By Chris Cutter
Nearly 80 percent of employers offer some form of wellness program, according to a 2015 Business Wire survey. And for good reason: An effective program provides a slew of benefits, from increased employee productivity and morale to a better healthcare bottom line.
But with so much conflicting information surrounding employee wellness programs, it’s easy to implement a program that doesn’t address the health issues you’re passionate about or generate the ROI your business needs.
Unfortunately, this is a growing problem in the corporate world. As wellness spending skyrockets, employers are beginning to ask whether all of that money is delivering the results they’re looking for. And as business leaders search for an answer, one thing has become clear: A wellness program that isn’t rooted in long-term behavioral change won’t deliver the results you want.
Wellness programs would provide incentives — e.g., cash, gift cards or other rewards for completing a survey, visiting a gym a certain number of times or, more recently, taking a certain number of steps in a day — all in the hopes of jump-starting employee involvement. But while these incentives engage employees initially, their primary motivation was ultimately the tangible reward, not the long-term health benefits.
That’s because extrinsic motivators like cash only get people to start. Intrinsic motivation is what leads to actual long-term health behavior change. The mark of an effective wellness program is its ability to inspire employees to embrace healthy lifestyles for authentic, internal reasons.
According to the American Heart Association, a big part of this means developing a culture of health in which employee health is carefully evaluated. But I’d argue that simply assigning a numerical value to your employees’ well-being won’t instigate behavior change. You have to leverage the numbers to help your employees make the personal decision to change — give them the tools, but let them sit in the driver’s seat.
In a recent Brigham Young University study, participants partook in an accountability-based wellness program. First, their lifestyle choices were assessed and rated on a scale from one to 100, with 100 being the healthiest. But the wellness coach didn’t set goals for participants based on their numbers or give out cash for visiting the gym. Rather, he engaged participants in determining for themselves what wellness goals they were willing and ready to commit to.
As a result, participants who were at high risk for cancer improved their heath by roughly 41 percent. And those with uncontrolled diabetes decreased their blood glucose levels by 58 percent. Intrinsic motivation — in other words, simply choosing to make a long-lasting change for their own reasons — propelled these participants further than gift cards ever could.
To take your wellness program beyond engagement to behavior change, we recommend starting with these six steps:
Image credit: Flickr/Penn State
Chris Cutter is the founder and CEO of LifeDojo. LifeDojo’s evidence-based 12-week wellness programs lead employees through a journey of motivation, daily action, and support, resulting in permanent health behavior change.