Benefits managers have plenty on their plates. They have to determine wages, distribute pay, find vendors, and much more. So when wellness program vendors show up touting high engagement numbers, it’s tempting to take those stats at face value. But here’s why it’s smart to dig a little deeper before you sign up.
There’s no question the right wellness program is worth the investment. For every $1 an organization spends, it can see a return of more than twice that, according to the American Journal of Health Promotion. Wellness programs have also been linked to reduced absenteeism, higher productivity, attracting and retaining talent, and employees with a more positive view of their employers.
But for wellness programs to work, people have to actually engage with them. Even the slickest app or most robust coaching program isn’t worth much if people aren’t using it. Most of us intuitively know what engagement with wellness programs means in real life: regular use, gaining new knowledge, making and sustaining healthy changes. But it’s not always clear what kinds of engagement will translate to better health for your employees.
For wellness programs to work, people have to actually engage with them.
Fancy features might attract a flurry of initial excitement, but that doesn’t matter much if usage quickly drops off. So as you consider which programs are the best fit for your employees — and will truly empower them to improve their health — here are some questions that can help you drill down on your vendor’s engagement numbers.
“What do you mean by ‘engagement’?”
A vendor might boast that it has a 40 percent engagement rate. But what constitutes “engagement”? Does it mean 40 percent of employees simply opened an email about the vendor’s wellness program? That might be a great start, but it probably isn’t going to change the habits or health of a workforce. Or does it mean that 40 percent of end users are heading to its website every week interacting with push notifications or attending an on-site or online coaching session? These touchpoints speak to much stronger buy-in and engagement — and those are the details that benefits leaders need to know.
“Who exactly is engaging?”
A blanket engagement figure doesn’t tell the whole story. Instead, ask your vendor which population segments are engaging with their product. You might find that, for example, women ages 20 to 40 have the highest engagement. If that’s the demographic you’re trying to reach, then the program might be a good fit. But if your workforce is mainly men ages 30 to 50, then it may not reach your primary population. Either way, benefits managers need to know the populations that a wellness program engages before signing on with it.
“So employees engage — does that lead to better outcomes?”
Nearly 60 percent of people with access to wellness programs say they’ve improved their health, according to a UnitedHealthcare consumer study. But to make sure your employees are satisfied, it pays to get granular — both with your reasons for wanting a wellness solution and with whether the vendor’s engagement stats align with those goals.
Let’s say you want to put flu vaccines on everyone’s radar this fall or to have at-risk people check the appropriate cancer screenings off their to-do lists. A high daily or monthly average user stat doesn’t tell you much about how effective a program is for hitting those annual targets.
If, on the other hand, an employer wants its workers to make fitness a part of their daily lives, then daily active use might be an incredibly important metric. But even then, it’s worth asking how those top-line stats support actual outcomes. How many of those users are logging exercise, have synced their fitness tracker to the tool, or are nailing their weekly exercise goals? The true value of any wellness program isn’t employees tapping on an app or looking at a website: It’s taking real-life steps to improve and protect their health.
“How do you gather and use feedback?”
The best wellness offerings aren’t set in stone. There’s usually a team behind the scenes adding features, making improvements, and testing new ways to inch engagement even higher. Vendors can’t divulge all of the details about what’s next for their product, but they should be able (and willing!) to talk through how the customer feedback cycle will inform future changes.
But be wary if a wellness vendor seems too flexible or over-promises on how quickly the product team can tweak the tool. That flexibility may come at the expense of the vendor’s product road map. And what’s usually on those road maps? Well-researched features and improvements that could greatly bolster your engagement numbers.
Remember, selecting a vendor isn’t the end; it’s the beginning. And after the sale is made and the wellness program is in place, the engagement metrics that matter most are the ones happening in your own workforce.
Anjali Jameson is vice president of product at Rally Health, Inc.
Rally® is the only truly integrated health care platform that unites benefits, wellness, medical care, and rewards in a single, intuitive experience. It is the proven choice implemented by more than 200,000 employers, including 47 percent of the Fortune 500. If you’d like to learn more about how to simplify heath care for your employees, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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