The Well-Being Journal

Do Incentives Really Work?

Jennifer Rudloff

Over the years we’ve learned that there are a number of virtues and pitfalls to using incentives to encourage people to live healthy lifestyles. By definition, an incentive is an extrinsic reward that is provided to a person until such time that the value to the recipient is internalized. When it comes to health, many employers use incentives in the hopes that their employees will internalize the need to be healthy and achieve lasting behavior change, which ultimately creates a healthier, and more productive work force with lower healthcare costs. While our experience tells us that incentives do indeed drive participation in health promotion activities, many organizations are struggling to translate that participation into lasting behavior change – and THAT can get expensive fast.

Take this scenario for example: Let’s say Company X offers an incentive to their people for taking a health risk assessment (HRA), and an additional incentive for those who participate in coaching programs to work on health risks identified through the HRA. Of their 10,000 employees 8,000 participate (up from only 3,000 last year). 7,000 of the 8,0000 HRA takers enroll in coaching, up from 1,000 last year. So far so good…but what if only half of the participants really take advantage of the opportunity and work to change their health behaviors? Company X has then invested in incentives for a lot of people who have no real intention to change their behaviors. In this scenario Company X’s participation could skyrocket but the achievement of outcomes could be totally unproductive, throwing the balance between the cost of incentives and health cost savings out of whack. Bummer. Tricky, huh?

When you step back and look at it, it’s easy to see why incentives have become a source of lively debate amongst wellness professionals. Some professionals believe that the practice of taking healthcare premiums from people who take care of themselves to subsidize those who don’t has gone far enough. They would advocate “stick” type incentives to penalize people who do not take care of themselves to offset this balance. To the other extreme, some professionals believe that laws and regulations should be put in place to ban or restrict the use of incentives all together. Others are not opposed to incentives but are concerned that the wide spread use of them is causing employees to feel a sense of entitlement for doing what is already in their best interest. There is merit in all of these positions, and all of them deserve to be heard. While I doubt the industry needs any additional laws or regulations, I do believe that more education is in order.

Employers need to be more aware of the pro’s and con’s of incentive programs so they can make smart decisions about what will work best for their people and their organization – it’s not a one-size-fit’s-all kind of thing. A consultative partner can help carefully craft an incentive plan to fit the needs of an individual organization. You must take into consideration company culture, needs, stage of well-being program development, the communications strategy, and the style of doing business. For instance, studies have shown that the better the culture and communication effort, the smaller the incentive required to drive participation.

If you want to learn more or join the debate on incentives, the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) has an ad hoc incentives group that has been meeting to explore the best ways to leverage the value of incentives. This group is reaching out across the industry to get opinions from experts nationwide. I expect this group will provide leadership in the industry around incentives, so this might be a great time to join the HERO Think Tank if you have a vested interest in being part of the industry-wide incentive discussion. Please feel free to reach out if you would like more information on this effort, or if you have an opinion and want your voice to be heard.

I could say a lot more about incentives, but for now let’s leave it at that. What do you think about incentives? What incentives have been most successful for your organization? Have you been creative with the incentives you offer? Please share!

Topics: Well-Being HERO Workplace Well-Being Engagement Health Wellness Wellness Program Incentive Programs

Iowa's Healthiest State Initiative: Blue Zones Project

Jennifer Rudloff

Reposted from The Exchange: Iowa Public Radio with Ben Kieffer

In October, Iowa began a process to become the healthiest state within five years. As part of that effort, ten Iowa communities will be selected to participate in the Blue Zones Project. Blue Zones are places in the world where people live longer, happier, and healthier. Join host Ben Kieffer as he talks with the author of “The Blue Zones,” Dan Buettner, and with representatives from three Iowa communities that want to be a part of the effort.

The Exchange is Iowa Public Radio's talk program that focuses on the news, issues and events in our state. This national award-winning program goes beyond the headlines of breaking stories, frames community problems, and fosters conversation.

Topics: Iowa Public Radio Dan Buettner Community Ben Kieffer Healthiest State The Exchange Iowa Blue Zones Project

7 Time Management Tips for the Holidays and Every Day

Jennifer Rudloff

Like it or not, each December things get a little more hectic for many of us, and that’s when it becomes especially important to practice strong time management skills. We culled through some of the best advice from experts on the subject—resources like MindTools, Harvard Business Review,, and Lifehacker—and pulled together a list of seven tips to improve time management, just in time for the holidays. Some apply to work, others are ideal for personal life, and all are applicable to that busy window between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. It’s not so much about saving a few minutes here and there, but rather getting the most productivity and enjoyment out of the time we do have.

