Sedentary work and physical inactiveness have increased enormously in the recent years. As a solution, some companies are introducing workplace weight-loss programs.
While the modern-day workplace is rife with technology and other advancements that have made it more efficient, productive and profitable from a business standpoint, it seems much of that progress is having an adverse effect on the collective waistline—and well-being in general—of America’s workforce.
According to James A. Levine, an obesity specialist at the Mayo Clinic, “… Sedentary jobs have increased 83% since 1950 and physically active jobs now make up only about 25% of our workforce, which is 50% less than in 1950.” According to Dr. Vince Kerr, director of Health Care Management at Ford Motor Company, obesity in particular, has a “devastating impact” on employees’ health and, in turn, creates a ripple effect on their employers’ bottom line. He further explained that companies experience a loss in excess of $12 billion per year due to lowered productivity, higher health care rates, elevated health and disability insurance premiums, increased absenteeism and other associated weight and obesity-related conditions.
As troubling, “diet scams are big business with sellers vying for their share of the more than $60 billion that Americans spend each year on weight loss products and programs,” according to one report. Such scams keep consumers stuck in the vicious cycle of gain/loss/gain while bilking their bank account and lowering their productivity in the workplace. All too often even legitimate programs become a revolving door of weight back up and dollars out. Amid these truths, two visionary entrepreneurs, David Roddenberry and Jimmy Fleming, believed there was a different way to motivate healthy, long-term weight loss—one that would actually allow dieters to profit from their pound-shedding success.
I connected with Roddenberry and Fleming who founded HealthyWage—a company that financially incentivizes people, both individuals and teams, to successfully lose weight by utilizing proven “carrot and stick” methodology. These men studied the reasons behind why people have trouble sticking to a diet regime, maintaining weight loss, as well as research-driven factors that can promote dieting success beyond the norm. This included academic research substantiating that even small cash rewards triple the effectiveness of weight-loss programs; that people are more effective at losing weight when their own money is at risk; and that social networks play a large role in the spread of obesity, and will likely play a large role in reversing obesity.
As a result, they have pioneered a profitable incentivized health-based business with a unique marketing approach designed to target health-minded organizations willing to think outside-the-box to boost their bottom line. So successful is their “pay for pounds” approach, HealthyWage has formally created competitive, cash-fueled programs for more than 90 Fortune 500 and over 600 other companies, hospitals, health systems, insurers, school systems, municipal governments and other organizations throughout the U.S. and their program has been more informally run at more than 3,000 companies and organizations.
Various studies continue to substantiate HealthyWage’s approach. In fact, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, “nearly half of large employers offering screenings and wellness programs use some sort of financial incentive to persuade employees to comply.” For its part, more than 200,000 HealthyWage.com participants across America having collectively lost over 10 million pounds and gained over $2.5 million in cash prizes for their pound-shedding success, and with many program participants losing 100+ pounds with the program.
Fleming says, “Human resource and corporate wellness departments often struggle to maximize two essential performance indicators: uptake, relating to the portion of eligible employees that actually participate in a given program, and behavior change outcomes. Few wellness programs can honestly represent to have achieved meaningful numbers on either of these fronts, much less both. That may explain why employers are increasingly focused on a wellness approach like ours offering cash-based wellness challenges, which consistently drives both uptake and outcomes. These team-based challenges are proving to be increasingly effective at engaging employees and helping them succeed in making a change.”
Fleming and Roddenberry attribute HealthyWage’s success to four specific, mission-critical factors that other businesses can similarly employ to boost their own revenue, which are:
1. Harness Competitive Cultures
What HealthyWage does: HealthyWage designs challenges that tap into a characteristic rampant in the American landscape: competitiveness. Friendly competition enhances the success of wellness programs, motivating participants to improve upon their most stubborn unhealthy behaviors. The competition element even motivates more men to get involved with a workplace weight-loss program than would be the case otherwise. Workers’ desires to win, or to avoid losing or being left out, provides two critical tools that are often lacking: a reason to start and a reason not to quit. Staying the course with a desire to perform well helps participants achieve measurable results, whether that be related to weight loss, smoking cessation, or other modifiable health-related behaviors.
