The 3 Keys to Population Engagement in Your Wellness Program

The trend of chronic conditions creating ever increasing levels of hidden risk in our population appears to be here to stay.

Currently, two out of three US adults are overweight or obese, and a recent study by the CDC shows that roughly one third of the US adult population is prediabetic, and 90% of them don’t even know it yet!

Unhealthy behaviors like poor eating habits and physical inactivity are a root cause of much of the problem. So wellness programs that create healthy action NEED to be a key piece of the solution.

However, in order to impact the scale of the problem these programs must also actively engage a majority of their target population. Not 10% or 20% - we need 50%, 60% or more engaged in healthy behaviors.

So, what do programs that achieve this successful population engagement have in common? We took a close look at our current client base and surveyed over 1,000 members to find the three key factors:

1. Simple design

These days wellness programs or initiatives come in all shapes and sizes. Many organizations try to include “everything” in their programs from day one, believing that choice is critical to population engagement.

We actually found the exact opposite. If your focus is population engagement, then the program design must be simple. The majority of any population are not pre-wired to engage, so choice actually dilutes and confuses – creating the proverbial deer in headlights.

Instead, by focusing a program on a small set of healthy behaviors you will promote culture and camaraderie. Once you have successfully engaged a population in an initial set of actions, then you can introduce others over time.

2. Ease of use

We all lead busy lives, so hand in hand with simple design comes ease of use. If it isn’t easy to participate in a wellness program, then the majority of a population won’t do it. The good news is that technology, when packaged the right way, can help address this.

For instance, wearable activity trackers enable self-management and automated data collection. No longer do participants have to manually log their data, or attend gyms/classes to receive credit. Being physically active becomes (literally) anytime, anyplace, anywhere. Each participant can choose what they do, where, when and with who – and it’s this type of choice that drives engagement.

You have to be physically active as part of the program, but you have the freedom to pick how you accomplish that. The real time upload of data also enhances the personal and social experiences by giving immediate feedback on progress and updates to challenges. Other examples of technology driving ease of use are simple online dashboards that include access to all resources and mobile applications that enable full program functional “on the go”.

Following these principles is what has allowed one of our clients, Cleveland Clinic Employee Health Plan, to achieve not only high levels of participants, but outcomes as well – as of 2017, 50% of their 60,000 employees/spouses achieve program goals for either being physically active and/or completing a coordinated care program.

3. Motivation

The reality is that most people need some external motivation to help them on their journey to healthier behaviors. If they didn’t then we wouldn’t need wellness programs.

Effective motivation comes in two flavors – leadership and incentives. We have found that programs can be successful with either, but both is best.

Visible leaders that “walk the walk” and management that promotes a caring attitude toward the wellbeing of their population will inspire employee engagement.

Offering an incentive will also provide the initial focus or nudge that folks need to engage in a program. A key to maximizing incentives is to avoid the mistake of making them “transactional” – points based structures that can be modified over time are the way to go (read more about this concept HERE)

At the end of the day, getting people to engage in healthier behaviors is not easy. However, our partners and ongoing research have helped identify three key ingredients to the population engagement recipe.

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