1. Ditch multitasking: Writing for the Harvard Business Review blog, Peter Bregman reports that multitasking is not all it’s cracked up to be. It turns out that jumping from task to task can actually waste time, and multitaskers could be lowering their productivity by as much as 40%. Too much multitasking can even ding your IQ and harm your future ability to focus on those big, important tasks. So, for the best approach to managing time, resist the allure to jump around and stick to one thing at a time.

2. Take a single view and prioritize: Whenever possible, look at all standing commitments together with all the new requests on your time. If there’s obviously more than any human being can accomplish in a day, a weekend, a vacation, or the entire holiday season, then something’s got to give. Instead of pondering how to get more items on to the calendar, a better way to manage time may be to start cutting from the bottom and taking things off. We want to do it all, but there are only 24 hours in the day, so if those things lagging at the bottom of the list won’t hurt to miss, it may be time to let them go.

3. Carve out ‘me time’: Whether it’s a well-deserved break from it all, or time on the clock you plan to spend laser-focused on a key project, everybody needs some time to do exactly what they want to. Take it from—once in a while it’s OK to put up the busy sign, re-write an away-message, or put on some headphones to spread the word that now is not the time you want to be disturbed. Temporarily unplugging from social media, IM, phone, and Web may also help get the most out of your time.

4. Prepare for delays and downtime: This is different from multitasking. Who hasn’t been stuck forever in the doctor’s reception area, had a computer freeze up, or been left waiting for the answer to an important question? There will always be times like this, so why not take advantage by preparing ahead of time? Having your to-do list with you all the time is a good start. And consider adding those small, mundane chores to the list for occasions like this. Even using that time for a five minute break is worthwhile, because taking time out to rest helps us re-focus and get more out of our remaining hours.

5. Schedule and use a to-do list: It’s important to be flexible both at work and at play, but if there’s no plan in place in the beginning, then there’s nothing to be flexible with. There’s a difference between moving things around to make some reasonable schedule changes and just shooting from the hip. advises writing down the things you have to do, and for each one taking a moment to consider what type of task it is, describing the steps involved, deciding the optimal time to complete it, and determining its importance relative to the other items on the docket. Putting things in their proper place helps ensure that precious time will be well-spent.

6. Leave extra time: Speaking of scheduling … Lifehacker suggests that sometimes adding a little padding to the calendar is necessary, especially during the holidays. Whether it’s getting through the airport, waiting for the mall Santa, or baking all eight dozen cookies you agreed to, some things just take longer than we would like, and there’s no way around it. So instead of robbing time from something else later, why not plan ahead for a few extra minutes to get through the family portrait or address all those holiday card envelopes? Or, there’s always the alternative, which brings us to the last item on the list …

7. Practice saying no, in a nice way: Etiquette expert Emily Post advises that honesty really is the best policy, so if things are too busy to accept an invitation or request, explain that you’d like to say yes but can’t right now. And instead of a hard ‘no,’ offer to reschedule at a mutually-convenient time in the future. This will show that you are considerate and want to spend time with the other person.

A lot of the ideas here are big-picture ones, not tactical items like simply buying a planner or downloading a shiny new app. But that doesn’t mean the steps are large and impossible. Focusing on a single idea at a time and repeating each new habit will go a long way toward improving the way me choose to manage our time.

Topics: Workplace Well-Being Productivity Prioritize Time Management

The Gift of Giving

Jennifer Rudloff

With the holiday season quickly approaching, I find myself spending more time reflecting on the many blessings that have been bestowed upon me over the years. I’ve been fortunate in my life. I have wonderful friends and family who provide unwavering support, a job I love, and while I may have a short wish list, I truly have everything in the world that I really need.

As I was preparing to begin my Christmas shopping a couple of years ago, and gathering wishes from loved ones, I got a special request from my parents. They asked that rather than purchasing a gift, that instead I offer up my time and talents to help those less fortunate. Together, we would share the memories made and lessons learned on Christmas morning. My parents are gracious and wonderful people, so this request didn’t really surprise me, but it did make me stop for a moment and smile at their selflessness. This was the start of a new and wonderful tradition.

