Wellness Program Highlight: University of Nebraska

Creating and sustaining a successful wellness program requires hard work and the best tools, as well as learning best practices from other organizations. Earlier this year, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Campus Recreation Center started their first walking program for both faculty and students. Amanda Robine and Marc Derrico are administrating the program and were gracious to share with us some details about their first experience with the Walker Tracker platform. We hope their feedback will help other similar organizations learn how they can better create or improve their programs.

UNL had its first Challenge with us earlier this year. How did participants respond to the new program?

Our participants jumped head first into this challenge. We have had triple the amount of participation in the WalkerTracker program, compared to previous programs. WalkerTracker’s user friendly and easy to navigate platform has been a huge reason for the success. Our participants enjoy being able to sync steps through apps they are already using and convert activities into steps to increase their chance of winning the challenge.

What has been the most difficult part of running a walking program?

The most difficult part of the walking program has been trying to reach beyond our participants to others at the University of Nebraska. In the beginning, we grew exponentially with great enthusiasm, but now that participants have settled in, we want to find more people to join who may not be aware of this program or they are resilient to join. This means we will be reaching out to current participants with the challenge of growing their team, and hitting the pavement to find groups who may be unaware of the program. We are excited to see even more potential as we move forward.

How about the easiest and most fun part of running a walking program?

The easiest part is managing all the participants. With the scheduled emails and automatic reenrollment into teams and competitions, managing everyone is simple. The most fun part is the actual competitions. Watching teams compete for the top spot and seeing movement on the leaderboards is awesome.

Any advice you would give to people organizing their first walking program?

We have a group of “Wellness Ambassadors” who did an excellent job in the very beginning to really grow our program. Our Wellness Ambassadors represent various departments around campus and recruited participants in their departments to participate in the walking program. From there participation grew. We would suggest something similar where you have team leaders who are very excited about the program. These leaders would work with you to get the news out about the program. Digital communication only works to a certain extent. Word of mouth from a colleague is most effective. From there, maintaining constant communication with participants and reminding them to do simple things such as syncing their devices and apps to get credit for their work.

Favorite feature on Walker Tracker or favorite part about working with Walker Tracker?

We have a ton of favorite features of WalkerTracker. Our top two favorites are:

  • We love that your activities do not expire. Previously we worked with a program that would not count activities if they were more than 72 hours prior to syncing. With WalkerTracker your window to sync your devices or count your activity is as big as the competition currently going on.
  • We also love that participants do not have to re-enroll in each challenge. We automatically start with a great group of walkers and can grow from there. Our participants like being very “hands-off” with syncing and joining the different challenges.

 

Did you hear of any personal success stories within your organization due to your use of Walker Tracker? 

One of our on campus groups found great success in this program. Our Wellness Ambassador for this particular department has had a hard time getting her team to buy-in to wellness programming. For some reason, this WalkerTracker program has been the turning point for the department. They have enjoyed participating in challenges and created a prize structure for the winning team in their department. The prize also focuses on wellness by bringing in nutrition workshops for the winning team. We are so excited to see the successes of our Wellness Ambassadors, and cannot wait to continue highlighting their stories.

 

 

A Walker Tracker Christmas Story

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the Parzybok house, not a creature was stirring, not even a kitty cat; The hiking socks were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that pedometers soon would be there!

Ever wonder how it all started?  Well, I’ve enlisted some help to tell our tale.  Meet Laura Moulton, partner of Walker Tracker CTO & Founder, Ben Parzybok, who has been so gracious as to recount.

“Not too many people know the story of how Walker Tracker came to be, but I think it’s a good one.

Many years ago, Ben’s brother Ezra stuffed each of our Christmas stockings with a pedometer. These were cheap, rattly pedometers that did not record steps very acccurately, but we all gamely wore them on our belts anyway. Since our extended family began competing for the highest step counts, and since we were in different parts of the country, Ben decided to write the code for a website where people could enter their steps, along with commentary about their experience. Word of his website spread, and more family and friends began to participate. In no time, there was a robust walking community of several thousand, entering their steps and encouraging each other along the way. This was during a period of time when Ben worked a regular day job, (generally as a web designer for different corporations), and maintained the Walker Tracker project at night and on weekends. He was also writing novels and being a very hands-on dad to our 2 children at the same time, so it was a lot to juggle.

Around 2010, Ben began to explore ways to make Walker Tracker a revenue-generating company, instead of just a side project. His timing was perfect – many corporations had begun to look for wellness programs for their employees, and the walking program Walker Tracker offered was exactly what they were looking for. Ben took the risk and went full-time with Walker Tracker, and the company has been growing and thriving ever since. I’m so impressed with the caliber of people who have joined over the years – they are a stellar, dedicated team that has become its own kind of family. At home, with our own family, the little kids who played at Ben’s feet while he built the code for Walker Tracker are now teenagers who live for the annual white elephant gift exchange at the company holiday party. We’re grateful to Ben for his creative brain, for his supportive team that makes all the work happen, and for the companies who rely on Walker Tracker to help their own employees thrive and be successful.”