Wellness competition is most exciting (and effective) when it takes place on multiple levels: among participants on a team, among members of an office location or department, among employees within a company, and also between employers vis a vis “company v. company.” For example, in 2016 HealthyWage executed its “Third Annual Energy Industry Challenge,” where energy giants like Conoco Phillips, Schlumberger and many others locked horns in a weight loss contest that helped thousands of energy industry employees shed hundreds of thousands of pounds. This Energy Industry Challenge has grown nearly 300% since its first year, prompting HealthyWage to offer other industry-specific challenges, including those in the Law and Education sectors. The Big Law Wellness Challenge currently engages twelve large American law firms from across the nation, and the Education challenge brought together nine large school districts for the same purpose—to increase the health and well-being of staffers and benefit the business bottom lines in kind.
What other companies can similarly do: The concept of competition-fueled motivators that HealthyWage is successfully leveraging are easily adaptable to most any business setting and can be readily adapted to fit the infrastructure of a given business. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that fully 69% of Americans between the ages of 18-24 don’t meet the federal guidelines for physical activity. However, researchers are finding that key motivators can help people become more physically active and healthier. For example, one study published in Preventative Medicine Reports found that social media could encourage participants to exercises, coupled with prizes they were awarded prizes based on the level of engagement. The study showed that participants motivated by competing with others had a 90% higher attendance rate to the fitness and nutrition classes.
2. Gamify to Increase Program Participation
What HealthyWage does: HealthyWage challenges go beyond the competitive appeal and extensively “gamify” the experience to make the challenges irresistibly fun. Research supports the company’s belief that ”gamification”—the inclusion of elements designed to make an event more fun, including competition, social features, mini-challenges, scoring points, leaderboards and recognition, awards, rewards, etc.—drives deeper and more continuous engagement and stronger outcomes.
HealthyWage participants can voluntarily submit “sweaty selfies,” group exercise photos and fun thematic team spirit photos. One might not expect the buttoned-up cultures of some companies to yield many photos, but HealthyWage’s “challenge boards” contain tens of thousands of group photos of notable corporate executives, professionals, secretaries, factory workers and everyone in between. To further increase the fun factor and spirit of competition, participants can also check out leaderboards that detail each team’s standing within the challenge as well as the rank of each team member. Moving up in the standings or even within your team becomes a great source of motivation as does the opportunity to become the MVP or the “most improved” of the week. Moreover, participants earn ribbons for every 2% weight loss they achieve (with cash prizes for the top ribbon earners) and a gold star for each weekly weigh-in they complete. Additional bi-weekly “mini-challenges” further turn vital behaviors like calorie counting into a rewarded activity.
What other companies can similarly do: There is no discrepancy between white and blue collar businesses when it comes to having fun. Again, the key to success for any business using a gamification strategy is only as limited as each company’s imagination. According to Pulse Learning, around 70% of employees are disengaged from their work or outright bored with it. However, 70% also said they’d be more productive and feel more motivated if gamification was added to the work environment. A Talent LMS Survey also found that more than 75% of people define themselves as gamers (some casual and some moderate- to full-fledged gamers). Almost 80% stated they’d be more productive if their work was more game-like, and some favorite gamification techniques can be easily implemented in the workplace. For example, progressing to higher levels, competing with or against friends, and performance-based rewards with real world value.
3. Leverage the Power of Teams and Social Networks
What HealthyWage does: One ground-breaking study out of the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School highlighted how having an overweight or obese network made one more likely to be overweight or obese oneself, while a second study out of the University of Arizona explained why. While the study was more focused on the negative influence of one’s peer group, there is evidence to suggest that the same factors responsible for negative behaviors leading to weight gain that’s worsened by social networks may also prompt the reverse adoption of healthy choices leading to weight loss. Because HealthyWage challenges are run in teams, the influence of each of those peer group pathways is strong. Each teammate is accountable not only to themselves, but to each individual on the team. When team success relies on one’s individual success, everyone wins. Because of this, teammates are more motivated to push through difficult times or make the hard decision when they are, in part, responsible for other people’s ability to win prize money.
