Your Monthly Check-Up: Work Wellness Programs, Incentives and Social Media

Wellness incentives and workplace health initiatives are all the rage right now, with more and more companies adopting wellness programs and offering incentives to employees who commit to embarking on a healthier lifestyle. writer Michelle V. Rafter covers this topic in her recent article, titled “Can Social Media Produce Wellness Results?” In the article, Rafter focuses on New Jersey’s Chilton’s Hospital, which, in March 2011, entered a countrywide fitness challenge after trying for years to get its employees to better monitor their health.

According to the article, employees formed teams of six in competition with other local businesses to see who could eat the healthiest, walk the most or lose the most weight. During the 100-day challenge, participants used a private, Facebook-like social network to share results, cheer each other on and get involved socially. As an incentive to participate, Chilton Hospital offered $150 to each member of the winning team and $500 to the employee who lost the most weight. But it wasn’t necessarily the money that was driving would-be participants to sign up. “People wanted to be on the winning team,” says Julie McGovern, Chilton’s VP of Administration and HR.

The argument can be made that it’s now easier and perhaps more fun to be a part of a work-related wellness challenge or health initiative that has a social networking aspect attached to it. People spend so much of their time on Facebook, Twitter and similar sites during the day anyway, why not appeal to this interest and turn their social networking time into something a bit more productive, not to mention good for helping keep employee health care costs down.

While it’s certainly not necessary to incorporate social media into your wellness program, it is a good way for participants to interact, share results and track their goals. And as more employees are bringing their smartphones to work, it becomes easier for participants to stay connected to games and social media either on their own or in conjunction with their company’s wellness program.

With regard to the Chilton Hospital 100-day challenge, the 336 participants use an online game platform to track losing a total of 1,230 pounds, eating an additional 8,918 servings of fruit and vegetables and putting in 1,274 extra days of exercise, according to McGovern. “It wasn’t just exercise and eating better,” she says, as quoted in Rafter’s article, “People made a commitment to stop smoking, take stress management classes and control ongoing disease.”

Some companies are already reaping the benefits of employing healthier workers in the form of lower healthcare costs and fewer medical claims. According to the article, Sprint Nextel Corp. estimates it saved $1.1 million through a companywide fitness challenge launched in 2011. Read the article here and get more ideas about how your employees can benefit from developing a wellness program.

PS: June is Great Outdoors Month! Why not get outside and enjoy the weather and the free exercise opportunities while they last? Plan a hike, fly a kite with your kids or bike your local riverfront or shoreline trail!