Most wellness professionals will be familiar with this vignette:
You worked hard to set up a wellness event for your organization that is empirically based, aligned with your mission, and fun for the participants. You put out flyers and used the company intranet to announce your offering. But your sign-ups are going slow.It is difficult not to be discouraged. Participants in wellness programs often irrationally fail to make choices to improve their health. It is tempting to conclude that the general public is lazy, or does not really care about their health. I believe the problem lies elsewhere. Making decisions that will enhance our health can be more complex than it seems.
As an example, here is an ad that was discovered by Dan Ariely from Duke University (found in his book, Predictably Irrational, 2008). It was an ad placed by the Economist magazine to purchase a subscription:
Welcome to The Economist Subscription Centre
Pick the type of subscription you want to buy or renew
Economist.com subscription: $59
One-year subscription to Economist.com.
Includes on-line access to all articles from
The Economist since 1997.
Print subscription: $125
One-year subscription to the print edition
of The Economist.
Print & Web subscription: $125
One-year subscription to the print edition
of The Economist and online access to all
articles from The Economist since 1997.
Do you notice anything unusual about this ad? If you look carefully, you will notice that the cost of the print only subscription and the print plus web subscription is the same. Dr. Ariely verified with the magazine that this was not a mistake and also experimented with his students to demonstrate that the Economist was actually making an advertising decision that was effective.
He reprinted the ad for 100 students and asked them to select an option. Option one, the economist.com option was selected by 16 students. The second option, print subscription only had no takers. The overwhelming choice was option three, the print plus web choice, which was selected by 84 students.
Next he took out the print subscription only option and presented the modified ad to another 100 students. By taking out the option that no one in the first group selected, now 68 students chose the economist.com subscription and a mere 32 students took the print plus web option. Why did this occur?
When the Economist placed this ad, most people were still uncertain of the value of an online subscription. They were used to a print subscription, so the cost of $125 did not seem out of line. In comparison, how much is an online subscription worth? Remember, this ad was published in 2007. (The first iPad was not available until 2010, so reading online was still new for most people.) It was difficult for potential subscribers, at that time, to determine how to value an online subscription. They used a comparison of choices as a method to determine the relative value.
This is a similar problem many employees face when they are offered opportunities to participate in a wellness activity. How is the value of that opportunity determined? Activities that are offered before or after the work day will be compared to other commitments with families or friends. (Should I attend the morning Yoga class or stay home with my children until they are on the bus for school?) Activities during the work day are compared to work responsibilities. (If I attend a lunch program, I don’t have time to finish the proposal due this afternoon.)
We often present these wellness initiatives without attempting to establish value because it is so clear to us, as wellness professionals, that what we are offering has value. It is hard to remember that most of our potential participants are far removed from thinking about wellness. Health is something that is considered only when a pain or a problem interrupts the day. It is important to say something about the value explicitly when we are offering a program that will improve a participant’s health.
The second mistake we often make is to talk about the value from a clinical perspective. If we offer a walking program and our statement of value is that it helps the participant meet the minimum requirement that doctors recommend for daily activity, it's value is still not as clear to our participants as it could be.
That is because we establish value by comparing the wellness offering to other things that are also of value to us. How do I judge the value of a walking program in comparison to the time it will take me away from my work responsibilities? The value can be clearer, if instead, it addresses that regular exercise is shown to improve clarity of thought and increase energy, so it may make the participant better at their job. Or perhaps your potential participant will be able to understand the value of a yoga class when she realizes it will help her develop the self-awareness and patience to be a better parent.
These elements do not need to dominate the efforts to engage participants in your wellness programs, but they need to be a part of them so that participants can realize how essential they are to being able to live a full, rich and successful life. This is the ultimate goal of engaging people in wellness.
About the Author:
For information about the impact of psychological science on wellness and applied to the workplace, follow him on Facebook and Twitter @bizpsych.
If you want further insight into understanding the true value of wellness you can see Dr. John Weaver speak at the upcoming WI WELCOA Conference.
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