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Old Habits Die Hard. But Employers Save Big When They Do.

Employers spend a lot of money to treat preventable chronic illnesses. One out of every four dollars they pay for health care, in fact, is tied to unhealthy lifestyle choices or conditions like smoking, stress and obesity.

That was the finding of a 2015 study that analyzed the health risk assessment results of more than 220,000 employees from seven industries. The conclusions showed just how much employers could save if they could help their employees change their habits, otherwise known as “eliminating modifiable health risks.”

More simply, we call this behavior change—a topic we at WebMD Health Services know a little something about. Based on our 17 years of experience with well-being programs, there are three pillars of behavior change:

  1. Initial Motivation
  2. Incremental Goals
  3. Feedback on Accomplishments

When you combine these three pillars of behavior change, you can create meaningful well-being experiences that put consumers first and motivate them to build lasting habits.

Pillar 1: Initial Motivation

It’s not always easy to help people feel confident enough to take the first step and make a positive change in their lives. They need a trigger to get started. Our programs and tools provide that spark of motivation that spurs individuals to take action.

The amount of choices your program offers can be a delicate balance. Requiring people to make a choice is good (and history shows that for best results you should make the preferred choice the default option). But at the same time, too many choices are overwhelming (hence the term “decision fatigue”).

The key point to remember is that the power to choose leads to satisfaction in the long run. Behavioral science shows the benefits of allowing people the ability to select what they want to work on and when they want to work on it.

Pillar 2: Meaningful Goals

You’ve probably heard this before—or even given this advice to your own child: Instead of focusing on a large, long-term goal that may seem daunting or impossible, focus on smaller, easy-to-do steps that are achievable. (“You don’t have to clean your entire room at once. Just start by picking up all your clothes off the floor!”)

Again, we have science to back this up. Breaking down goals into smaller components is one of the most effective ways to encourage behavior change. For your well-being program, this means creating a structure of achievable goals to allow employees to generate their own momentum; as they progress, they have more chances to celebrate their accomplishments, which in turn makes it more likely they will keep going.

Another key point to keep in mind is to focus on the immediate benefits of changing a behavior, rather than the long-term goal itself. Whether their goal is to lower an A1c score or run a marathon, individuals striving to create a new habit will reap daily rewards, such as more energy, higher productivity and less stress.

Here’s an example of how we put that into practice in our well-being programs. WebMD Health Coaches employ a variety of behavioral science techniques, such as motivational interviewing and setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, designed to help participants overcome obstacles and break down long-term goals into feasible activities that they can start right now.

Pillar 3: Celebrate Accomplishments

Everybody enjoys a sense of accomplishment and a little recognition. But how and when you offer rewards matters a lot. Our Invitational Team Steps Challenge offers different types of rewards that encourage healthy competition both with teammates and opponents.

The wellness challenge matches up teams based on performance, which means that participants and teams are more likely to experience an immediate win during the challenge, providing extra motivation. In addition to weekly team awards, participants can also win an individual “high-stepper” award. Want to incorporate wellness challenges into your program? Our e-book, Putting Well-Being Challenges to Work for You, can help.

The results summary at the end of each weekly round shows people their positive “peak” performance. And our rewards platform allows a program to offer immediate rewards, both for participation and for winning awards within the challenge. The weekly and end-of-challenge awards provide public recognition of the highest achievers.

Effectively Changing Behaviors

We understand that true behavior change is the key to a successful well-being program. Fortunately, we have a long history of interacting with consumers, who trust WebMD for reliable, accurate and clear answers to their most pressing health-related questions. We tap into a wealth of valuable insights based on the millions of consumers who interact with WebMD.com every month, to design and implement successful, engaging solutions that help individuals meet their well-being needs.

To learn more about how we do this, tune into our 30-minute on-demand webinar, “How to Effectively Change Consumer Behaviors,” where I spend more time exploring this topic.

 

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