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

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

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