Investing in an employee health improvement program brings a two-fold benefit. The most obvious benefit is that it can significantly lower healthcare costs by reducing chronic disease and associated complications among your employee population. A study by the Milken Institute found that employers lose $1 trillion each year due to unaddressed employee chronic illnesses. The other benefit may be less obvious, which is increased employee loyalty. Providing such a program shows employees that you’re committed to helping them live a healthier life. In fact, a survey by MetLife found that more than 70% of employees would feel more loyal to their employer if they were offered a personalized health benefits plan. The key word here is “personalized.”
What does it mean to “personalize” a health improvement program?
Most wellness and health improvement programs are designed around standard curriculum, much like a traditional classroom. Everyone begins on page one of the first assignment and then progresses through the material. It’s like saying to participants, “Here’s your lesson plan. Good luck!” For some, portions of the material might be meaningful and lead to positive change. But for many, that’s not the case. This is evident in the fact that so many employees lose motivation and interest in an employer-sponsored health improvement program within just a few months of its launch. In many cases, participants lose motivation because they aren’t seeing the type of results they expected or they think the program is just too hard. Regardless of the reason, any short-term improvements may quickly be lost.
That’s where personalization comes into play. Rather than offering employees a standard one-size-fits-all curriculum-based program, they need a program that is curated just for them. This means content and tactics designed around their unique goals, needs, and lifestyle. For example, one person may have a healthy diet but, due to a desk job, have trouble getting more than 2,000 daily steps. Another may be an exercise fanatic but can’t walk past a cookie jar without grabbing a handful. Yet another may do well with eating and working out but they just don’t have as much energy as they’d like. In a personalized program, each of these individual’s plans will look somewhat different, each focusing on different things at different times based on the participant’s unique needs.
Learn more about how Shon’s experience with personalized habit change made all the difference. Click here to read.
Another benefit of personalization is that it takes into consideration an employee’s personality and preferences. Some people enjoy group exercises while others prefer to work out alone. Some enjoy cooking while others detest spending time in the kitchen. Accommodating these preferences is critical to success. Forcing a person who dislikes cooking to prepare meals at home won’t achieve long-term health improvements. The plan must fit the participant. There are countless ways to adapt a program for every personality and lifestyle.
Insight from Genetics to Guide Behavior Change
Genetic testing is another way to personalize a health improvement program. We now know that DNA makeup can influence a person’s ability to achieve optimal health. For instance, our genes determine how our bodies break down fat, which can make it more challenging for some to lose or gain weight. Individuals with this genetic makeup may need a more rigorous workout plan to boost metabolism. The presence of another genetic marker influences an individual’s appetite, which can make it harder for them to recognize when they’re full. Eating slower and more mindfully might be a focus in this person’s plan. A third influential genetic marker regulates a person’s stress-related cravings. This person’s plan might include stress-reduction tactics like meditation and getting more sleep.
Coaching Makes an Impact
Of all the factors in a personalized health improvement program, coaching and accountability are of the highest importance. These make up a dynamic duo that can make or break a participant’s ability to be successful. Research shows that coaching improves outcomes, reduces costs and hospitalizations, and leads to significant weight loss. While some health improvement programs offer variations of coaching, the most successful are those that match the coach to the participant based on personality. For example, an outgoing, Type A personality may prefer a coach who is more direct and assertive. But another type of personality may find this type of coaching to be intimidating. This person may do better with someone who offers calm encouragement. Coaches will be with the participant throughout the program so having a positive relationship from the beginning will make the program more enjoyable and successful.
Coaches are also important to success because they help hold participants accountable. They can regularly review goals, suggest changes when things aren’t working, and help participants work through doubt or those inevitable plateaus.
Another way to create a more personalized health improvement program is technology. AI and machine learning identify the most effective tactics for behavior change for the individual. For example, these technologies can pinpoint when a participant is most likely to track progress in their program’s smartphone app, when they prefer to work out, and when the person is most likely to step on a smart scale. Over time, these technologies make the program even more effective by working hand-in-hand with connected health devices to create a more personalized experience.
Putting it all together
Achieving health improvement is not a one-and-done effort. It’s a life-long commitment, the foundation of which is building small habits that produce big health improvements over time. But to be successful, health improvement programs must be personalized to the individual. If the plans don’t match participants where they are, if they don’t account for each person’s unique personality, goals, and lifestyle, and if they don’t include coaching and accountability, they are likely to fail.
You want employees who are healthy, who begin their workday well rested, energized, and fully committed. You want to reduce healthcare costs so you can invest more in strategic initiatives to grow the business. And employees want to know their employer cares about them enough to invest in their health. Having a personalized health improvement program is a win-win for everyone.
To learn more about best practices in leveraging hyper-personalization to support habit change, check out our guide here.