How to Encourage Employees to Get (and Stay) Fit

Breaking new ground in employee health and wellness requires looking beyond the status quo, and being willing to take a few risks.

That insight, and where it led us, is one of the chief reasons Glassdoor selected my company, Health Catalyst, one of their Best Places to Work in 2016. Sure, we offer unlimited time off, great compensation, a mission-driven and highly successful business situated in one of the great cities for outdoors enjoyment, Salt Lake City. But one of the most popular elements of our benefits package is something that nearly every company of our size offers — our wellness program.

Over the last two years, we’ve used the program not only to improve the health of team members, but to encourage teamwork, fun and healthy rewards. Yet our first foray into employee wellness didn’t go so well.

In 2013, with little experience in fostering employee health, we turned to the wellness program offered by our insurance broker. It had everything that common wisdom told us a wellness program needed. Yet it wasn’t the least bit engaging and, not surprisingly, for the most part our employees weren’t using it.

[Related: Employers, here are the benefits employees want most]

Confronted by the failure of our broker’s wellness program, in 2013 we decided to develop our own. We figured if an award-winning healthcare technology company with hundreds of years of cumulative clinical experience on board can’t build a better wellness program, who can?

Wellness = better health habits

Our search for better wellness strategies came out of our belief that a successful work environment, where team members can grow and perform to their full potential, depends closely on their overall health and well-being. And there is no better determinant of both overall health and a feeling of well-being than an individual’s daily health routines.

Get Fit Stay Fit: a program for team members, their families, and friends

With a strong conviction that we could do better, we began developing our new wellness program by asking two questions. What behaviors have the most significant impact on health? And what would encourage team members to engage in a wellness program?

We came up with the following four answers:

  • Eating well and getting enough sleep
  • Motivation (similar activities, team dynamics/gamification)
  • Practicing mindfulness or meditation
  • Being physically active

Those four elements became the major categories of our new wellness program, which we call Get Fit Stay Fit. Developed by team members for team members, Get Fit Stay Fit incorporates principles of gamification and behavioral science. It uses teamwork, competition, rewards, and fun to motivate Health Catalyst team members to adopt healthy behaviors, make positive changes and sustain those changes.

Because we’re a technology company with a lot of tech-savvy team members, we knew the program had to be tech-friendly if it was going to succeed. So we developed a Get Fit Stay Fit app for iPhone and Android devices that participants can use to track their activity. The app connects with fitness wearables including Garmin, Fitbit, Apple’s HealthKit and Google Fit for automated tracking, and enables manual tracking of other activities (like a yoga class or a trip to the climbing gym).

Peer pressure can be good

Another foundational element of Get Fit Stay Fit is its use of healthy peer pressure to drive engagement. We wanted everyone’s health to improve, and we also knew that it would be easier for our team members to maintain lifestyle changes if their friends and loved ones were also participating in the challenge.

Building positive peer pressure into the program has proven key to its success. Together with healthy peer pressure, teamwork, competition, rewards, and fun motivates team members to embrace healthy behaviors and maintain them over time.

The results speak for themselves

How successful has the new program been? Because we’re an analytics company, it was fairly easy for us to enable a number of analyses on the backend that help us assess its effectiveness. The results to date have been profound.

Our Q3 2015 Get Fit Stay Fit Challenge had 353 of our team members enrolled — an 84% participation rate. And because we designed the program to include team members’ friends and family, the total number of participants was actually much higher, at 640. Altogether, participants walked over 120,000 miles, biked over 17,695 miles, got the right amount of sleep on 19,764 nights, and practiced over 7,218 hours of mindfulness.

Personal accountability meets corporate responsibility

Wellness is central to our culture of collective responsibility at Health Catalyst. Our experience has taught us that a successful wellness program can provide tangible benefits to both the company and our team members. The company is rewarded as the team member population collectively manages care costs. Cost savings, which can grow over time through sustained stewardship, can lead to a number of rewards for team members. The company can elect to declare a health insurance premium holiday (eliminating monthly payments for a set period of time), reduce premium payments, or increase plan benefits without increasing premiums.

Wellness is not a luxury

The bottom line? A strong employee wellness program is no longer a luxury, but a strategic imperative. It can be the first step to encouraging better health and creating meaningful, positive change in the lives of employees and their families.

And if the solutions on the market aren’t working for your company, don’t be afraid to branch out, take chances and explore new strategies. With the right approach, you’ll be surprised how easy it can be to motivate team members to get fit and stay fit.

Jeff Selander is Chief People Officer of Health Catalyst, a leader in healthcare data warehousing, analytics and outcomes improvement whose clients serve more than 50 million people across the United States.

This article was originally published on Glassdoor.