Ben with son Cohen, daughter Sylvie and Laura, our narrator.

Get Moving at Work – for employees & benefits managers

It is estimated that only one in five Americans achieves a relatively high level of physical activity at work1. Many of us are aware that it would be beneficial to incorporate more fitness into our work day, yet, where to start? A knowledgeable benefits or human resources manager can provide employees with options on how to make room for fitness in their work day.

The good news: Your benefits manager already knows that healthy employees are more productive, miss work less often and are overall happier and healthier people.  This means insurance costs are lowered. How great is that! You’re asking them for advice on something they already want you to do!

Here are some suggestions for both program admins and participants on how to incorporate wellness in the workplace:

Provide places to walk. If there is no place to walk at work it will be hard to encourage employees to do it. Management can be pro-active – build sidewalks and trails or investigate options for nearby sites where employees can walk. If there is really nowhere else to go, get creative – try measuring and marking the distance around the perimeter of a parking lot or set up a treadmill in an empty office space. One of our clients (a large hospital in Washington D.C.) set up a path inside the building using footprint stickers!

Track it. One of our favorite quotes is: “That which is measured, improves” – Pearson’s Law. We’re seeing more and more programs rewarding employees with wireless trackers so they can keep a record of their activities. If your team already has devices, set a goal that participants need to reach in order to be eligible to upgrade their device to something spiffier. If they do not have devices yet, you might want to create a mini challenge – those who complete it will be eligible to receive a new device. Get everyone on board with this one, wireless devices make it easy and fun for your employees to track their progress.

Get Paid to NOT Park it. A little extra cash at the end of the month can be a powerful motivator. Employees can be given the cash equivalent of the cost of parking if they refrain from driving to work. If parking is free at your workplace, an employer could give you extra benefits at work for not using a parking space. The other option is charging a hefty premium for the privilege of parking at work.

Build in “Walking Breaks”. In some workplace settings you’re sticking to a schedule and breaks are assigned. These companies are the perfect place to schedule “walking breaks” into the day. Your schedule may already include a lunch break and a morning and afternoon break, but let’s beef that up. Suggest that your employer schedule an additional 10 or 15 minute break for those who will walk during that time. Sure, a few minutes will be lost, but you will gain a much more attentive and effective employee.  It’s hard for upper management to miss this increase in productivity and quality.

Encourage walking, mass transit and carpools. Ask if your company will give employees a break on your health care premium if you walk to work, use public transportation, or carpool. For the folks who are carpooling, suggest they alternate days walking to one another’s house for the ride.

How’d you like to earn a day off with every 100 miles you log? At some workplaces you already can. Our admins can use the Walker Tracker program statistics to calculate when you deserve PTO or a paid lunch. Studies show that active employees get lots more done even with some extra days off.

Create friendly competitions. There’s no doubt that grouping co-workers into teams and recording steps can really get people involved. Yet, when setting up a competition it is important to be encouraging to everyone. Your ‘fit’ people will exercise with or without the program, focus on creating a competition that challenges them further. Offer a program that encourages and inspires beginners. Our points competitions are a great way to reward diligence and stick-to-it behaviors over high step counts. Want more ideas for competitions? Admins can ask their Walker Tracker program manager for ideas of how to build competitions that are inclusive to all fitness levels.

 

Sources:

1 Church TS, Thomas DM, Tudor-Locke C, Katzmarzyk PT, Earnest CP, Rodarte RQ, et al. (2011) Trends over 5 Decades in U.S. Occupation-Related Physical Activity and Their Associations with Obesity. PLoS ONE 6(5): e19657. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0019657

Pedometer report of the day

Currently I’m wearing four pedometers  (testing, you know, wink wink). In today’s parlance, they call these nifty things ‘wearable devices’. Here’s today’s report, from an abnormally active day.

My activities:

  • One 24 minute run
  • Two ~40 minute bike rides
  • Some walking…

Pedometer readings:

  • Omron HJ-320: 7,488 (in coin pocket)
  • Fitbit One: 11,480 (in coin pocket)
  • Fitlinxx Pebble: 9,080  (worn on shoe)
  • Jawbone UP: 9,816  (worn on wrist)

Which one is right? It’s hard to know. They all have different strengths, and all of them have some difficulty with bicycling (side note: The Pebble does track bicycling, but the one I had is using an earlier firmware version).

But even when the activity is walking exclusively, these devices vary widely. The primary lesson, in my opinion, is if you’re running a corporate wellness program based around a challenge, it’s best to have everyone using the same device.

New Feature: Our Answer to the HRA

Our clients have asked for a tool to measure the attitudes and habits of their employee population without going through a full-blown Health-Risk Assessment,. We thought this was a great idea. We’ve just launched Questions. Questions gives wellness admins the ability to “see inside” their employees, to accurately map employee habits that effect health and wellness, and to craft a wellness strategy that works for each individual company. We call the Questions feature an “HRA lite” because it gives our clients the power of the HRA, without the cost or hassle.