When I came to Healthways, I heard a similar story. Many years ago at Healthways, as the holiday preparations began, our colleagues asked Tom Cigarran that in lieu of buying gifts for colleagues they instead give that money to help those less fortunate. Tom happily agreed – and a Healthways tradition was born. Now, every year we all step away from our work for a few hours and go shopping together. This year, more than 500 colleagues each armed with an angel, loaded up their shopping carts with toys, coats, clothes, and books for some very special children at Youth Villages and McNeilly Children’s Center. Imagining the smiles across their faces on Christmas morning and knowing that we’re bringing joy and a show of love and compassion to the children who need it the most is wonderful. It brought out a child like joy in all of us. This one activity really does bring us closer as a Healthways family.

At Christmas, or any time during the year, it’s all too easy to take the simple things in life for granted. I can’t imagine not having clean clothes to wear, a roof over my head, being hungry and without food to eat, or worrying for my safety and that of ones I love. Unfortunately those are harsh realities for a number of Americans. Sadly, there are a lot of families struggling this holiday season: we know from the latest Well-Being Index findings that nearly 20% of Americans have difficulty affording food, and 10% of Americans report having trouble affording shelter, and there are many others who are struggling with other problems in their lives.

By helping those in need, you’re also helping yourself. Gallup did a survey in conjunction with the well-being index to determine how volunteerism impacts well-being… what they found was that around the holidays, or anytime during the year, there are a lots of personal benefits to volunteering. People who volunteered in the last 6 months experienced higher personal well-being across all domains than those who did not volunteer. Take a look at the chart below to see how volunteering impacts each area of well-being.

I’d like to challenge you and yours this holiday season to take a moment to count your blessings, and then think about how you can bestow one of them on someone else who needs it. Start a new tradition of your own - it’s sure to make your holidays happier.

Topics: volunteer Community Well-Being Index Helping Others Civic Engagement

Healthy Business Radio: What's Working With Worksite Wellness

Jennifer Rudloff

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of talking with the hosts of Healthy Business Radio. During my interview I revealed the secret sauce behind successful workplace wellness programs and the importance of focusing more on a person's overall well-being rather than narrowing in only on health. Through understanding their population and adopting a well-being approach to workplace programs, organizations can reduce costs, and positively impact productivity, presenteeism, and engagement.

To hear the full interview and learn more, press play below.


Want to learn more about the study conducted on the Well-Being Assessment for productivity? Click here.

Topics: Well-Being Reduce Costs Healthy Business Radio Workplace Well-Being Engagement Well-Being Index Prevention Employee Performance Improvement Wellness Program Well-being Assessment

A New Year, A New Approach to Well-Being

Jennifer Rudloff

Woman in Workout Wear Walking up the StairsIt’s the most wonderful time of the year. Well, Andy Williams would like you to believe so. But for many of us, the holiday season and the turn of the new year may instead feel like the most stressful time of year. Some of us spend this time reflecting upon past resolutions gone off track, wondering how we gained those extra 5 pounds, or reflecting upon what – or how – we’d like to change.

This year will be different. You can stay on track with you resolutions and make 2012 the year to improve your overall well-being. Here’s how to make it happen.

1. Create a Plan.
What are you waiting for? Nobody said you had to wait until the new year to decide on a resolution. It’s important that you take advantage of your own motivation, whenever you feel it.

During the holiday season, most people are too preoccupied with having fun to focus on their New Year’s resolutions. But chances are, you already have an idea of what you want to work on. There may be a few goals you have in mind, but in order to really stay on track, you should pick one.

Once you’ve bought a journal – or created a journal online or through your own word processing/note taking software – write down your goal on the front page or at the top. This will help you keep your goal top of mind when reflecting upon your progress. In addition, choose amid-year goal so that you can assess your own six-month progress, and write this down with your full-year goal. Remember to try and be realistic when choosing your mid-year goal. This will allow you to remain more motivated as time goes on, knowing your objective is in reach.

2. Set Reminders.
We’re all busy; it’s easy to get wrapped up in other commitments that slowly derail the progress of your resolution. Because of this, it’s important to set reminders before you and your resolution fall off the wagon. When you determine your resolution, take a few minutes to also determine how often you will assess yourself. Every week? Every month? It’s up to you – as long as it’s consistent.

Perhaps these reminders would be most effective if communicated within your e-mail calendar, or perhaps you’re best reached via mobile phone alarms. Or, if this is a family effort, you can note when it’s time for a resolution check-in on the family calendar in the kitchen. The point is, you shouldn’t just resolve to achieve a goal; you should resolve to make this happen.

Think of these check-ins like appointments. During each scheduled check-in, think about your resolution progress, write these feelings down in your journal, and skim past entries to keep track of how you’re doing.