Some teams take it upon themselves to heighten this concept, with rewards or penalties instituted on an internal team level. One team at a Fortune 50 company named the “17% BFFB team” offered $10 for each pound lost to each team member as an additional incentive. Other teams have created contracts with one another to commit to specific activities and behaviors for the duration of the challenge, while others held their own private weekly meetings and mandatory weekly weigh-ins to ensure everyone remained on track.
As technology continues to keep businesses connected 24/7, so does it enable the growth of relationships across those companies, creating vast networks of virtual support. Since social support has proven time and again to be a crucial element in a successful weight loss program and because employees spend so much time at work, it makes sense that engaging these co-worker networks would only increase the likelihood of weight loss success. HealthyWage’s team-based weight loss challenges puts to use both positive and negative peer pressure, accountability, collaboration and monkey-see-monkey-do pathways. When combined with expert support, rewards and competition, the stage is set for weight loss success.
What other companies can similarly do: When it comes to workplace teams and social networks, the dynamics will depend upon the types of teams that are formed: CEOs versus subordinates, managers versus support staff or a friendly mixture of everyone divided evenly. This particular strategy can foster a healthier emotional environment as barriers are broken down and staff members begin to relate to one another as people working toward the same goal instead of according to the title they hold or department in which they work. According to a report from Clear Company, as many as 39% of employees feel that their organization doesn’t create enough collaboration with employees or listen to employee ideas. Yet, 75% of employers state that teamwork and collaboration are extremely important to the success of the company. Even though employers agree that more collaboration is ideal, it seems as though it isn’t always implemented.
There are some things that can and should be done to encourage collaboration, including positive recognition, encouragement from upper management and communication between different teams and team leaders.
4. Use the All-Powerful Motivator: Money
What HealthyWage does: Finally, money talks, and in more than just one way. Once again the research is clear, pointing to both incentives and loss-aversion as powerful motivators for weight loss. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that dieters offered monetary incentives for weight loss shed more pounds and were more likely to achieve their goal than those who were not. Further, having “skin in the game” by way of money is an asset unto itself when it comes to weight loss. The chances of succeeding at something as significant as a changing one’s lifestyle rises substantially when a person’s own money is at stake.
HealthyWage offers both an incentive and a loss-aversion pathway. Participants must put their own money on the line when registering for a competitive team challenge or an individual weight loss bet. They are further incentivized to achieve, not just by the nature of the competition and the positive peer pressure from their team, but also from the potential for a large monetary reward for success, often upwards of $10,000.
What other companies can similarly do: Money talks. And, it talks louder when it’s your personal money at stake. According to Gallup, a paltry 34.1% of U.S .workers are engaged with their jobs. Because of this, Bloomberg BNA reports that around $11 billion annually is lost because of employee turnover. Clearly, it makes more sense to engage existing employees and retain them in the organization rather than dealing with incessant and avoidable staff churn. While it’s intuitive, money-driven incentive programs, contests, challenges and rewards can be more creatively leveraged and weaved into employee engagement initiatives. Such fiscal-forward programs can instantly captivate employees and not only motivate them, but also foster employee appreciation, loyalty, goodwill, word-of-mouth and many other intangible yet mission-critical advantages.
“Our company’s ‘dieting for dollars’ approach is a departure from conventional workplace wellness programs that focus on health assessment and education,” notes Roddenberry. “Many employees are already well aware of the fact that their lifestyle choices are unhealthy. The real issue is not a lack of information, but rather a lack of accountability and structured motivation. Our challenges provide these missing pieces and drive metrics better than any other approach we’ve seen, in a way demonstrated to generate ROI.”
Since its foundation in 2009, HealthyWage has helped throngs of Fortune 500 and other companies not only bring health and wellness back to their employees but also boost profitability by employing healthier individuals. Perhaps one or more of the four key factors above that have helped facilitate this extraordinary success story can be adapted to your own business model, helping you break boundaries and pioneer lasting change.
DISCLAIMER: This article expresses my own ideas and opinions. Any information I have shared are from sources that I believe to be reliable and accurate. I did not receive any financial compensation in writing this post, nor do I own any shares in any company I’ve mentioned. I encourage any reader to do their own diligent research first before making any investment decisions.
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