Emerging Trends in Wellness Programs

By David Ashworth

The work of a wellness program administrator is never done. Just when you finish implementing all of the latest technology and techniques, a new wave of emerging trends crashes onto the health scene. As such, it should come as no surprise that in order for a wellness program to remain relevant and competitive, employers must stay on top of these emerging trends.

As new devices and programs become available, administrators should determine whether they fit into the company’s culture, and if so to incorporate them into the company’s wellness program as quickly as possible in order to offer employees the complete package and attract or retain high-quality workers. The success of a wellness program, and therefore the health of the entire company, is dependent upon its ability to stay on top of trends.

A Look Back at Past Trends

Over the past two years, wellness administrators focused on implementing three emerging trends into their programs: wearable devices, wellness challenges and advanced analytics. Let’s take a deeper look into how these trends improved wellness programs before we discuss this year’s newcomers.

  • Wearable Devices – Since wearable tracking devices became more stylish, functional and affordable in recent years, their popularity as tools to use in wellness challenges and incentives has grown greatly. A tracking device improves the accountability of the user by automatically recording data, such as step count or heart rate, and lessens the chances of mistakes or misrepresentation that accompanied the inputting of numbers manually. Modern wearable devices also include additional features beyond the standard step counting technology, including heart rate monitors, calorie counters and sleep tracking capabilities, which allow them to be used to monitor and record a variety of health-related activities for use in challenges. Even with this technology, administrators should be sure to allow manual entry or administrative override to accommodate days when people’s devices are not functioning, or out of power. Since wearables are now more affordable than in the past, many companies are able to provide employees with fitness trackers as an incentive to join the wellness program.
  • Wellness Challenges and Gamification – In connection with the prevalence of wearable devices, wellness challenges and incentives have skyrocketed in popularity. Many people are competitive by nature and participating in challenges on teams or against their coworkers has proven to be a good motivational strategy. Thanks to wearable devices, tracking results of competitions, such as step count or calories burned, became easier and more accurate than ever. Wellness portals also now offer the capability to create sub-groups to divide the workplace according to athletic ability. Competing against coworkers with a similar skill level fosters a healthy environment in which many people can succeed without feeling discouraged by the constant wins of more advanced peers. By implementing social challenges that motivate employees to participate in wellness programs, administrators can help decrease the overall cost of healthcare for the company.
  • Advanced Analytics -Wellness programs have begun to offer more advanced analytical features that allowed administrators to further investigate their company’s population health and pinpoint which issues needed the most attention. By combining biometric information with medical and pharmaceutical claims, companies are now able to identify trends and make better decisions to improve the company’s health and lower healthcare costs.

Emerging Trends in 2019

Now that you have seen the way that past trends improved wellness programs, let’s look at how this year’s incoming trends will impact the health and business worlds. There are four emerging trends to consider in 2019: intelligent personalization, social recognition, virtual wellness and smarter analytics.

  • Intelligent Personalization – One of the top trends in wellness programs in 2019 is intelligent personalization. Since every person has a different set of health needs, it is important that wellness programs are able to be personalized to the individual and accommodate their preferences. Furthermore, by utilizing intelligent personalization, administrators can discover the primary health risks within the company and identify problem areas that can be focused on to decrease healthcare costs. Administrators can send personalized and targeted messages to individuals directly from the reports, which serve as a call to action instead of simply a piece of information. Through targeted messages, employees can be made aware of the health programs that benefit them without being inundated with information that is not relevant to their health.
  • Social Recognition – Considering that social media plays a big role in people’s everyday lives, it’s not surprising that commenting, liking and posting achievements to a community board is becoming common in wellness programs as well. By offering a public forum for participants to both share their progress and cheer on fellow employees, it fosters a supportive environment that encourages people to reach their goals. Managers and team leaders can also boost wellness program morale by praising employee achievements and offering incentive points for tangible rewards. The more that people feel their efforts are being recognized and appreciated, the more likely they are to try their best and ultimately improve their health.
  • Virtual Wellness – Many companies offer flexible work schedules that allow for remote work and non-traditional hours. By shifting the wellness program to provide a variety of activities and resources to employees, particularly ones that can always be accessed from any location, it gives people more opportunities to interact with the program and take better control of their health. This would allow remote workers – or people working in distant locations – to feel “included” as part of the employee base. One way to do this is to offer online classes to reach more employees at times that are convenient to their schedule. A primary goal of every wellness program should be to increase engagement, and offering virtual wellness classes and information is a great way to recruit new participants who may have had trouble fitting traditional wellness program offerings into their busy schedules.
  • Smarter Analytics – While previous years focused on advanced analytics, this year takes it a step further with the spotlight on smarter analytics. Technology continues to constantly improve, which offers administrators the ability to delve even deeper into statistics to get a better understanding of a company’s health and the ways that the wellness program can improve it. With smarter analytics, administrators can generate reports that answer specific questions as well as layer multiple reports, such as biometrics, health risk assessments, incentives and challenges, to get a clearer picture of what is and is not working in terms of health care.

These four emerging trends will continue to impact wellness programs over the next year or so. Make sure that your clients are ready for them, and all future trends, by starting to incorporate them into game plans now.  After all, nobody wants to be caught falling behind.

David Ashworth, chief executive officer at MediKeeper,  has more than 30 years experience heading local, regional and global businesses – from start-ups to $4 billion companies. He has held management positions in organizations in Europe, Asia and the United States. David holds a BA in business administration from Lady Spencer Churchill College in Oxford, England, and has attended INSEAD Business School and the Stanford Executive Program. To learn more about the emerging trends in wellness programs and how they will impact your plans for employee wellness, read Four Emerging Employee Wellness Trends for 2019.