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More about HRAs: Many companies launch their wellness program with an HRA, or a Health Risk Assessment. But let’s face it: HRAs are typically long questionnaires that are annoying to fill out, don’t provide any real wellness value, and, at up to $40 a pop, burn through wellness dollars faster than you can say “health.”

The true value of HRAs lie in their ability to accurately map a population. If your employee population tends toward obesity, which is a leading predictor of diabetes and heart disease, you need to know that. If your population, on the other hand, is young and active, you need to know that, too. The real value of the HRA is to help the wellness administrator craft a wellness strategy that works for her population.

How the Questions feature works: It’s easy. From the admin pane of your Walker Tracker account, just type the question you want to ask. You can make the question “required” before users continue to their account, or you can set the question as part of account registration. You can even assign points for answering it, if you use our points system. Questions and answers are logged into the account information download, so you can measure a baseline, progress, and program-end status.

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Questions is our answer to the HRA. Give it a try and let us know how it goes!

Are wellness programs effective?

A new study indicates: Yes!

You’re here, and so you already know this!

In a study of 7,804 employees, findings indicated that there were significant drops in health risks among  high-risk employees. And that risk alleviation is going to have a direct impact on an employer’s bottom line:

“The current sick care model in the U.S. is not designed to meet real health and wellness needs. Employers fund the majority of the economic burden of this broken system. They pay increasing costs of medical care while the health care system spends less than $.05 of every health care dollar on prevention.”

— Dr. Ronald Loeppke, president and vice chairman of U.S. Preventive Medicine and lead author of the study

 

Read the full article at: Benefits Pro‘s Study underscores effectiveness of wellness programs

 

 

US Embassy Walking Challenge

Sometimes a client truly delights us with their programs. Today, during our all program’s meeting, we were all tickled by the competition currently running between the US Embassy in Katmandu and the US Embassy in Warsaw. The two embassies are competing against each other in a walk from Poland to Tibet. As an embassy brat myself—my stepfather served in Mexico, in Colombia, and in Croatia—I love the idea of embassy friends and colleagues competing and collaborating in a walking challenge. Go Warsaw! Go Katmandu! You think we can get other Embassies to pile on, and do a world-wide challenge?

 

Health Gadgets and Goodies at Consumer Electronics Show

Can tech help health? Yes! There’s a groundswell of gadgets and goodies coming to the market, showing how quickly this segment is developing. I particularly love the companies focused on helping kids develop healthy habits, though I think I prefer my own childhood running after balls and jumping rope and whatnot, over playing dance dance revolution in the classroom. Perhaps it’s a matter of generational taste…

Go here for the low down:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/10/tech/gaming-gadgets/health-tech-ces-2013/index.html?c=tech

You asked for better weekly stats

Our programing elves have been hard at work… We’re always improving the Walker Tracker program, and we always love to hear ways that we can make Walker Tracker better for you. Over the last year, many of our clients have requested regular status emails sent to their walkers to both increase engagement in their company wellness initiative, and to provide real-time feedback on walking performance.

We thought this was a great idea!

Based on your input, we’ve built a  (rather handsome) weekly status email (see screen shot below). The email shows your walkers what they’ve done in the last week—total steps taken, miles covered, and calories burned, plus it gives an update on how they’re doing in the competition and how they’re performing compared to their friends. We also have an area for health and wellness tips, and we’re collaborating with a certified fitness coach to help us build great, relevant, and useful content, every week. Employees can easily turn this off in their settings (each email contains instructions how), or you can turn it off program-wide in your Admin Features area.

Thanks for all your great feedback, and keep the requests coming. This is your tool, and we want to hear from you.

Wellness Programs provide big ROI – says Harvard Business Review study

A 2010 Harvard Business Review Article had some astounding things to say about  the ‘hard return’ of wellness programs. Their conclusion? Wellness program provide a terrific return on investment.

“…a comprehensive, strategically designed investment in employees’ social, mental, and physical health pays off. J&J’s leaders estimate that wellness programs have cumulatively saved the company $250 million on health care costs over the past decade; from 2002 to 2008, the return was $2.71 for every dollar spent.”

The article goes on to refer to a number of studies touting the benefits of wellness programs for your company. In a separate study, 57% of high-risk employees were converted to low-risk status, with significant financial benefits for the company:

“…medical claim costs had declined by $1,421 per participant, compared with those from the previous year. A control group showed no such improvements. The bottom line: Every dollar invested in the intervention yielded $6 in health care savings.”

But the companies surveyed saw a number of other improvements as well — not just on financial return.  Lost work days, in one example, dropped by an astounding 80%. Another study found that a well-implemented wellness program caused a dramatic reduction in employee attrition. Clearly, taking an active stake in your employees’ wellness makes a difference in their health and happiness — and to your bottom line as well.

Find out what works and what doesn’t by reading the whole study. Then head over to our walking programs for corporations to learn more about adding an engaging, effective walking challenge to your wellness program.