Financial incentives and disincentives for wellness participation and biometric outcomes are all the rage. Insurance premium discounts might get employees to complete your HRA, but they won’t motivate people to do the hard work of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Achieving and sustaining healthy behavior changes are complex tasks. When people decide to tackle weight loss, it’s not because their employer is offering a $50 gift card to reach a healthy BMI. It’s usually because they want better quality of life. The appeal of being healthy enough to do the things they want to do (like fit into a roller coaster car) is, for many people, a more powerful motivator than any amount of cash.

And that’s where you come in.

As a health promoter, you can nudge participants to zero in on quality of life by changing your messages. Wellness programs tend to hit people over the head with doom-and-gloom sound bites about reducing risk of heart disease and diabetes; it’s all about future health, and it’s not motivating. A growing body of research points to the value of a different approach:  connecting healthy behaviors with improved quality of life now. Noticing your mood is better, or that you can run around with your kids without gasping for breath are more immediate, real payoffs than “preventing stroke.” So, instead of “exercise to reduce your risk of a heart attack,” try “exercise to feel better and boost your energy today” or “exercise so you can do the things you want to do.”

Health-related quality of life (HRQL) is a subjective measure of well-being, taking into account factors that affect physical and mental health — socioeconomic status, ability to perform activities of daily living, level of social support, and health risks/conditions.

Why should employers care about HRQL? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, self-assessed health status is a more powerful predictor of mortality and morbidity than many objective measures of health. You could have an entire data warehouse of biometric data, but if your wellness program isn’t tuned in to HRQL, you don’t have the whole picture. And if you’re not helping participants connect the dots between everyday health behaviors and quality of life, you’re missing an opportunity to build intrinsic motivation.

In addition to changing your messages, get wellness participants thinking about HRQL by asking these questions in surveys, internal blog posts, and individual coaching sessions:

  1. Overall, how would you rate your health-related quality of life (scale of 1-10 where 10 is the best)?
  2. What’s the main thing you’d like to be able to do that you can’t do now for health/wellness reasons?
  3. Specifically, how do you envision your life will be better when you adopt a healthier lifestyle and stick with it?

Reducing healthcare costs is a primary goal of employee wellness programs, to be sure — but the c-suite also looks for improved productivity, recruitment, and retention. When you help people cultivate intrinsic motivation for long-term change and identify tangible quality-of-life improvements, word will get around. Happier and healthier employees boost workplace morale and help establish a culture of well-being… and that’s good for any business.

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