Encouraging Healthy Living

By adding an incentive element to their wellness programs, employers raise participation among workers.

by Donna Korn, Bryan Van Noy

While most corporate wellness programs see an average of 5- to 10-percent participation rate, one wellness provider is achieving active engagement of more than 60 percent among its clients, and increasing rather than diminishing participation over time. And its programs are popular with men—an audience generally overlooked by wellness programs because they’re just too hard to reach. It has even made in-roads with blue-collar workers without computer access. How does it do it?

Sonic Boom Wellness uses employee recognition and rewards to motivate and engage employees. Employees earn points for completing daily challenges, focusing on weight management and eating right. Employees can also recognize and reward each other when they are spotted doing something healthy. Activities are managed through an interactive, secure web site tailored for each employee that also tracks health activities and stats, and awards points toward rewards.

The company partners with Anderson Performance Improvement (APIC), which specializes in behavior-based incentive and recognition programs. Anderson creates custom programs that identify desired behaviors and reward participants for adopting those behaviors and achieving results.

An example of its program at work is Sonic Boom Wellness, which is breaking the barriers of traditional corporate wellness programs, and the results are telling. Active engagement averages more than 60 percent among the workforce, and several of its clients have nearly a 100-percent engagement. Client satisfaction surveys show remarkable weight loss, awareness of nutrition, and dramatic increases in activity as well as an overwhelming desire for employers to continue with the program.

“We’ve found that engagement in the program actually increases as people buzz about it around the workplace,” said Rob Stevens, director of HR for Kyocera International, one of its clients. “We had other wellness programs in place, but people just didn’t participate. We’re finding enthusiasm to be quite high with Sonic Boom, even among men and others that don’t typically participate in wellness programs.”

Indeed, male participation can be raised through incentive programs. “They are some of the most avid participants,” said Julia Hope, executive administrator for Erickson-Hal, another employer.

Clearly healthcare costs are top of mind for many employers. In 2008, according to The National Business Group on Health, employers are projected to expend 46 percent more for healthcare costs than in 2003, with an average of $9,312 spent per employee. Offering incentives to participate in wellness programs is seen as one way to reduce costs.

The key to Sonic Boom’s participation rate is the fun factor. Peer pressure, competition, and high-tech devices that provide verified data, social networking, interactive tools for engaging co-workers, and incentives support lifestyle changes integral to the program’s success. Participants are enjoying the routine, getting healthy, and being recognized and rewarded by their employer, peers, and sometimes healthcare providers.

An interactive dashboard runs the entire program. Users receive a daily challenge—some are unorthodox while others are conventional—that encourage participants to think about, talk about, and practice healthier lifestyles. They can award each other for healthy behaviors and challenge each other in competitions. High-tech devices provide verified data for two of the Sonic Boom programs: Sonic Striding and Weight-Loss Warriors.

Sonic Striding utilizes a tiny accelerometer worn on the top of a shoe. This device measures users’ activity around the clock and wirelessly beams data to their personal web site without the need for active tracking. Users compete for a two-month period for rewards and recognition. They may compete for the most activity minutes as individuals or as teams. Teams are encouraged to get together on weekends to increase their activity minutes.

Participation in Sonic Striding is at or near 100 percent for many client companies, even when participants are asked to pay for a portion of the cost of the device. While blue-collar workers are often the most difficult to reach in a wellness program, Sonic Boom has had considerable impact on their activity levels.

Similarly, Weight-Loss Warriors also uses a high-tech device to validate behavior change. Participants stand on a scale, enter user information, and their weight is uploaded to their web site. Participants are provided a “Battle Plan” to teach them everything they need to know about losing the weight safely and keeping it off. Much of the plan is done in an e-learning format, engaging the user by making the information especially relevant and “sticky.” Participants then compete for valuable rewards and recognition, as individuals or on teams, to see who can lose the greatest percentage of body weight.

Posted September 10, 2008 in Engaged Workforce

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