The Benefits of a Data-Driven Approach to Employee Wellness

According to the CDC, about half of U.S. employers offer a health and wellness program. That’s great news because more than 150 million Americans spend most of their waking hours each week working. That makes the workplace an ideal location to provide resources to help employees learn to live healthier lives. But the workplace is changing in many ways, including the increased prevalence of remote work and more focus on using data in decision-making. Wellness programs should adapt too.

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Even before the coronavirus outbreak, remote work was on the rise. Since the pandemic struck, millions more are working from home. And it’s not just the workplace that is evolving. The workforce has also changed. As consumers, people are used to expecting targeted interactions. As a result, employees have an inherent expectation that they will receive a similar targeted interaction from their employers, emphasizing the importance for companies to use data to personalize services.

A Data-Driven Wellness Approach Works Better for Employees

A modern workplace wellness program can become more data-driven by collecting and acting on information gathered from employees via questionnaires and lab results. This approach works better for employees because it identifies individuals’ unique issues and allows the company to respond with targeted resources to help them resolve their personal wellness pain points.

From the employee’s perspective, a data-driven wellness approach results in greater levels of personalization. Traditional wellness programs offer one-size-fits all communications and resources for a variety of wellness issues like smoking, eating habits and stress. In a data-driven program, employees get outreach and initiatives tailored to their health status and wellness objectives.

For example, a non-smoking employee who struggles with stress could receive targeted resources to help them deal with that specific concern. The company could offer an online cognitive-behavioral course to help them learn coping mechanisms and become more resilient in the face of challenging circumstances instead of providing smoking cessation advice they don’t need.

Greater personalization keeps employees more engaged on multiple levels. Since the wellness communications they receive will be directly relevant to their lives, participants are more likely to read and engage with the material. And since the resources offered by the employer can make a real difference to employees, they’re more apt to take advantage of those resources.

Data-Driven Wellness Generates Better Returns for Employers

Employers fund wellness programs as an investment in their most valuable asset: their people. A data-driven wellness program can generate a higher return on that investment in several ways. Wellness data identifies employee health pain points more accurately. This lets the company focus on providing resources that can make a real difference.

With reasonable data restrictions to preserve the privacy of individuals results, employers can receive anonymized information that provides insight into workforce wellness needs, like resources for improving dental health, stress relief, healthier eating habits, relief for sleeplessness, etc. This insight can help the employer customize the wellness program with targeted resources and plan for future program iterations to continuously improve workforce health.

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The ability to tailor resources to address relevant issues allows employers to create micro-wellness programs that can generate higher participation rates and effectiveness by changing employee behavior for the better. And, by improving employee engagement, employers get more success out of their wellness programs, in addition to data that drives continuous program improvement.

Wellness Program Design Can Help Overcome Participation Issues

Before employers can reap the benefits of more successful wellness programs, they have to make sure employees participate. Low participation rates are a persistent problem in employee wellness programs. One often-cited study from Rand found that the median participation rate without incentives is just 20%. The use of incentives doubles that to 40%, but it still means the majority of eligible employees don’t use the program as intended or enough as to justify the cost of implementation.

A well-designed, data-driven wellness program can turn that around. Incentives and personalization can improve participation rates dramatically. Some companies that take a data-driven approach also gamify employee participation, creating wellness challenges and offering prizes to entice employees to adopt healthier behaviors. This drives better outcomes too.

Another way employers can bring more people into the wellness program is to offer convenient options like online questionnaires and at-home health, hormone, and biometric testing kits that employees can take or use at home. This allows remote employees to participate and encourages staff who might have privacy concerns about taking tests at an onsite wellness fair. With more and more workplaces shifting to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, these tactics can prove extremely effective in improving participation.

A Data-Driven Approach Improves Wellness Programs Overall

A smart, modern wellness program emphasizes testing and data collection throughout the employee lifecycle, not just at the outset of the program. It is responsive to data trends on an individual and programmatic level. In this way, a data-driven wellness approach improves the program overall by reinforcing participation and delivering ongoing, actionable wellness metrics.

Higher participation rates in the wellness program are good for the employer and employee alike. Better metrics, more personalization and behavioral changes that lead to improved outcomes are also a plus for the company and the team. Just as a focus on data can help companies increase efficiency and serve customers more effectively, a data-driven employee wellness program benefits everyone.

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