The 5 Challenges to Wellness Program Success

The 5 Challenges to Wellness Program Success

In today’s hyper-connected workforce, studies show that access to information and technology increasingly overwhelm workers and decrease productivity. Does this mean that implementing a wellness program using technologies will hurt or help your employees? The article describes the argument for the study’s results by stating:

Cornerstone’s “The State of Workplace Productivity Report” examines how the ways people work, where they work and the tools they use for work impact their abilities to be productive and successful in their roles. You could even check out something like these predictive maintenance use cases to give you a better idea of how monitoring the progress of work that your employee is doing could help you find get the most out of them. The findings indicate that the tools and management styles of today are not enabling employees to be the workforce of tomorrow. However, the results also point to potential solutions – such as flexible work schedules, the right work environment and wearable technology – that may hold promise for those trying to combat the most exasperating productivity killers in their work lives and find a way to improve and increase productivity within the workplace.

As workplace wearables and the interest in the “quantified employee” continues to gain traction in corporate wellness programs, the question that program administrators need to ask themselves has more to do with their organizational goals and the outcomes they are seeking for their employees.

The survey states that 8 out of 10 employees would be willing to use wearable fitness and health trackers at work if their employers added a little incentive. Though we don’t discount the positive return that incentives may have in helping nudge employee behavior in the short-term, wellness directors and administrators must keep some perspective on the type of employee engagement they are looking for. For instance, as this Upskilled article on employee problems highlights, organizations will likely see greater success in long-term loyalty and engagement in a wellness program that not only understands users’ needs but also provides contextually relevant drivers that tap into intrinsic motivation, rather than solely capitalizing on external motivators (i.e. monetary benefits, penalties, etc.).

Based on Fidelity’s survey on corporate healthcare and wellness spending, “93 percent of companies indicated they plan to expand or maintain funding for their program over the next three to five years. And 44 percent of companies said they plan to maintain or increase their investment in wellness programs.”

With a growing commitment from companies seeking to improve employee productivity, connectivity, and engagement, there are key challenges wellness directors and program administrators need to take into account to achieve programmatic success.

Here are the top 5 common problems that HR managers and program administrators confront with wellness programs and ways to address them.


Many administrators and leaders are at a loss when searching for programs, let alone figuring out which is most effective. Asking for referrals and Google searching may be a good place for most to start. Sadly, there’s no guarantee that doing so will help anyone find a program that is right for their company. How can administrators determine quality of fit before spending the company’s resources?

A higher likelihood of program identification might result from asking better questions when seeking solutions and tools. Is it productivity or engagement that the organization is looking to change? What behaviors do companies want to see improved for their employees? What changes can employers improve in their work environment for everyone to make healthier decisions?

The value add we provide our clients interested in seeking wellness solutions is helping assess their needs and goals, and then offering to pilot a program to test fit and appropriateness before scaling throughout the company. Testing wellness drivers in this manner is a great way for clients to begin tracking and measuring employee engagement and program effectiveness before committing to a larger scale initiative that may involve more targeted results, such as employee behavior change and culture development. Even though people may benefit from having wellness programs introduced into their workplace, employers may find that their employees’ productivity may improve if they have something within their company that showcases the morals and values that have been instilled throughout their history. An effective way to show this would be through publishing their own corporate history books so that all the employees that work for that company will be able to have a better insight into what the business is about so they can continue to make it a success. However, most companies just want incentives such as different programs to motivate them to work hard.


One of the biggest challenges in determining program success is due to the difficulty in tracking employee engagement and participation. Wellness administrators have traditionally relied on outside consultants and vendors providing on-site solutions in the form of “Biggest Loser Competitions” and other walking challenges with a short-term goal.

There is a significant absence, however, in the type of data available to administrators, data that tracks annual (or longer-term) employee activity, and reference points comparing user data to national averages or other data sets. If organizations are truly vested in cultivating a culture of health and wellness, administrators must find a way to track and analyze long-term engagement. Additionally, administrators need to be equipped with the appropriate tools to support their efforts in ways that alleviate them of the time and inconvenience of crunching numbers or having to create tools from scratch.


There are a number of ways to measure employee activity. For many companies, calculating inputs and outputs are enough to receive the stamp of approval in maintaining wellness programs. There is a growing interest, however, in organizations looking to measure outcomes with the goal of producing nudges to change and improve human behavior.

When tracking employee engagement, wellness administrators might consider measuring type/level of engagement of participants based on indicators such as:

  • Outcome (vitals and biometrics) vs. participation data

  • Segmented data by various levels of activity to identify better program customization

  • Analyzing a group or workforce to identify true baseline of activity levels

  • Understanding how to target specific communications and programs to the right segments with truly achievable goals

  • Analyzing engagement over time and how behaviors are changing or not

  • Measuring activity relative to campaign vs. ongoing programming

  • Measuring behavior within and beyond corporate programs (i.e. activity outside wellness program)

In order to effectively evaluate program success, administrators will need to prioritize analyzing quantitative data so as to better paint a picture that communicates a more enriching and valuable story for the company and its stakeholders.


Measurement informs accountability as it puts a spotlight on wellness programs and employee participation. Employee accountability is embedded in their participation as long as participation is measured and engagement rewarded and/or encouraged in some fashion. Studies have proven that “the effectiveness of wellness programs is critically dependent upon a long-term, integrated approach with accountability being shared from the top to the bottom of the organization.”

Employee accountability then positively reinforces the accountability of the company and/or administrator, justifying the return on investment for the company in its wellness activities. Wellness program observations include, but are not limited to the following:

  • It takes three to five years to realize the economic benefits of a wellness program

  • Once in place and effective, wellness programs return $4 for every dollar spent

  • Truly effective programs create and sustain a culture of wellness

  • Senior management must walk the talk on wellness and lead by example

In addition, we highly encourage companies to consider setting a cadence or rhythm of activity (i.e. duration, intensity, and number of challenges) to facilitate long-term engagement. More often than not, employees get excited at the start of a new initiative with interest dropping off when activities are not appropriately sequenced in intervals that include breaks and/or “rest time” from assigned activities. Setting a cadence in programmatic activities prevents participant burnout and/or boredom at the onset of a long-term plan.


Companies rushing to find a quick and easy fix in their wellness goals will likely incur a larger cost than those who spend time finding a program that suits company operations and users’ needs. Factors that tend to be overlooked in wellness spending include employee schedules, a company’s “busy seasons”, and holidays to name a few.

Thinking about program spending is just as important as analyzing contextualized data in measuring program effectiveness. As the interest in measuring employee engagement increases in the coming years, ensuring that resources are effectively and efficiently spent will determine ongoing growth in the workplace wellness space.

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