Employers are learning that wellness programs require much more to succeed than a pedometer and an occasional newsletter on healthier living. To achieve enduring changes in employee behavior, more companies are following a Wellness 2.0 strategy.
"In the past, an employer might sponsor a Biggest Loser contest or promote an employee walking program, which encouraged short-term activity, but didn't change the culture long term," says Cindy LaQuatra, a senior consultant with Benefits Resource Group, an employee benefits agency in Independence, Ohio. "Today's programs focus on identifying and preventing costly health issues, offer financial rewards for participants, and more often than not have a social aspect."
The level of sophistication is rising, judging from the results of the 2011 Health at Work Awards, which were sponsored by Chicago-based employee assistance programs provider ComPsych Corp. All the winners of this year's awards, including Intel Corp. and GE Capital Fleet Services, use real-time, creative communications and video testimonials uploaded to a common portal by employees to promote wellness programs.
"When it comes to communicating with employees, companies face the same challenges they face when communicating with customers," says Meredith Oliver, a social media expert and president of Raleigh, North Carolina-based Meredith Communications Inc. "Employees are wearing a lot of hats and are oftentimes distracted, so they tend to tune out group emails and memos."
Oliver says many people tend to think of social media as a consumer marketing tool. But social networking is an excellent communication tool for internal customers, too. "Whenever you can increase communication and camaraderie among employees, no matter what behavior or program you are driving," Oliver says, "it's going to enhance your effectiveness."
Consultant Limeade Inc. of Bellevue, Washington, provides social media-based wellness programs that allow employees to engage in healthy activities, take quizzes about health conditions such as diabetes or about nutritional food choices, and participate in challenges, including committing to eat five vegetables daily. They track their progress and share tips with colleagues through a portal. "Our programs are social because the science of behavioral change shows that people make changes …