For almost forty years, employers, brokers, and insurance carriers have made corporate wellness one of the most buzzed about business topics. Giving employees programs to be healthy ultimately leads to an increase in productivity and is an easy concept to get behind when you’re thinking about your bottom line. Figuring out how to create that healthy workplace, on the other hand, is not so easy.

In recent years, health behavior experts have explored why some wellness efforts work and others don’t. To begin with, we’re seeing a fundamental shift in the way employers view employee health. Challenging the traditional wellness programs, which focus on the group’s physical health, employee wellbeing programs are narrowing the focus to each individual’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

The discussion between wellness and wellbeing aside, one thing is certain: frequent exercise is vital to maintaining a healthy workforce and business... but does the traditional one-size-fits-all gym membership really “fit all”?

We’ve grown accustomed to believing that giving our employees discounted gym memberships will make them exercise more. This backwards way of thinking is outdated and speaks to employees as a whole, rather than as unique individuals, each needing something different than the next.

In 2014, Peerfit’s CEO, Ed Buckley, Ph.D., conducted a research study at the University of Florida that focused on the behaviors of individuals with relatively low physical activity. The goal was to observe individuals who exercised between two to six times a month and provide them with free gym memberships and periodic exercise reminders. In addition to the free gym memberships, the individuals were also placed into regularly scheduled group fitness classes.

Buckley summarizes his research here:

We learned that this group that already found it difficult to find motivation to go to the gym didn't go more often after the first month, despite having a free membership. After placing them into group fitness classes, they would continue attending around the same number of days, but they would stay longer. The important thing is that motivation to these blocks of users has been shown not to be correlated with price. Just because you give someone a cheaper access point, doesn't mean they want to do it any more than they did prior. You have to motivate from the leverage points that truly motivate and, surprisingly, money just isn’t it for fitness. Without the right leverage, the gym is always going to be "too far to drive" or they "won't have enough time to work out". You counter excuses with empowerment, and make sure it’s the type of value-add they want; not what you want to give them, like 10% off this month.

Adding a social aspect to individuals’ fitness experiences was the single biggest differentiator in Buckley’s study. At Peerfit, we’re pioneering the idea that fitness can be fun and innovative while transforming the traditional corporate wellness programs we’ve seen fail time and time again. We leverage the social aspect of group fitness to help our corporate clients achieve improved engagement rates, an increased number of active employees and a sense of community within company culture.

Simply providing discounts doesn’t really move the needle of active and healthy employees. Turning exercise into a social hour and a community helps group fitness use the greatest motivator to keep employees consistently exercising: accountability.

The secret to making your fitness benefit successful is removing both financial AND psychological barriers to healthy behaviors. Effective wellbeing programs have a high-value consumer experience combined with an easy way to measure engagement. Peerfit is setting a new standard in the industry through its own flexible fitness program and by encouraging honest dialogue about what works and what doesn’t.

If you want higher engagement rates, shift your focus from a participation-based program to an engagement-based program, enabling you to pay for usage and nourish employee engagement.

Engagement is more effective because it requires extra effort and investment on the employee’s end. That extra investment means that the motivation will be internalized. Internal—or intrinsic—motivation has repeatedly been shown to be the most effective motivator. In engagement-based wellness, employees can be incentivized for taking part in the wellness program. Rather than meeting a requirement or two, employees must continually stay involved with the program. - Alan Kohll, founder of TotalWellness.  

It’s time we stop reinventing the one-size-fits-all wheel and start understanding that each employee seeks something uniquely different in their wellbeing program. Change the product, not the price. Then we will have healthy organizations and thriving businesses.

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