HR and benefits executives, in making the right platform choices, can play a profound role in creating healthier people, cultures and organizations. Eric Zimmerman, CMO at RedBrick health discusses why understanding your employee base, and offering high-tech and high-touch options in your company’s well-being initiatives is key to making the right benefits platform choice.
Not offering an app to help your employees get the most out of your health benefits and related services is a bit like not having a company website was a few years ago. Employee well-being initiatives are particularly well suited to play a central role in bringing employees into the HR tech revolution. Promoting physical activity? Let employees strap on a wearable device and sync it to your well-being platform or app. Building organizational and individual resilience? Integrate mindfulness tools and resources in exactly the same way. With the latest generation of health engagement and well-being technologies, from digital coaching to mobile reminders and virtual care services, employers have more options than ever to encourage their workforce to get – and stay – engaged and healthy.
As easy as it is to become enamored with consumer-based HR and health tech, from wearables to apps, it is important to realize the limitations of a digital-only approach to better employee health. For example, a 2015 JAMA Network article describes a study of more than 6,000 wearable device users. More than one-third stopped using their device within six months and more than half discontinued use by the end of the study.
What’s more, Deloitte advises that, “Wellness programs succeed when they are designed to understand how people think; the technology behind them should just be a means to facilitate this process.” This is especially true if your well-being programs target employees who are not actively seeking to change.
So, why isn’t a tech-only solution the best answer for effective employee well-being initiatives?
The answer is as multi-faceted as your workforce is. For some, digital centricity is the perfect prescription. For many, however – and often for those who need help the most – the key to success is connection with a coach, a community or even other employees.
We have seen this play out in our own research, which found that certain demographics and health segments express a channel preference for human coaching over digital experience. For others, it is exactly the opposite. And others, given the choice, will opt for the “BYO” approach of applying their preferred apps and wearables to their health, even in context of their employer’s well-being program.
Moreover, we have found that supporting channel preference and allowing individual choice matter most to achieving broad employee engagement and better outcomes. In fact, our research shows that employees improved their health risk factors at similar rates irrespective of their channel of engagement (human vs. digital) as long as they made the choice of channel. Employees moved more, ate better, lost weight, and reduced biometric risks at similar rates, regardless of whether they engaged digitally or over the phone with a coach or guide – as long as they actually engaged.
Employee choice goes beyond an either/or approach. Best practices for offering choice include:
Letting employees choose digital when they want it, human when they don’t
Providing a seamless experience: letting employees move back and forth between digital and live support
No silos – don’t make employees traverse between disconnected point solutions – one app for nutrition, another for exercise, a third for sleep, a fourth for stress and a fifth for managing a health condition.
Putting all well-being programs and platforms in one place, and making everything connect for employees – after all, we are people, not disease states, risk factors or disparate body parts.
Two successful examples of the role of humans in digital well-being programs
A leading children’s hospital in the Eastern United States provides an excellent example of these best practices in action. Like many healthcare work environments, this 9,000-employee healthcare system is challenged with a busy, stressful work environment, where workers focused on taking care of others, rather than themselves. The greatest risk factors are lack of exercise, stress and overweight/obesity.
The hospital adopted a full suite of digital and live well-being modalities – including RedBrick Journeys®, an adaptive, innovative form of online coaching, as well as self-monitoring with wearables, and live guidance delivered over the phone via personal health and life coaches. Then, they went a step further by adding two on-site coaches.
After two years, the hospital is experiencing a reduction in the percentage of employees at risk for chronic health conditions, and reports that it is well on its way to creating an organizational culture that promotes wellness and accountability for personal health.
In another example, which illustrates the importance of understanding and offering options that appeal to various audience segments, a large financial services firm piloted a choice-based, integrated digital/human well-being platform for its tens of thousands of employees nationwide. The most informative result coming from the pilot was not that engagement in activities designed to positively change health behaviors grew from 30 percent to 61 percent. Rather, it was how different populations within the employer’s diverse workforce interacted with the solutions. For example, Millennials, particularly males, were more apt to engage with digital coaching and activity tracking, while Gen Xers, especially females, showed higher use of both digital and phone coaching. Boomers engaged in higher rates of phone coaching and were more apt to use integrated programs and onsite offerings such as diabetes and weight programs.
The overall engagement rates closely mirrored the underlying population distribution, in terms of gender and generation. In other words, choice – human and digital – helps ensure you are reaching a broad cross-section and not just preaching to the converted.
A final, equally impressive result came from the company’s use of on-site guides. The guides, functioning as benefits concierges, helped navigate people to not only their well-being benefits, but to all their benefits and resources. The result? An over 500% increase in usage of a wide array of benefits integrated into their digital well-being platform.
When it comes to HR tech and next-generation employee well-being, employers don’t have to choose between an old-school call-center approach, or a new-school digital platform/app approach. HR leaders setting the pace for their profession seek an approach that matches the needs and preferences of their people . And they are finding new ways to create both live and digital access points. For most companies, that means a solution that combines digital and live support for employee well-being, as well as benefits navigation and support. After all, in this day and age, no other service industry (think about your preferred airline, your bank or your mobile phone company) would even think about a digital-only approach