fun, Simple, Rewarding: The New Paradigm

Three keywords are the way to go with programs that encourage employees to become interested in better health.

Wellness is changing. The old focus on "wellness" as medical interventions and self-care or prevention education is giving way to a new focus on creating a healthy environment in the workplace. This new approach entails making it "okay" to focus on healthy behaviors at work and requires companies to work with their employees to make worksite wellness more fun, simple, and rewarding if they want to show progress.

Let's delve deeper into each of these three tactics to see why they make sense and how companies are implementing them as they look to the future of wellness.

Health is not generally fun by nature, so it is important to find creative ways to tap into employees' desires to be entertained or amused while still making progress on their health. This can be done by integrating contests, competitions, entertainment, or humor into wellness initiatives, programs, and events. While fear and greed have reigned for a long time as ways to get employees on track, the results have been largely disappointing and a new approach is needed.

Companies of all shapes and sizes are realizing that fun is key to getting their employees interested in health. They are focusing on the "fair" in health fair, instead of just the health. They are creating health communities within their companies and compelling employees to join community events such as the American Heart Association's Heart Walk or the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. They are launching challenges and competitions of all types for their employees. In fact, a study conducted by Aetna last year showed that 81 percent of its clients had either completed or were going to launch health challenges in 2010.

Other things we have seen companies do to bring fun to health and wellness include:

  • Supporting sport teams, new moms' groups, and walking or exercise clubs
  • Using fitness centers as hubs for fun employee events
  • Creating funny videos that advertise their wellness programs or components of it (think -- a funny video about salesmen trying to stay fit on the road)
  • Plant an employee vegetable garden or have veggies delivered to work
  • Have healthy recipe contests for the cafeteria
  • Have executives serve healthy food in the cafeteria
  • Throw a party when certain goals are reached or when a big competition ends
  • Do "chair squats" or other calisthenics as a group in the middle of meetings to get the blood flowing and to show it's okay to be concerned about well-being during the workday.

Simple is the next important keyword. If a program is complex, complicated, or over-engineered, it will be not only less fun, but also it will be hard for most employees to engage in it. Integration of programs and/or data can be useful and helpful, but it should be done only if it really benefits the program and if it engages more employees than it scares away.

Integration of programs with health benefits can scare away employees for a number of reasons, including time wasting, concerns with carriers or companies having too much data, or simply uncertainty over where the their data might go.

Another element of simplicity is to allow employees to participate using their preferred technology platform. Employees may prefer to user PCs, laptops, tablets, or smartphones to engage, and any solution should allow them to choose. Forcing people to adopt new technologies or to use one with which they feel uncomfortable will reduce the ability to engage in the program or application.

We are seeing companies start to strip away the complexity of their programs and focus on the things that can truly drive engagement. They are leaving disease management and health interventions in the hands of health care providers and are switching their wellness efforts to focus on building community around health in their companies. This means supporting efforts that employees choose to engage in, not targeting employees for programs based on their connections to claims data and other complex databases.

Simplicity also means focusing on the simplest things that matter to an individual and letting them work on small things each day. This is best done with consumer-based programs and interfaces, not medical-grade interfaces. There is an explosion of applications that are much more current in terms of their user interfaces, which can drive increased engagement or adoption simply through these improved interfaces and a focus on specific activities.

Lastly, wellness needs to be rewarding. Employees can be rewarded with better health, lower costs, recognition, prizes, joy, laughter, or a sense of accomplishment. In choosing which of these to design into a program, it is important to understand the given audience you are trying to engage and to tailor the rewards so they hit the mark with that audience.

We have worked with a wide variety of companies and have seen all manner of rewards used to motivate and inspire employees. These companies use everything from selecting the right teams to spread out "talent," to making all rewards team-based (such as raffles for team members), to creating trophies or plaques that can be passed back and forth in future team challenges. They are universally keeping rewards low in dollar value, which puts the focus on the fun rather than on the reward. Companies also are creating vehicles for visibility into health and wellness activities, including creating videos of executives engaging in healthy behaviors and leveraging their investments in health and wellness portals and "corporate social networks," such as Yammer and Jive, to enhance recognition and sharing of successes.

Some examples of rewards for engaging in wellness programs are:

  • Prizes for competition winners or winning teams
  • Recognition on leaderboards, in newsletters, in person at events, or on trophies or plaques
  • Awarding of formal titles, such as "wellness champion" or "wellness leader"
  • Awarding of online "badges" for challenge participation
  • Points earned for various activities and advancement through levels of participation
  • Time with the CEO or executives for winners or leaders
  • Special parking spaces
  • Company gear or swag for participants or winners

These types of rewards often cost little or nothing to provide but can go a long way in driving motivation and activity. They are a key part of a strategy to make it okay to focus on wellness at work and to recognize those who are doing so. The more a wellness program is tied into the way a company gets things done and recognizes people, the more successful it will be.

This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Doug Keare ([email protected]) is the co-founder and CEO of Vivecoach. Prior to founding Vivecoach, he was an executive with several medical technology companies, including ADAC Labs, Accuray, and Med-Vantage. He also has been an executive at consumer internet startups Pricing Dynamics and He is a thought leader in change management and an expert in health-gaming. Vivecoach, based in Menlo Park, Calif., has designed a solution for companies that realize being serious about wellness means having a little fun with it. Its wellness challenge application allows companies to bring fun, competition, and cooperation to their efforts to create a healthy culture in the workplace. In addition, it allows employees to take as much ownership of the program as they want and to tailor the actual implementation to things that they are willing to engage in. By making participation simple and linking it to social rewards, it has proven to be an effective way to put gaming to work

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