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Using data to bring personalization to corporate wellness programs

Healthgram's lead health coach gives four steps towards a more personalized and impactful wellness coaching program

Traditionally, corporate wellness programs have had two main focuses: preventive care and chronic disease management. Employers may have opted for one over the other, assuming stronger financial return when focusing outreach to highest risk members. However, our book of business finds that a more comprehensive approach that gives employees the resources to stay well regardless of current risk level yields higher engagement and improved health.

One example: after seeing a sharp drop in engagement, one company transitioned from requiring engagement only from highest-risk population subsets to focusing on the needs of its entire population. Not only did they use aggregate data (like ER utilization) to shape initiatives, but they also used individual-level data like abnormal lab results and exercise frequency in their outreach.

The result was a comprehensive, personalized coaching experience that allowed each employee to focus on their individual needs, not simply check off compliance requirements.  Instead of just completing the program’s three required calls, highest-risk employees engaged more often – participating in an average of 5.6 health coaching sessions in one year. In addition to successfully engaging this subset, the company achieved a 69% increase in engagement and a 156% increase in engagement among employees with chronic diseases.

Programs like these start with data, are driven by knowledgeable health coaches and rely on effective communication. We walk through four steps you can take towards a more personalized, and impactful, wellness coaching program:


Use data to create customized programming

One-size-fits-all programming falls short because it doesn’t address the needs of each workforce and individual. Investing in on-site yoga classes won’t reduce a population-wide trend of emergency room abuse, just as a weight loss campaign won’t engage an employee facing a life-altering diagnosis.

As employers seek out new ways to control costs, many are leveraging their unique workforce data to find the right wellness strategy that works for them. At the same time, employees who are used to customization in every other service area from banking to news feeds will expect that programs follow suit. Companies will need ways to collect, store and use this data to get employees the right care.


Programming backed by two types of data

Aggregate and population level data help identify these opportunities in your workforce. For example, knowing your population has a significant number of employees who fall into the pre-diabetic category.

At the same time, a comprehensive analysis of personal health information (family history, lifestyle factors and biometric results) creates a holistic view of health for each individual employee. Both are required for meaningful outreach.


Collecting the data

Methods of data collection such as health risk assessments (HRAs), claims analysis and biometric screenings aren’t new to employers. However, turning that data into understandable and actionable wellness program recommendations is. Partner with a wellness vendor who will be able to help you build your program based on real-time trends in your population, not assumptions, and is also flexible enough to make changes as members move in and out of risk levels. The result will be a game plan for engaging all of your employees with the support they need most.


Increase impact by meeting employees where they are

It’s easy to see how employers could be tempted to only focus outreach on highest risk employees; up to 85 percent of avoidable health care spending can be attributed to chronic disease. However, employers risk becoming blind to employees with borderline lab levels heading for a future diagnosis, or those with unhealthy lifestyle habits that may contribute to a catastrophic claim down the road.

It makes sense, then, to not only provide assistance to those battling these conditions, but to help prevent future diagnoses among employees with moderate risk.

A 2015 RAND Wellness Program Study reinforces this opinion, with results from a ten-year study showing programs offering both disease management and lifestyle management save money and help mitigate long-term health risks.

Instead of opting for one approach over the other, this study implemented both. The results show short-term ROI from intervening with those diagnosed with chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease, as well as long-term risk reduction from lifestyle management programs. It’s this two-pronged approach that returned a $3.80 return for every $1 spent on the program.


Build outreach strategies based on real-life relationships

Once you have the data and plan for your program, how will outreach be delivered to your employees? Research shows that providing opportunities for employees to connect with real experts can contribute significantly to attracting and keeping participants active in a company’s wellness program.

Employers are paying close attention to the growing trend of health coaching. Making a health coaching team available to your employees has been proven to improve engagement, employee knowledge and long-term health outcomes. Employees are also fond of the human element of health coaching: a recent survey found 75% of wellness program participants say personal touch is important.

Health coaches, when following the two-pronged and holistic approach outlined above, provide personalized guidance on a range of subjects, from chronic condition management to nutrition counseling and tobacco cessation.


Communicate effectively

Wellness programs, especially those that involve one-on-one outreach between health coach and employee, require thoughtful communication strategies. Avoid the jargon and confusing industry speak: your communications should be tailored to your culture and easy to understand.

We often find adoption of corporate wellness programs starts at the top. Make sure your executive team is informed of the new program so they can help support it. Managers, executives and human resources teams acting together as the program’s cheerleaders help create a culture of wellness.

Another way to gauge reception and build trust is to involve employees in the development of programs. Consider an annual employee interest survey or involve employees from multiple departments in a focus group for feedback or to test new ideas.

Bring the program to life by offering customized resource portals tailored to their conditions or goals. Employers can also offer choice within their program, such as the ability to earn points for physical activity by participating in a 5K or showing proof of a gym membership.

To get your message across, meet employees where they are – that means using apps, emails, on-the-go trackers and even text messages – to keep engagement levels high. Ensuring appropriate privacy protocols are in place, sharing success stories from peers lowers barriers to participation and can have a positive impact on morale.



The latest trends in corporate wellness programs set both employees and employers up for financial and clinical success. Learn more about Healthgram’s integrated approach to wellness. 


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