Designing for Behavior: New Tools for Effective Health & Wellness Strategy

Effective wellness programs can have far-reaching impacts—and not just to the employer’s bottom line. With benefits ranging from improving employee health, satisfaction and productivity to reducing health care costs and freeing up funds to drive organizational goals, wellness programs are an important part of a strategic benefits package.

As with any investment, however, it’s crucial to know how to get the most out of your wellness initiatives—both for you and your employees. Today, Benefitfocus and guests got the inside scoop from Eric Zimmerman, Chief Marketing Officer at RedBrick Health. In his One Place 2015 session, Creating Health Engagement & Behavior Change: The New Paradigm in Health & Wellness, Zimmerman revealed how behavior design can significantly improve engagement levels and influence new habits in an effective health and wellness program. But don’t worry if you missed the session! We’re not keeping the insight to ourselves! We’ll walk you through the highlights here.

Wellness, behavior design and engagement

“Designing for effective behavior change doesn’t have to be hard. By applying some clear thinking—and not falling into the common traps of blaming lack of motivation, or trying to educate people into changing—you can increase engagement, create a better employee experience, and more effectively reach your population health improvement goals.” – Eric Zimmerman, Chief Marketing Officer RedBrick Health

You’ve invested in positive change. Don’t settle for the status quo. It may seem obvious, but a great first step toward ensuring the effectiveness of your wellness program is to focus on what make people tick. When evaluating your wellness approach, try starting with people’s existing motivations, offering relevant choices and creating feedback mechanisms. Chronic illnesses may be driving the cost, but it’s the behaviors that are driving the chronic illnesses. Designing around the needs and intrinsic motivations of consumers—rather than leading with the risks and illnesses—can help you engage a much higher percentage of the chronic condition population that accounts for the largest portion of health care spending.

There are five core conditions that sap employees’ health and employers’ budgets. These include Diabetes, CAD, COPD, Asthma and CHF. Addressing the underlying lifestyle issues (nutrition, weight, fitness, stress, tobacco use, etc.) and overall wellbeing rather than focusing your program marketing on the conditions themselves can result in better engagement and measurable improvements to the success of your wellness program. But an effective design is just a hollow framework if your employees don’t come along. To achieve better results, you need to win your employees’ attention. Compelling and fresh program content drives sustained engagement!

Reaping the benefits of a strategic wellness program design

According to data from RedBrick Health, positive change in biometric outcomes (e.g., weight, cholesterol and blood pressure) and behavior change outcomes (e.g., healthier eating, higher activity levels and better stress management) are more likely to result from wellness programs that incorporate effective health engagement and behavior design principles.

During his session, Zimmerman shared five essential factors of effective behavior design:

Tap existing motivations

If your employees seem unmotivated to participate in your program, then you may not be addressing what’s important to them. Incentives (extrinsic motivators) help capture attention... but to really help new habits form, find ways to link desired behaviors to intrinsic motivations—what really moves us. 

Offer relevant choices

When people choose what they’d like to engage in, and how they’d like to engage, good things happen. RedBrick Health calls it “putting the person back into the personalization.” Become a choice architect:

  • Recognize the power of the default
  • Structure complexity, limit options
  • Map to the “known”
  • Give frequent feedback
  • Beware of unintended consequences!

Focus on small steps

Big goals can overwhelm. Think about the last time you successfully learned something new—you probably broke the desired goal down into small pieces. Behavior is like that. Start small and let success build its own momentum.

Use behavior cues

Everyone needs a little nudge—especially when changing a behavior. Building in personalized reminders go a long way to helping new habits form. Allowing each person to choose how and when they receive notifications is the best way to ensure success.

Reinforce progress

When forming new habits, feedback is key—early and often. Rewards can be powerful tools to drive the bigger wellness goal, especially when you make them timely and relevant. But even small pats on the back and simple reminders of the person’s intrinsic motivation to change can be equally powerful.

While these guidelines are useful, don’t forget who knows your organization best… You! Keep communication channels open with your employees and study your program performance data to ensure your strategies continue to be effective. Now that you know a few of the secrets, get to work and make the change you want to see!

RedBrick Health powers engaging and effective employee health and wellness solutions combining the latest behavioral science, cutting edge technology and data analytics tools. The RedBrick Health Platform interfaces with BENEFITFOCUS® Marketplace to reinvigorate and improve the performance of employers’ health and wellness initiatives.

Learn how you can boost employee engagement and maximize the return on your investment in health by incorporating powerful health and wellness solutions into your benefits program.