3. Get Real.
In order to stay motivated, it’s important that you don’t get frustrated after each slip. Some months will be easier than others and you’ll be able to see your own highs and lows as you keep track of your journal entries. Allow yourself some leeway in your six-month and full-year goals. Of course, don’t pad your progress too much – but feeling like you’re staying on track will help you stay motivated moving forward.

If you do experience a setback, write a mini-resolution in your journal about how you plan to fight back next week or next month. Staying resilient is half the battle of fulfilling a resolution.

4. Assess Yourself.
The reason for a six-month personal review is that oftentimes our resolutions require a bit of tweaking in order for us to attain them. Personal assessments allow us to recognize this, and if needed, extend our own deadlines. Perhaps your new year’s resolution becomes a two-year resolution.

However, when giving yourself an extension, take note: this should not take place more than once unless under very special circumstances. It’s okay to assess yourself and determine that you might need some outside support. For example, if you aim to completely quit smoking within the year, you might want to look into Blueprint to Quit, which provides expert advice and community guidance to help you along.

Of course, our personal Health Coaches are here to help you not only zero in on a prioritized goal, but also stick with it. We provide lots of services to help you and your employees stay on track with your overall well-being. To find out how we can work together, don’t hesitate to drop us a line. Happy New Year!

Topics: Healthy Living Well-Being Resolutions Tips to Keeping Resolutions Health Healthways New Years Resolution

The Science of Well-Being

Jennifer Rudloff

Why does Well-Being matter? Intrinsically, we all understand that higher well-being is better. That much is pretty straight forward. What you may not realize is the impact well-being has on key business metrics such as healthcare costs, productivity, performance, and employee engagement for your organization. In this white paper, The Science of Well-Being, we explore the evidence around why improving well-being is critical for elevating your businesses performance.

Key Points include:

  • Explanation and validation of the measures used in the Healthways Well-Being Assessment™ (WBA)
  • Discussion of the components included in the WBA and why they're important to business leaders
  • How our productivity measures can be used to diagnose areas of opportunity to improve performance
  • Examination of key findings regarding how well-being relates to:
    • Health care utilization and cost
    • Productivity (absenteeism and presenteeism)
    • Job performance
    • Employee engagement

White Paper: The Science of Well-Being

Topics: Healthy Living Well-Being Basic Access Work Environment Workplace Well-Being Physical Health Business Performance Health Emotional Health Well-Being Index HRA Wellness Measure Wellness wellbeing assessment Life Evaluation Productivity Healthways Health Risk Assessment

A Closer Look at Social Health Games with Trapper Markelz of MeYou Health: Part 2

Jennifer Rudloff

A Closer Look at Social Health Games with Trapper Markelz continued - click here for part 1)

Games can change the world.
With social being such an important piece of the puzzle, were also looking for ways to create a reason to be social. One of those very useful reasons to be social is through games.

The benefits of playing games are just recently being taken more serious, in part due to discussions and presentations from Jane McGonigal on how games can change the world.

Jane and others believe that games bring forth the best version of ourselves. It is a version that is cooperative, engaged, social, confident, and empowered. If games bring out our best behaviors - and behaviors spread across social networks - than in Jane’s world games make us “contagious vectors of awesome.” Meaning, we can truly have an impact on anything we want to accomplish in real life.

So we ask ourselves at MeYou Health... How can we take advantage of how games can help people achieve real results inside of a well-being product like Daily Challenge?

To be clear, using game concepts in Daily Challenge isn’t about making it into an actual game (where there is a winner and a loser); rather, it’s about utilizing the methods that game designers use to make participation, both individually and socially, as clear and effortless as possible.

To make this happen there needs to be clear dynamics that let me, as a user, know what I am suppose to do -- and when I am suppose to do it. There needs to be clear mechanics that let me know where I am starting, how I am progressing, when I am moving forward, when I am moving backwards or falling behind, how I compare to others who just started participating, and how much I can achieve if I stick with it. There also has to be clear aesthetics and feedback that make me feel the celebration moments, the encouragement, the support, the competition and completion. If we do all of these things correctly than I, the user, never feel lost. Instead, I always feel in control, I am continually surprised and delighted, and the entire experience in which I chose to participate is fulfilling to me on many levels.

In Daily Challenge, we are bringing all of these things together. We suggest a small, realistic thing for you to do in a convenient daily email. Then when you complete the small action, we provide immediate positive feedback within a game context, where sharing and being social is explicitly expected. It is the stories of doing these actions that become memorable. It is remembering the conversation, the celebration and the support that makes you aware of the next time you have the opportunity to make that small choice again. All of these dynamics -- the mechanics, prompts, actions, conversations, and aesthetics -- work together in Daily Challenge to create an engaging, fulfilling experience that helps improve well-being.

