In an era of where technology and smartphones are rampant and where so many things can be done at the touch of a button, it can be easy to forget the value of one-on-one interaction, particularly when it comes to employee health.

Telecommunications giant Verizon, which has more than 177,000 employees across the U.S., recently piloted a coaching program with WebMD Health Services that helped nearly two-thirds of participants shed unwanted pounds.

“We were trying to find solutions to address our prevalence and incidence of diabetes and also pre-diabetes because we know that it is a manageable condition,” says Audrietta Izlar, manager, global health and wellness, Verizon.

[Image: Bloomberg]
[Image: Bloomberg]

Employer-sponsored coaching programs can play a valuable role in employee wellness, says Marianne Braunstein, vice president, product management, WebMD Health Services, by acting as a resource for workers in between physician visits.

“We really believe that the employee wellness coaching program has completely made a difference because coaches can actually be that model in between those patient visits [to their physician] to really encourage and help those patients pursue and manage healthier lifestyles,” she says. “The physicians simply don't have the ability to do that and the time with patients on that.”

At Verizon, employees who took a health assessment and who had a body mass index over 30 or who took a biometric screening and had a blood glucose level of a certain level were contacted by a WebMD coach and invited to take part in the voluntary program. Over the course of the 12-month pilot project, 1,100 employees participated in the program and of those, 800 reported weight loss.

In addition to telephonic one-on-one coaching, the program involved a digital component which enabled employees to establish goals and define small steps and activities that would help them achieve their goals.

“The digital platform works in conjunction with the coaches, allowing the coaches to see what the individual is doing,” says Braunstein. “A coach can actually see the progress that they [employees] are making and the steps they are taking with the activities toward the goals.”

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“The sponsoring organization really needs to step up and be a leader and understand what they are doing."

And those digital tools were important for Verizon, says Izlar, which dubs itself a mobile-first company. “It’s important for us to partner with an organization that has the right digital tools,” she says.

Verizon piloted the coaching program with the intention of expanding it to other areas of wellness. “We never do a one-and-done [program],” says Izlar. “We piloted this program with the intention of identifying those success markers so that we could expand it to the rest of the population. … The pilot for us was a success for WebMD to demonstrate the coaching philosophy as well as the supporting tools and experts that they brought to the table.”

For example, she says, “Verizon is very interested in stress management and having solutions for resilience as well. So the coaching platform and experts [could] bring that kind of resource to the table for these other types of lifestyle conditions or needs that have to be addressed.”

Braunstein believes a successful coaching program should have the following elements:

1. Top-down support. “The sponsoring organization really needs to step up and be a leader and understand what they are doing,” she says. “They can’t say to the vendor ‘yeah, you just go and make this happen.’ It has to be something that they are committed to, there has to be clear visibility among the leadership in driving that forward and they have to support it with all the right kind of marketing plans to really prepare their employees and engage them.”

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“Know that people are very sensitive about their health and wellness [information]."

2. Security protocols. Senior leaders must also have a firm understanding of privacy and security, says Braunstein. “Know that people are very sensitive about their health and wellness and [demonstrate] commitment by the organization that there is the security and that their private information will be protected,” she says.

3. Quality coaches. “It’s not just the skill and capability around health, but also the [knowledge and skills about] psychological and behavioral science that goes along with it,” says Braunstein.

4. Timeliness and ease of use. Having a platform that makes it easy for employees to schedule coaching appointments when they’re already thinking about their health – immediately following a health risk assessment, for example – is important. “Have that opportunity where they see the results of their numbers and health status and then being able to engage on that in a very timely and effective manner,” advises Braunstein.

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