Feature Article - November/December 2014

All Shall Be Well

A Healthier Workforce Equals Healthier Production

By Deborah L. Vence

Wellness Benefits

The benefits of wellness incentive programs include significant health care savings, and have helped people to get enrolled in disease management programs or start and maintain healthy habits, Anderson said.

Kramer agreed. "Wellness programs are benefits that can create a better opportunity. But, when you are talking about an incentive piece, it's the reinforcement that's the biggest benefit," she said.

And, they can come in many different forms.

"Our industry has looked at a monetary reward, cash, for example—something that you are physically giving people for completing the task. What we're seeing with wellness is looking at ways to provide status. And, we've seen studies done. When you receive a gift or a reward or a point, the same part of your brain is turned on when you receive the status," she added.

Additional perks and privileges also have helped people become more engaged. And, just having the bragging rights is motivating, too.

"If you set your goal to run a half-marathon and stated that you achieved it, being able to share that socially, and having that sense of pride is a huge incentive," she said. "You need to have that reward and incentive as part of your program. It doesn't just need to be the points. And the organizations need to be looking at that as they design."

For instance, earlier this year, Welltok announced that it reached key milestones in its efforts to support Gov. John Hickenlooper's goal to make Colorado the healthiest state in America.

More than 10,000 state employees (30 percent of the qualified population) had started participating in a range of health activities since the launch of Welltok's CaféWell health incentive program in July 2013. Half of the participants completed a Health Risk Assessment (HRA) with their insurer through CaféWell, which is more than a 650 percent increase in HRA completion compared with the prior year.

It was reported that one-third of Colorado state employees became involved with the new health incentive program. UnitedHealthcare and Kaiser Permanente co-sponsor the CaféWell Platform to Drive Healthy Behaviors. The CaféWell Health Optimization Platform provides employees with a variety of health activities, incentives for participation and access to valuable resources, including health coaching.

Program engagement rates have shown that employees are participating in numerous challenges, activities and programs—ranging from nutrition and stress management to smoking cessation:

  • Nearly 20 percent of participants have joined the "Drink Water" challenge, committing to drinking 64 ounces of water each day.
  • Thousands more are participating in nutrition challenges such as "Eating Leafy Greens" and "Healthy Snacking."
  • Stress also was a leading area of interest for employees, with programs such as "Lights Out! Sleep Challenge" earning rave reviews from participants.

One participant admitted she quit smoking, saying the program also helped remind her to eat better, exercise more and drink more water.

To boot, the early success of the program prompted the State of Colorado to launch a walking initiative in October 2013 titled "Reach for the Peaks." Initial results showed participants walking more than 112 million steps in the first two months of the program. The first thousand employees who joined the CaféWell walking initiative on launch day were issued free pedometers, which were sponsored by UnitedHealthcare and Kaiser Permanente.