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7 common pitfalls of corporate wellness programmes

James A. Martin | June 17, 2016
Wellness leaders from Fitbit, SAP, Bank of America and the state of South Carolina share insight and advice based on lessons learned from their organizations' early fitness-tracker based corporate wellness programs.

Communication about wellness programs is particularly challenging in organizations at which considerable percentages of employees don't have corporate email accounts, according to Amy McDonough, vice president and general manager of Fitbit Group Health. Carefully worded posters and "table tents" in break rooms can be effective ways to get the word out, she says. 

Some organizations, such as RTA and Japanese electronics company Tokyo Electron, choose to develop mobile apps focused on wellness programs, fitness challenges and employee benefits, as a way to inform and engage staff.

Tokyo Electron, one of the first organizations to roll out an official employee Fitbit program back in 2010, this year released an app called CarePlus Mobile, according to Vickie Lee, the company's senior vice president of human resources (HR). The app ties in with Tokyo Electron's benefits program, so employees can easily see their health savings account balances and spending, and track wellness program awards. A "Gap in Care" feature lets employees know when it's time for routine preventative health screenings or prescription refills. Employees who chose to "close the gap" receive a $25 award, Lee says.

3. Effective wellness programs require IT involvement

The software programs that are sometimes required to participate in fitness challenges and wellness programs don't always get along with IT firewalls, according to Indiana University Health's Cooper. So she worked with the organization's IT team in advance to "make sure the software programs could be loaded onto participants' computers."

Similarly, Lee of Tokyo Electron says she worked with IT to make sure they would support Fitbits before purchasing 1,200 devices for employees. "I knew that could be an issue, so I started [the program] by talking to IT," Lee says.

4. Wellness programs may need more resources

HR departments are often lean, because they're not typically viewed as revenue generators. How can HR representatives launch and manage employee wellness programs when their team members already have full plates? Get an intern.

At SAP America, an intern "took the leadership role in working with Fitbit, making the time to develop employee communication materials, and handling the tactical stuff," Russell says.

Hiring someone part-time is also an option, and HR reps can monitor how well the person motivates employees to engage with fitness challenges or wellness programs, and then, based on positive results, possibly hire them fulltime. RTA did just that when it hired Bonsall. A personal trainer at the time, the company brought Bonsall on part-time as an employee wellness coordinator and gave her "lofty goals" to achieve — which she did. Three months later, the company offered her a fulltime position. 

5. Employees worry about misuse of fitness data


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