There’s no getting around it: no matter how much you think you dislike exercise, it will make you feel better if you stick with it. 

If you don’t have your physical energy in good shape, then your mental energy (your focus), your emotional energy (your feelings), and your spiritual energy (your purpose) will all be negatively affected.  In fact, did you know that recent studies conducted on people who were battling depression showed that consistent exercise raises happiness levels just as much as antidepressants?  Even better, six months later the people who participated in exercise were less likely to relapse because they had a higher sense of self-accomplishment and self-worth.

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Our nation is on the verge (if not already in the throws) of a chronic disease epidemic. Lifestyle related conditions, such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, create huge claims for companies, as well as inestimable suffering on the part of those afflicted. From my point of view, an employer's single biggest opportunity to improve employee health, and encourage healthy outcomes, is to move to wellness engagment programs that are evidence based, outcome focused and behavior driven.

Research is the first step in designing a wellness engagement program. Looking at historical claims and trends, employee populations, types of job, and statistics on the the potential for esculating lifestyle issues need to be considerated when designing a wellness engagement program. We know, based on real data from our clients, that this information is invaluable in customizing program elements to address the needs of each company. An evidence-based wellness program takes this research and data under very serious consideration.

The next step is to design the wellness program to actually produce changes in this data. Outcome focused activities (exercise, weight loss, disease management programs, exceed or improve biometric thresholds, etc.) tie incentives/rewards to employee health improvement and accountability. The days of rewarding employees just for taking a health risk assessment and biometric testing should be gone.

Finally, health behavioral change is difficult to influence in others and even more difficult to achieve and maintain as an individual. People generally do not change their behavior without good reasons. And most of the time, good health is not a sufficient reason. In a perfect world, the prospect of a healthier, longer life should be enough to encourage us to be healthy. Not so. Research shows that among heart attack patients (where change is a life and death matter), 90% do not change their unhealthy habits. Not even when the doctor says so. Personal choices to be made are often counteracted by one’s everyday social and cultural environment.

Motivation depends on the individual. We are all motivated differently and what energizes one person may not do anything for another. The most effective wellness programs are the ones where employees / members can earn incentives that THEY choose – incentives that are tangible. Used in this way, incentives will have a powerful behavioral effect. On the road to wellness, getting started is the key and incentives provide that boost. But, the actual reward of getting healthier and feeling better is the sustaining motivation.

I recently read a Thought Leadership Study by Asset International titled "2014 Healthcare Outlook: The Impact of Reform and Employee Benefits Programs on Perception, Costs and Workforce Health and Wellness". The study was sponsored by Active Health Management and examines key findings and insights gained from a research survey of 970 employers, representing organizations across all workforce sizes and industries in the US.

A summary of the results of the study states, "It is clear from this study that there is a great need to focus on employee wellness, on the part of the employer as well as employees themselves. With healthcare costs rising and a significant shift of financial responsibility to employees, now is the time for individuals to become custodians of their own health to ensure their quality of life and to reduce and save on healthcare costs. Certainly cost concerns are going to be a barrier to entry for employers to consider a health and wellness program; however such costs can be offset by cost savings elsewhere when overall employee health is improved."

The study shows that the employer goals for health and wellness programs center around two main components: employee wellness - 70%
and cost savings - 47%.

I get asked a few questions over and over again during my speaking engagements and workshops. I thought I would use gBehavior's corporate blog to address some of these questions, and offer ideas for solutions.

The first question on everyone's mind: how do I recover the cost of my program, and reduce future costs related to the healthy of my employees:

Wellness engagement programs are now considered a significant corporate strategy, and are widely used by corporations of all sizes. Hardly anyone disputes the fact that benefits of a wellness program show up and grow over time. However, despite their popularity, most employers and industry experts agree that these programs are not reaching either the expected participation rate or the anticipated financial return. Many studies indicate that it may take as much as 3-5 years to experience a measurable financial impact, while decision makers are demanding a reduction in real medical claims costs.

Based on my years of experience in employee engagement, I know there are some new entrants as well as some proven components of program design, that can ensure your wellness programs begin managing direct costs within the first six months, and potentially reach a cost-neutral status by the end of the second year.

If you would like to know more, please click here to download my whitepaper, Challenging the Corporate Wellness ROI Myth.