Employer-sponsored wellness programs were one of the first areas to adopt gamification concepts, and like recruitment efforts, have found the gamification revolution an absolute boon to motivating and engaging individuals.
According to a recent survey conducted by WorldatWork and Buck Consultants, employers list gamification as their most common strategy for engaging employees in wellness programs.
The survey found that 62 percent of surveyed employers report using one or more gamification elements to promote health engagement to employees, and 31 percent say they are likely to adopt one or more new elements in the coming year.
The most common gamification strategy for wellness programs involved contests (60 percent of employers surveyed).
The survey also looked at the roles of mobile device applications and social networking in promoting wellness, but found lower numbers of employers using either.
“Our interest was in looking at emerging technology, which is a very broad universe, and how it’s being used to impact health engagement,” explained Barry Hall, a principal at Buck Consultants, which is a division of Xerox.
“We weren’t quite sure what to expect,” he said. “(But) we found a pretty high percentage said they were using some kind of contest or competition, which absolutely is gamification of a health program.”
On the other hand, while 73 percent of surveyed employers said they have a health engagement strategy in place, two-thirds of the respondents reported having done little to understand their employees’ technology preferences when participating in wellness efforts.
“This could represent a significant missed opportunity to tailor a more strategically-focused approach to employee communications and engagement,” the Buck report said.
In addition, the study found that only 10 percent to 20 percent of companies in the survey actually evaluate the return on investment in the use of technology in wellness efforts.
Ruth Hunt, another principal at Buck who co-authored the study with Hall, said although the gamification of wellness programs was “catching on like wildfire,” the effectiveness of such strategies is still up in the air.
“The literature from a variety of surveys says that the vast majority of companies out there have not yet cracked the code on how to measure the ROI on wellness overall,” she said. “But we believe we are going to get there.”
Hall also sounded cautious on how well the new technologies are delivering results. “I think the jury is still out in terms of whether it is effective for the end objective, which is to improve health and wellness, and hold down health care costs,” he said. “What we can absolutely say is that there is a lot of interest among employers in using these kinds of techniques to get their employees involved in their health.”
Hunt added that although many companies have not yet developed the tools to measure the effectiveness of the technology used to promote wellness, what has been measurable is participation, and those numbers are encouraging.
She says that a multi-pronged approach, with gamification being one of many elements, is a good strategy. “It would be unfair to expect any single intervention to be a miracle cure,” she said. “What gamification offers is another arrow in your quiver to reach that larger goal of ongoing behavior change.”
The study’s focus on social networking and mobile technology along with gamification reinforces the point that gamification is part of a broader movement to integrate a digital lifestyle with the physical one.
As the movement evolves, so will applications for HR departments, Hunt said.
“We’re going to see a growth in the use of these technologies,” she said. “We‘re seeing a lot on the physical wellness side, and we think we’ll see more crossing over to other areas, including financial wellness.”