Our nation is on the verge (if not already in the throws) of a chronic disease epidemic. Lifestyle related conditions, such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, create huge claims for companies, as well as inestimable suffering on the part of those afflicted. From my point of view, an employer's single biggest opportunity to improve employee health, and encourage healthy outcomes, is to move to wellness engagment programs that are evidence based, outcome focused and behavior driven.

Research is the first step in designing a wellness engagement program. Looking at historical claims and trends, employee populations, types of job, and statistics on the the potential for esculating lifestyle issues need to be considerated when designing a wellness engagement program. We know, based on real data from our clients, that this information is invaluable in customizing program elements to address the needs of each company. An evidence-based wellness program takes this research and data under very serious consideration.

The next step is to design the wellness program to actually produce changes in this data. Outcome focused activities (exercise, weight loss, disease management programs, exceed or improve biometric thresholds, etc.) tie incentives/rewards to employee health improvement and accountability. The days of rewarding employees just for taking a health risk assessment and biometric testing should be gone.

Finally, health behavioral change is difficult to influence in others and even more difficult to achieve and maintain as an individual. People generally do not change their behavior without good reasons. And most of the time, good health is not a sufficient reason. In a perfect world, the prospect of a healthier, longer life should be enough to encourage us to be healthy. Not so. Research shows that among heart attack patients (where change is a life and death matter), 90% do not change their unhealthy habits. Not even when the doctor says so. Personal choices to be made are often counteracted by one’s everyday social and cultural environment.

Motivation depends on the individual. We are all motivated differently and what energizes one person may not do anything for another. The most effective wellness programs are the ones where employees / members can earn incentives that THEY choose – incentives that are tangible. Used in this way, incentives will have a powerful behavioral effect. On the road to wellness, getting started is the key and incentives provide that boost. But, the actual reward of getting healthier and feeling better is the sustaining motivation.