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Pete Durand, CEO of Rival Health


How many times have you heard “we just need more participation in our wellness program!”?   What does participation mean?   How is it attained?   Does it matter?   Most wellness programs drive participation through incentives; a carrot or a stick, for activities that do little to drive true engagement and outcomes.  Health assessments, biometric screenings and step programs are perfect examples of these activities – employees just need to show up to participate.  Are employees engaged?  Not a chance.  Ask them if a health assessment is fun, motivating or drives behavior change.   It’s participation and only if there is a financial incentive in place to do it.   Employees make a cost/benefit decision based on an extrinsic motivator:  “15 minutes of my time worth $250?   You bet, I will take your money!”  The choice to engage in a healthy lifestyle becomes a financial decision, enticed by extrinsic motivation rather than a quality-of-life decision driven by intrinsic motivation, a truly sustainable motivator. 

Engagement goes beyond participation, it requires the employee to want to be there, regardless of the incentive.  Results are different for every company.  Some companies are simply seeking participation, so a positive result would be 85% participation in an online-health assessment (and what does that get you?).  To other organizations, results are dictated by outcomes, driven by engagement.   Employees are intrinsically motivated to improve their health by embracing a culture of fitness (emotional, physical, mental) and use objective measurements to track improvement.  Empowering intrinsic motivation requires true culture change.  Companies that achieve it have created a culture where employees are encouraged and enabled to engage through example, environment and a true understanding of the individual needs of each employee.  Companies that “say” they support a fitness lifestyle but then scoff at an employee that takes time to exercise, attend a class or seminar designed to help them are not walking the talk.   It doesn’t take long for employees to pick up on this and retreat.   Furthermore, every employee is different – their approach to fitness can range from “I’d like to be able to get up off the couch without pain”, “understand my finances”, “reduce my stress”, or “run a 5k with my daughter.”  Understanding their goals, helping them realize the impact of their choices on their health and simple ways to make improvements are the first steps.  

Giving every employee tools that show them what to do based on their goals vs. just tracking what they did, mapped to their current fitness level, goals, conditions, etc. will allow each employee to choose how and when to engage at a time when they are intrinsically motivated to do so (this trigger event(s) can be different for everyone).  Consider this as you design your wellness program and the results you are seeking.   Incentives and rewards are great tools, but understand which demographic responds to extrinsic motivators, which won’t and which groups will engage with intrinsic motivation – if done correctly, these people will raise their hand and step forward on their own.   

We have found our most successful clients engage with no reward – they seek us out, volunteer and ask to join our FitWarrior® program because they WANT to be there, they are not coerced.  These people engage, motivate themselves and others and make a true lifestyle change.   Intrinsically motivated individuals represent a small percentage of an employee base – but it’s the most important percentage – and the results are astonishing.   We add to this group each year and we don’t have to seek them out, they find us!  Over time we reach the employees who need the most help.  

We go beyond this group by offering the same solution to ALL employees, so those who may not be in a disease state see a daily guide around healthy behaviors and become involved when they feel it is right and BEFORE they reach a chronic state – increasing participation across the company and eventually leading to engagement.   This group is in a “comfortable” state, no signs of chronic conditions (yet) and tend to respond to gamification and simple rewards.  Over time they will learn behaviors and the positive effects on their life which drives engagement beyond just participation.  This leads to results:  a measurably healthier workforce, not just a stack of health assessments.   This way you know you are getting a return on your investment in each target demographic and not masking results with false participation numbers.  Simply put, participation is driven extrinsically, engagement is driven intrinsically and results should be based on outcomes.   For more on intrinsic motivation see a great book written by Dr. Rosie Ward and Dr. Jon Robison. 

We recommend all of our clients read this before designing an incentive program: http://salveopartners.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Ushering-Motivation-and-Behavior-Change-into-the-21st-Century-Rosie-Ward-Jon-Robison-Salveo-Partners-LLC.pdf