Continuous Wellness Programs.

A Strong Foundation for Employee Wellness

For any company, wellness challenges can be an effective way to motivate employees into making their health and well-being a top priority. This is particularly true for employees that do not normally incorporate healthy habits into their daily routine, because challenges are able to provide structure and motivation to encourage positive behavior change. However, the restricted time periods of these challenges ultimately serve to limit their scope and effectiveness. Continuous incentive wellness programs are able to break down these barriers.

Instead of operating within defined start and end dates, continuous programs facilitate more permanent lifestyle transformations by encouraging long-term, ongoing changes. While traditional wellness challenges can be fun and engaging, they still allow participants the ability to take time off and go back to life as usual. Participation in periodic challenges throughout the year does not require the same kind of motivation, diligence, and mental endurance that participation in a continuous program requires.

In general, continuous programs do not involve teams and often have larger rewards budgets. With wellness challenges, employers can reward top performing individuals or teams or implement raffles. In most continuous programs, every eligible employee can earn a reward if they meet certain thresholds, and the amount of the reward value often positively correlates with program participation. This is why it is strongly encouraged that employers allocate the appropriate funds prior to launching a continuous incentive wellness program. Rewards are often distributed to participants monthly, quarterly, or yearly. At the end of each reward period, a new reward period begins and the program resets, allowing a participant another opportunity to earn an incentive.

Continuous Wellness Program

Incorporating a continuous program is a natural progression for a maturing wellness program. Just like wellness challenges, these programs take advantage of using rewards to motivate employees to stay active and healthy; however, the continuous structure fosters more consistency, perseverance, and commitment to daily habits. Therefore, there is a better chance of truly altering an employee’s behaviors, laying the foundation for a comprehensive wellness initiative.

 

Wellness Challenges vs. Continuous Programs

While wellness challenges, often referred to as periodic challenges, are a fantastic way to encourage employees to improve their physical activity levels and well-being, they often have certain limitations and may not achieve all of an employer’s desired goals. Employers looking to provide incentives for employees to engage in specific behaviors and hit certain goals can benefit from choosing to run a continuous program. Other benefits that are unique to continuous programs include:

  • Improved Comradery – Although team-based wellness challenges are widely implemented for employee engagement reasons, the competition aspect in some challenges may hamper comradery and connections between colleagues, especially among those who are not competitive. By not having employees compete against each other, continuous programs can bring teams closer together.
  • Cost Containment – Continuous programs reward daily healthy behaviors, and the continuity of the program helps employees build lasting habits that improve health. As such, these programs are better designed and suited for controlling health care premium growth.
  • Less Administrative Work – With wellness challenges, there is administrative work with each program, which can be burdensome if multiple challenges are planned during a year. Continuous programs have a single planning period and the program is run throughout the year, lowering the administrative work associated with program execution. 

Of course, even employers and employees that are fans of wellness challenges can take advantage of adapting a continuous program. If a continuous program is right for an employer, they should work with a software vendor to make program administration easy.

 

Best Practices for a Successful Continuous Program

Similar to wellness challenges, knowing the do’s and don’ts will help ensure program success. Below are some best practices to get the most from a continuous program.

 

Provide Holistic Health Content

Even though a continuous program is running constantly, it doesn’t mean that it should focus on the same thing all the time and become stagnant. Also, since holistic well-being is the best way to truly impact employee health and manage health care costs, building a dynamic program with a holistic approach to wellness ensures that employees will stay more engaged and fully embrace all areas of health—physical, mental, emotional, social, financial, and beyond.

For example, Wellable suggests that an employer includes a holistic well-being topic each month in addition to physical activity tracking. One way to do this is by creating a monthly health content calendar that focuses on a different topic each month and provides content and tips on the topic. A bonus would be to have behaviors associated with the monthly topic incorporated into the program, allowing employees to earn incentives for engaging in those behaviors. To simplify this for employers, Wellable created an easy-to-administer holistic health content calendar that pairs perfectly with a continuous program. 

Holistic Wellness Calendar

 

 

Make Reward Thresholds Attainable

Continuous programs are set up to incentivize employees with rewards for hitting certain thresholds or milestones. Generally, thresholds are measured in the form of points, and participants earn points by tracking their physical activity and/or healthy behaviors, such as steps taken and food consumed.

Many companies use a binary system for determining rewards—either a participant meets the goal or they do not. While simple, this structure has a number of drawbacks. Most notably, determining the level to set a single threshold at can be difficult. If it is set too low, many participants can earn the full reward without having to change their behaviors; if set too high, many individuals may decide not to participate because they view it as too difficult to achieve.

To address this roadblock, employers should create a tiered reward system, which includes multiple milestones. The first tier or threshold should be low enough to not discourage anyone from opting out of the program because of its difficulty. This will optimize engagement in the program. The remaining tiers should be close enough together to feel attainable once a participant achieves the tier before it. A tiered reward system should include at least three levels, but more levels provide greater flexibility and are less likely to prevent a participant from feeling like the next threshold is unattainable, both of which improve program performance.

A tiered reward system can also accommodate differences between individual participant needs without the administrative hassle of creating unique goals for each user. The highest tier should be matched for what the most active participants can attain.

If tiers are not an option because of budget restrictions, another option is a “Break The Bank” system. In this rewards model, the employer allocates a set amount of money for incentives during each reward period. At the end of each period, that amount is split evenly between the employees who hit the set point goal. This reward structure is often preferred for companies that have a restricted or fixed budget for rewards.

 

Distribute Rewards Frequently

Continuous programs have a defined period of time when rewards are distributed. Employers may choose to have the program reset points and distribute rewards monthly, quarterly, yearly, or however best fits the company’s needs.  

