14 ways to improve corporate wellness programs with wearables

Corporate wellness experts share dos and don't of wearable-based corporate health and wellness programs, along with advice on how to enhance and improve your organizations current employee fitness initiatives.

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Tips for enhanced communication, outreach for fitness programs

7) No silver bullet 

There is no single communications channel that's best for raising employee awareness and engagement, according to Benz. So it's best to embrace multiple channels and formats. Most employees have preferred ways of receiving information, such as viewing online video or reading infographics and email, and the way to reach the largest audience is by using more communication methods.

Ultimately, the goal is "to change wellness behavior, not communications behavior," Boehm said. 

Bank of America uses "every form of communications possible" to detail updates, features and benefits related to its wellness program and health challenges, according to Huffman, including the company Intranet, email, "snail mail" sent to employee homes, and team meetings. Before opening each day, Bank of America branches also have "team huddles," which are ideal for communicating information about company wellness programs.

8) Share employees' positive experiences

Several speakers at the San Francisco Fitbit conference said sharing testimonials is an excellent way to engage employees in wellness programs or fitness challenges. 

"People love to read stories about their colleagues," Benz said. For example, an "average Joe" who was a smoker for 20 years successfully completed a cessation program offered by one of Benz's corporate clients. The company highlighted "Joe's" accomplishment in one of its employee newsletters, and nearly 100 fellow employees emailed him to say the story inspired them to join the program, Benz said. Joe also told his company benefits manager that, after all the recognition he received for quitting, he "definitely can't start smoking again."

[Related: Employees excited, concerned about wearables in the workplace]

Boehm added that organizations should find testimonials from all levels of the company and "keep putting them out there." Employees featured in testimonials can be a wellness program's "best advocates."

9) Focus over generality in communications

Unfortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to effective communication, Boehm said. "The more tailored your communications are (to individual interests), the more engagement you'll get." You're trying to get people to change their behavior, she said. But if your approach is too broad or general, employees might think the message doesn't apply to them.

10) Be timely and proactive

Organizations' communications should be timely and relevant whenever possible, according to Benz. She suggests following the "TaskRabbit model" by striving to make communications "helpful for others" and giving employees information they can act on. For example, if an employee needs an MRI, a company might provide information on affordable facilities that perform the test before the employee makes an appointment. 

More tips for successful corporate wellness programs

11) It's not all about the Benjamins

It's never a good idea to depend solely on financial incentives to motivate employees. Many employers choose to increase financial incentives to motivate staff health improvement, but the majority of workers don't take full advantage of the incentives, according LuAnn Heinen, vice president, National Business Group on Health (NBGH).

In 2015, 79 percent of employers will offer monetary health incentives, up from 63 percent five years earlier, according to a 2015 NBGH and Fidelity Investments survey, which Heinen cited. The same survey also found the average maximum incentive amount rose to $693 this year compared to $594 in 2014, while only 47 percent of employees earn the full incentive amount, and 26 percent earn just a portion of the total.

Though important, financial incentives, as well as future health rewards don't always motivate sustainable participation in wellness challenges and fitness programs, Heinen said. The promise of fun, overall better quality of life, and higher energy levels are often more effective motivators, she said.

12) Help employees help themselves

Creativity can go a long way toward giving employees easy options to care for themselves. For example, mindfulness — the act of "being in the moment" —is gaining popularity in corporate wellness programs, according to Heinen. Pitney Bowes, for example, offers five-minute guided meditation for employees over the phone.

13) More physical activity isn't always better

The goal of increasing physical activity isn't always appropriate for all workers. Some workers, such as nurses or employees in packing and shipping departments are always on their feet, so increasing steps isn't necessarily a wise move, Boehm said. Instead, decreasing steps can make these types or workers more efficient in their jobs and "give them energy to focus on what matters most" at work and at home. 

14) Cheaters never prosper

Organization shouldn't worry about fitness challenge "cheaters," or people who manipulate their fitness data. Companies that roll out a Fitbit Wellness program can enable or disable employees from manually logging steps, according to Amy McDonough, vice president and general manager, Fitbit Wellness. However, McDonough says Fitbit has "found that with good communications and transparency about how a program ties to incentives and what data is being shared, the majority of employees will be honest and will keep each other honest."

This story, "14 ways to improve corporate wellness programs with wearables" was originally published by CIO.

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