April 8, 2022

Why Gamification Is Taking Over Wellness Programs

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Having an employee wellness program isn’t just a nice thing to do; it can have a positive impact on your company’s bottom line. That’s because businesses lose money every year on preventable health expenses, including sick leave, absenteeism, and health-related costs such as insurance — healthcare costs that an employee wellness program can help curb.

Unfortunately, participation in wellness programs is low. Only 20% to 40% of eligible individuals participate in a program in any given year. Adding incentives, including gamification, does make a difference.

Read more: Gamification in the Workplace: Why and How to Use It

In fact, employers who do not use incentives have a median employee participation rate of 20%, compared with 40% participation for employers who use rewards and 73% for employers who use penalties and/or rewards.

That’s where gamification comes in. By adding game elements to your wellness program, you will make it inherently more engaging and encourage people to participate.

For example, when gamification is added to training, employee motivation increases to 83%, and boredom drops to just 10%. More than that, 88% of people say that gamification in software they use at work makes them happier employees. Here’s what you need to know about adding gamification to your wellness program.

Why Gamification Makes a Difference

If you’ve ever spent much longer than you intended playing a game on your smartphone or computer, that wasn’t an accident. Games are deliberately engaging for a reason. They use specific challenges, strategies, and design elements to make you want to keep playing.

For instance, giving out points or rewards for completing challenges gives players a sense of satisfaction. If they can trade in those points for helpful items or skills that make it easier or more fun to play the game, then that further incentivizes them to keep playing. These are just a few examples of the ways that games use specific mechanisms to encourage people to play again and again.

Gamifying wellness programs uses those same strategies to encourage participation. Here are some different ideas for how gamification can be applied to wellness programs:

  • Allow employees to collect points as they complete tasks in the wellness program. Once they hit a certain number of points, allow them to redeem the points for company swag or other prizes.
  • Institute a leaderboard and have employees compete to see who can reach their goals the fastest.
  • Offer digital badges for employees hitting certain milestones within the wellness program. Make these badges visible on their profile, so other people can see them.
  • In exchange for completing a health risk assessment, offer a credit that can be put towards a gym membership, health insurance premium, or other wellness-related expense.
  • Set up the wellness program to send weekly or monthly “report cards” on participants’ progress. This will remind them that the program exists and nudge them to keep returning to it.
  • Offer a lottery or sweepstakes prize for wellness program participants. The more challenges they complete, the more entries they earn, and the greater their chances of winning the prize.

Read more on TechRepublic: What Is the ROI of Your Company’s Health?

Tips for Incentivizing Employee Wellness

Gamification is just one of the strategies you can leverage to increase participation in your wellness program. Indeed, gamification is often more effective when used in combination with other strategies, especially when it comes to situations that may not be inherently incentivized, such as wellness programs.

As an example, smoking is one of the areas that is getting a lot of attention in wellness programs right now. Smoking has a proven negative effect on employees’ health, which increases costs for employers. It also cuts into work time due to smoke breaks.

For these reasons, many employers offer discounts on health insurance premiums for people who do not smoke, or who are working on quitting. They may also tack on surcharges for people who do smoke. Some employers are even going so far as to ban tobacco use on and off the job.

Other employers support wellness expenses financially, either by offering wellness credits up front or reimbursements after the fact. Some companies take a more open-ended approach, providing employees a set amount of credit per month or quarter that they can put toward health-related expenses. Other employers are more specific as to what the discounts or reimbursements apply to.

Companies with large offices that already offer on-site activities are incorporating wellness offerings into their perks. This may look like an on-site gym, free weekly yoga classes, monthly visits from a masseuse, healthier food offerings in the cafeteria, and more.

Having these wellness offerings conveniently located reduces the barrier to entry and makes it easy to make healthier choices. It also encourages employees to track their health via the wellness program.

Read more: Gamification Badges Are Not Digital Credentials: A Q&A With Jarin Schmidt of Credly

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0 Comments

  1. Zach Watson

    I only mention it briefly in this article, but Keas already integrates with Fitbit, and I believe they’re looking to develop integration with Nike+ and Jawbone, all of which are wearable devices that track increases in heart rate and burned calories. Perhaps that type of wearable tech is the answer. 

  2. Heather Neisen

    Gamified wellness programs are great for employees with a competative edge!  

    At my previous employer, we used Virign Pulse (formerly Virgin Health Miles).  Through a corporate sponsorship, each employee could sign up for a free pedometer to wear each day.  By reaching a certain number of steps or active minutes each day, the employee could earn points.  After accumulating enough points, employees could cash in their points for gift cards or cash.  The platform also allowed employees to participate in challenges against other employee to get the "most steps" or "most days in a row of activity" and win badges and more points by doing so.  The activity feed allowed you to see how you stack up against others at your company (by gender, by department, etc).

    Depending on your personality, the program could keep you very active to compete with colleagues.  The program also limited your ability to gain more than 100 points per day through activity and you had to have 6,000+ points to move up to the next "level" – meaning? you had to stay more active over a long period of time, which ultimately is the goal: better health.

  3. Eric Perry

    I would be interested to see how this develops.  Personally, gamification, at it’s current level, doesn’t do it for me in exercising. I’d like to see something that automatically tracks your work out and various other activity rather than you having to input the data.  It makes it very easy to cheat and just gain the awards through cheating the system.  An automation system would make me and anyone else who has a similar problem accountable.