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From Participation To Engagement: What It Means To Get People Engaged in a Well-Being Program

What does engagement really mean when it comes to a well-being program? How do we move individuals along the continuum from “checking the box” to being fully committed? Is simply participating enough? In this week’s blog, we’ll address participation versus engagement, how we use behavioral science to drive and sustain engagement, and the role that incentives play.

Participation is a great place to begin.

We define participation as the initial and ongoing interactions someone has with a well-being program. People may be completing activities—either to earn an incentive or just to see what’s available—but what if they aren’t necessarily committed to making any sustained improvements to their health?

A participant’s first interaction with the WebMD ONE platform is often through onboarding and taking our health assessment. Taking it may reveal certain health risks the individual was unaware of and prompt them to complete activities to improve those particular risk areas. We recommend incentivizing completing the ONE Assessment to get high participation rates for a couple of different reasons. First, it allows more people to learn their current health status and personalizes their experience based on their health status and interests. Second, it serves as a great baseline that organizations can use for reporting health risk improvements and changes year over year.

Wellness challenges are also a great way to spur that participation. One of our most popular challenges is The Invitational Team Steps Challenge, which encourages healthy competition and gets people moving. While they’re participating in the challenge, they start to feel better and that leads them to start another activity—such as learning how to make healthy meals at home or how to reduce their stress through daily walk breaks.

We know that some people will complete the ONE Assessment or participate in a wellness challenge just to receive the incentive. And that’s ok! Our research shows that repeated, sustained participation over time can lead to powerful results that impact both the individual and the organization.1 And oftentimes, it takes a person to participate to realize that they should work to improve their well-being. For example, someone who completes our ONE Assessment may learn that they’re at risk for heart disease. With that knowledge, they may commit to making lifestyle changes that improve their heart health over time.

The power of intrinsic motivation.

What does it take to move someone from participation to engagement? Part of the answer lies in behavioral science, and the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. For example, smoking is unhealthy and most smokers know, objectively, that they should quit. But, as anyone who has successfully quit smoking will share, it wasn’t the nagging of family members that finally motivated them (extrinsic motivation). What really did the trick was an internal desire to be healthier or live longer (intrinsic motivation).

The same holds true for engagement with a well-being program. There’s a myriad of ways people can interact with the program, but some areas will resonate more based on what’s happening in their lives. People will navigate toward the tools, resources and support systems that will help them achieve the goals they’re intrinsically motivated to accomplish.

Here are some examples of participants who used certain elements within WebMD ONE to improve their well-being:

Mary Jo’s story.

Last year, we profiled Mary Jo. Her personal motivation for improving her health? She recently had a heart attack and didn’t want it to happen again. After finishing cardiac rehab, her cardiologist advised her to take at least 5,000 steps a day. Shortly after that, she received an email inviting her to participate in The Invitational and signed up. This set off additional commitments to making healthy long-term changes, including eating healthier, losing weight, and increasing her daily exercise. Mary Jo shared: “I am very motivated to make life changes so I can stay on this earth for a few more years. I am much more conscious now about my eating habits, exercise and overall health.”

Walter’s story.

Similarly, Walter, a participant in our WebMD Health Coaching program, suffered from resistant/chronic hypertension and needed to understand the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) for his behavior to truly change. As he explains, “I saw that making small lifestyle changes with accountable goals was benefiting my health. I changed my mindset and it was a lifestyle change: I wanted to do better for me.”

How to move people toward engagement.

How do we motivate individuals to start using the program faithfully and stick with it, no matter their current health status? After all, there are elements to our program that everyone can benefit from!

Again, we look to behavioral science. This teaches us that for users to engage with a well-being program for the long-term, it needs to:

Create achievable goals.

It’s human nature to quit if the goal seems too unattainable. A well-designed program includes small, achievable steps that lead to a bigger goal, allowing the individual to feel more empowered and confident that they can accomplish their goals. For example, our Daily Habits Plans break down goals into actionable daily, weekly and monthly steps that encourage people to reach the finish line.

Solve a tangible problem.

People must see the benefit that changing their behavior will create. For example, for some, quitting smoking might mean having more energy to play with their kids. Or, some may want to stop taking certain prescriptions. Whatever the improvement, people must see how it can change their lives for the better.

Celebrate wins.

No matter how small they are, it’s important to celebrate wins. This could be in the form of digital “badges,” trinkets, company recognition, or other incentives.

Celebrating successes is an area where extrinsic motivation does work well. In fact, employers who offer incentives report a 22% higher average participation rate in well-being programs than employers who don’t offer incentives.2

See our previous blog post on the value of incentives.

It’s normal to see well-being program participation spread along a continuum of casual to very engaged users. The bottom line is that any kind of touchpoint with a well-being program has value. Our goal should then be to take these interactions and help people move toward the emotional connection and intrinsic motivation that signify a deeper level of personal commitment to improving well-being.

Want to learn more? Reach out to connect@webmd.net to learn more about our engagement strategies.

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