Engagement in wellness… is it effective?

By Mike Quigg

In today’s healthcare world, the word “engagement” is a rather popular buzzword … there’s often the thought that if we can simply get members “engaged” they will be healthier, happier and more productive. It begs the questions however, what is engagement, and what are you looking to get out of it, and how do we get that level and type of engagement?

Recently I flipped through some notes from my graduate studies classes that was focused on patient engagement in healthcare. Engagement is defined as “a person’s sustained participation in managing their health in a way that creates necessary self-efficacy to achieve physical, mental and social well-being.” I thought, “I really love this take on engagement, but wow that seems like quite a feat to accomplish!” However, when your goal is to improve the quality of people’s lives by improving their health, it isn’t something that is accomplished with a simpler definition. We are living in an era of amazing innovation and advancement in healthcare, and at the same time, we are seeing the prevalence of chronic disease– of which many are heavily influenced by modifiable life choices – rise.

It seems like a rather simple concept:  just get our employees “engaged” in better habits, tell them how their behavior today may lead to a premature death. Should that not inspire better lifestyle choices? Well, it should, but human behavior is complicated in that way.  We face hundreds of choices a day and sometimes we made bad ones leading us to choose the cheeseburger over the salad … because we get immediate gratification from the burger instead of the long-term benefits of the salad. For the record, I enjoy a burger too!) The point is that people are wired to behave a bit irrationally when it comes to decision making and unique as we all are, different things motivate and influence certain decisions.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to driving engagement. Especially when your goal is as serious as improving people’s health. It’s a real, emotional and impactful thing we are trying to do, and it isn’t accomplished by focusing on just challenges, or fancy technology. It is accomplished in a holistic ecosystem of health and wellness that allows people – regardless of their health status or motivation – to find ways meaningful to them to begin or continue engaging in healthier lifestyle behaviors. But what does it look like in practice? It takes thoughtful incentive strategies that are anchored in such a way so that members are motivated to engage in habit-forming behavior sustained over time. It takes support from the employer in active and ongoing communication. It takes tapping into change management principals and providing short-term wins in the form of immediate rewards to recognize peoples efforts. It takes social support in the form of including family members at home and social networks within the office. And it takes leveraging technology to make it easy to understand and participate. That is a lot to consider and do to drive engagement that improves people’s health. But it is necessary. People are unique in their motivations, and being healthy is hard. There isn’t any one component, strategy or action that is a silver bullet, but it is in the totality of a holistic health and wellness program that will enable, inspire and improve people’s quality of life.

To see how combining incentives, program components, and company supports structures together can drive engagement see Vitality’s 2017 Engagement Study.

Mike Quigg, MS, Director of Health Strategy, Vitality



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