Wellable recommends this period be monthly because of “present bias.” In behavioral economics, present bias describes how individuals value rewards in the present more than those same rewards in the distant future. Delivering a reward closer to the completion of a milestone strengthens the motivation to continue those healthy behaviors and achieve more goals. It makes small accomplishments more meaningful and can make bigger goals more manageable by breaking them up into smaller milestones. A month is a short enough time period to keep people from procrastinating efforts to gain points or otherwise losing interest in the program over the course of a longer time period. However, a month is not too brief a time period (like daily or weekly) that it creates an unnecessary administrative burden with managing and distributing rewards so frequently. 

When rewards are distributed, the point system resets for each program period. In programs that reward at the end of the year, many employees who don’t start from day one feel like catching up is not attainable and postpone participation to the following year. When a program resets every month, an employee always has opportune times to join the program without delay.

Despite this, many employers still create programs that have participants complete activities over the course of a year and reward them annually. Employers often create programs that reward employees annually because it is easier to manage. However, if employers work with the right partner to facilitate these programs and administer the rewards, the time and resources spent on managing rewards becomes less of an issue. Wellable provides the tools, technology, and features to make this process hassle-free, allowing employers to create programs that deliver rewards monthly and get the most from their rewards budget.

 

Provide Reward Options

Rewards need to be valued by participants in order to be effective. Since individuals are unique and value things differently, it can be hard to pick a single reward that is perfect for everyone. This is why it is easier and more effective to provide multiple reward options and let employees choose the one they prefer. For example, a participant could choose paid time off (PTO) compared to cash if they value time off more than a monetary reward. Since personal preferences can change over time, allowing employees to switch between options is also important.

Below is an example of a continuous program reward structure. Wellable considers this reward structure a best practice for many reasons. The rewards are delivered frequently (monthly) and participants can choose the prize they most prefer and will be motivated by. If a participant’s preference shifts, they are allowed to change their reward selection anytime during a program. Additionally, the tiered rewards structure encourages everyone to participate and improve incrementally.

Continuous Wellness Challenge Table 

Communicate Clearly, Minimize Emails

Since participants are working toward goals by earning points on a system that remains the same throughout the duration of the entire program, they generally don’t need to receive as many emails as they would during a traditional wellness challenge. Emails that are sent out during the month (or whatever the set time period for rewards may be) have a recurring schedule that matches previous and future months, which reduces administrative work and excessive notifications that may bother or overwhelm employees. For an even simpler approach, instead of distributing email notifications, program details and current statistics can be easily accessible within online user accounts.

 

Reward Options

Employers have many incentives to choose from when selecting rewards: cash, gift cards, paid time off, premium differentials, Health Savings Account (HSA) contributions, and more. Below are some examples of common rewards offered in continuous programs.

  • Cash – This reward, which is most often processed through payroll, provides the greatest flexibility for employees. For those employers who cannot process this reward through payroll, Wellable partners with an organization to provide direct deposit of cash rewards into employee bank accounts.
  • Gift Cards – These are obvious and popular choices. They work as a great motivator because they can be used immediately and on items that the employee values. An increasingly popular option are Amazon gift cards because the breadth of the Amazon store makes the gift cards equivalent to cash.
  • Health Savings Account (HSA) – Contributions to these tax-advantaged medical savings accounts supports employee financial wellness. However, HSAs are only available to employees with high-deductible health plans (HDHPs).
  • Flexible Spending Account (FSA) – Similar to an HSA, these contributions have tax benefits without requiring the recipient to be a member of a HDHP.
  • Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) – HRAs are an IRS-approved, employer-funded, tax-advantaged employer health benefit plan that reimburses employees for out-of-pocket medical expenses and individual health insurance premiums. Companies that don’t offer high-deductible plans or are more budget-conscious might prefer HRAs to HSAs. Earning HRA dollars is a great way for employees to reinvest back into their well-being by making the cost impact of their health plan less significant. However, the lack of control and no guarantee of rollover makes HRAs less useful in improving employee financial wellness and helping with retirement.
  • Paid Time Off (PTO) – PTO can be a great option for employers on a tight rewards budget because it can be a non-cash expense (but it needs to be accrued on the balance sheet). Employees get the relaxation and mental wellness benefits of being able to take a vacation and recharge. However, as unlimited vacation days also become a popular benefit, this option might not fit into every company’s program. This can also be an irrelevant reward to those that do not use all their vacation days normally. 
  • Premium Differential – For employees who have a portion of their wages deducted to pay for their share of a health insurance premium, this reward allows them to lower that financial burden by participating in a wellness program. By completing certain healthy behaviors and hitting certain goals, employees can increase their take home pay.
  • Company Swag – Employers appreciate company swag because it allows a company’s best asset (their people) to promote the brand and business. It only makes sense to integrate a wellness program, which is designed to improve the health and productivity of an organization’s people, with goods that allow those people to promote the company. Also, company swag that is already purchased will not require additional budget. Employers can also make wellness program-specific swag to promote their commitment to employee health.

As noted earlier, the best way to motivate employees is by offering multiple options and allowing employees to choose the reward they most prefer. Concerns over administrative burdens often lead employers to avoid creating diverse rewards offerings. Using a vendor like Wellable can eliminate these issues with offering multiple rewards. Regardless of which types of rewards or how many are offered, it’s important that they always align with what employees want as well as an employer’s goals.

 

Conclusion

If a continuous program is right for an employer, working with a software vendor like Wellable can make the process effective and easy by making the best practices feasible and eliminating administrative burdens associated with tracking points and allocating rewards. For both continuous program or wellness challenges, Wellable can provide monthly health content, deliver rewards, automate emails, track activity, run reports and analytics, and more!