Social + games make for the best experiences.
MeYou Health uses game mechanics because they make a product social in far more ways than is possible without them. If you believe social at all matters for engagement and that engagement is important to have effect, then games are the way you will get there. For example: When you accomplish something in Daily Challenge, both big and small, you are awarded a stamp that serves a celebratory artifact and points that propel you towards reaching higher levels, respectively.

By utilizing a blend of social networking science, connectedness research, behaviorial-driven design and gamification, Daily Challenge is one of the more unique health products out there today. Daily Challenge is a social well-being product with nothing less than the ambition to inspire lasting, lifelong change for millions of people. We are well on our way. Join us at

Topics: Healthy Living Engagement Health MeYou Health Natural Movement Playing Games Daily Challenge Connected: The Surprising Power of Social Networks Behavior Change Games for Behavior Change Social Well-Being Health Games

A Closer Look at Social Health Games with Trapper Markelz of MeYou Health: Part 1

Jennifer Rudloff

Playing games like Tag growing up was fun because these backyard games were social. We got to hang out with other kids. What a blast it was being part of a relay team or kicking the ball around at recess. Back then, movement was part of play (we didn’t really think much about it), and chances are our parents didn’t have to force us to go outside to race our bikes with the neighborhood kids.

Then we entered school and college and work... and our movement decreased as we grew up and became quote-unquote adults in the real world. We had to shift from the idea of play to the idea of work. Despite responsibilities of being an adult, play is still very much at the center of enjoying life. Which explains why we find fun ways to connect with others, whether it’s huddled around a game of Risk with friends, shooting hoops with our son or daughter in the driveway, or virtually teaming up with fellow gamers in World of Warcraft.

We are all connected.
The social connections we have as adults are just as important, if not more so, than the ones we had as kids. The connections we had as kids helped shape us. The ones we have as adults help sustain us.

In recent coverage by USA Today and Gail Sheehy, social interaction plays a key role in our well-being and happiness. So much so that women who spent one to five hours a day socially interacting - be it via Facebook, face-to-face, or by phone - had the highest well-being versus those who did not make social connectedness a daily priority. The key takeaway from Gail’s article and the data presented from Healthways is that the more closely we are in contact with our social connections, the better our happiness and health is. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

By making time for social interactions, we can experience a boost in our well-being. And that can have a significant impact on the health and wellness of our social networks.

There’s strength in networks.
At MeYou Health, we created Daily Challenge to be a social product that helps improve well-being through daily small actions. The goal has always been to promote new and deeper connections, creating support networks that drive meaningful change in our lives. The stronger these connections, the richer the experience. The richer the experience, the higher the commitment level.

The idea behind Daily Challenge is simple: do one small action at a time, each and every day. As we have learned through the work of Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler (best represented in their book Connected), we are all connected... and so are our behaviors. It turns out these connections run deeper than we realize, allowing our behaviors, both good and bad, to become influenced by people we might hardly know or possibly not know at all. Crazy but powerful stuff.

To study social networks and behavior change, MeYou Health is looking at both the social, mathematical and biological rules governing how social networks form (“connection”) and the biological and social implications of how they operate to influence feelings, thoughts, and behaviors (“contagion”).

With Daily Challenge, we can see for the first time how support networks are structured, along with what role high and low well-being play in their formation and influence. We are, in fact, building a one-of-a-kind map of well-being based on the information we have gathered since Daily Challenge’s launch in 2010. This information is leading to a whole set of controlled studies this year and clinically controlled studies next year to quantify the true effects of social mechanics on intervention engagement and improved well-being.

(Look for more in Part II)

Topics: Engagement Health MeYou Health Natural Movement Playing Games Daily Challenge Connected: The Surprising Power of Social Networks Behavior Change Games for Behavior Change Social Well-Being Health Games

Well-Being at Work: Managing Stress

Jennifer Rudloff

Stress is an inevitable part of our lives. Whether it comes in the form of a pressing deadline, a family matter or financial discomfort, we're all going to feel the pressure of stress at one time or another. The good news is there's a way to deal with it. Elmo Shade is part of our Leadership Development team at Healthways, he's also our resident expert on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). In this video Elmo talks about some of the principles of MBSR and provides some healthy ways to respond respond to and manage stressors.

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Topics: Meditation Exercise Workplace Well-Being Health Stress Mindfulness Elmo Shade Healthways Stress Management