Magazine article Communication World

Game on! New Technologies Deliver Much-Needed Excitement to Employee Wellness Initiatives

Magazine article Communication World

Game on! New Technologies Deliver Much-Needed Excitement to Employee Wellness Initiatives

Article excerpt

Is there a better way to engage employees in their health than with frightening anti-smoking posters, boring benefits booklets and hard-to-navigate health plan websites?

Wellness is a key issue for companies worldwide as they seek to rein in health insurance costs. Healthy employees, in theory, mean lower costs, as well as increased productivity and reduced absenteeism. But studies have shown that getting people engaged in their health through workplace initiatives can be an uphill battle. The challenge for companies--and communicators--is how to inspire real change in employee behavior.

The answer may lie in technology--specifically gamification, mobile technology and social media. "Emerging Technology in Health Engagement," a 2012 WorldatWork and Buck Consultants survey of 263 employer HR representatives of midsize to large companies, found rising interest in new technology-based approaches for engaging employees in their health. Seventy-three percent of those surveyed reported having a health engagement strategy at their company; however, two-thirds had not assessed employee preferences for specific technologies.

Nonetheless, gamification was perceived to be the most effective of the approaches. Gamification can help provide positive rewards through constant feedback on performance and success. Sixty-two percent of surveyed employers reported using one or more game-like features to promote employee health engagement, and 31 percent said they expected to adopt one or more new elements in the coming year. More than 60 percent reported they sponsor contests such as weight-loss or walking competitions, and 37 percent incorporate game-like features such as raffles or lotteries in employee wellness initiatives.

There's an app for that

Employers are taking note of the explosion of mobile apps for health-related activities, ranging from monitoring food intake and caloric expenditure (such as MyFitnessPal), to tracking physical activity and even sleep patterns (such as FitBit), to self-diagnosing health symptoms (such as WebMD and PocketDoc). Growth in mobile tools appears inevitable. In the health engagement survey:

* 36 percent of employers reported using one or more elements of mobile technology to promote employee health engagement, and 36 percent indicated they were likely to adopt one or more new elements in the coming year.

* 32 percent said they use mobile technology for health care benefits (apps from health insurers, prescription drug refills, benefits enrollment systems, etc.), and 52 percent said they will consider adding components of mobile technology to employer-sponsored wellness offerings within the next three years.

* Only 17 percent said they use mobile technology for wellness or lifestyle tracking or improvement, but nearly two-thirds (63 percent) may adopt it in the next three years.

Bringing people together

It's long been known that camaraderie can enhance individual health, from classic support groups such as running or other fitness clubs, to groups like Weight Watchers or Alcoholics Anonymous, to disease-or condition-specific support groups. Today, online support groups address an ever-increasing number of health conditions, sometimes bringing together people with rare conditions from around the world.

Fifty percent of employers surveyed reported using one or more social networking or social media elements to promote employee health engagement, and 37 percent said they likely will adopt one or more new elements in the coming year. …

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