Each and every year, millions of Americans across the country kick off the new calendar year with a renewed commitment to health resolutions.

For employers, who provide healthcare coverage for about half of all Americans, this is an encouraging sign, as rising healthcare costs are a major cost driver. It’s an annual challenge that isn’t going away, as employer healthcare costs are expected to rise 5% for the fifth consecutive year. Unfortunately, while many employees are making healthy New Year’s resolutions, most of them don’t last much longer than it takes for the ball to drop in Times Square.

Seeing so many employees make a fleeting health-related resolution is frustrating for employers, who have so much to gain from a healthier workforce — not only in lower healthcare costs, but also in increased productivity and employee satisfaction. The reason employees abandon health resolutions is simple: behavior change is hard, and long-term behavior change is even harder.

But employers don’t have to watch idly as their employees fall short of their resolutions; they can take action. Today, employers have easy-to-use tools to offer, from health benefits design to innovative digital health solutions, to help employees change their behavior, adopt healthier habits, and, most importantly, succeed in their personal health goals.

Many employers already offer a range of health and wellbeing benefits and solutions that align with the most common New Year’s resolutions, including fitness, nutrition, smoking cessation and financial wellness. Offering these to employees is critical.

Employers can empower employees to achieve their New Year’s health resolutions by ensuring that their employee health benefits and wellbeing programs incorporate a few key principles.

[Image credit: Bloomberg]
[Image credit: Bloomberg]

First, even with the motivation of a New Year’s resolution, the world of healthcare is complex and confusing. Employees aren’t going to search through all of the health apps, wearables, tools and services to find which is best for them. It’s simply overwhelming. That’s why, it’s essential that employee health benefits programs must be easy-to-access, navigate and use.

Whether an employee is looking to lose weight with a digital nutrition program, finally quit smoking or see a doctor about that nagging knee pain, employers can guide them to the right health solutions, programs or providers for their health needs. By cultivating best-in-class health programs and helping employees find those that are right for them, employers can make sure New Year’s resolutions get off to a (sometimes literally) running start.

Second, while Jan. 1 kickstarts many employees’ health or wellness initiatives, this motivation wears off as time passes. Employers can motivate healthy behavior by integrating incentives into their health benefits.

There has been a lot of debate about whether economic and behavioral incentives can actually motivate people to change behaviors, but every single consumer company in the world spends money on advertising — coupons and sales — and it’s successful. These are ultimately economic incentives. We need to do more of this in healthcare.

Employers can do this through financial incentives, such as a premium discount for each day an employee hits their activity goal, or behavioral incentives, such as creating a social competition among colleagues. The digital health revolution has made this possible through real-time data and measurable progress tracking, reinforcing more frequent, encouraging rewards to keep employees updated on and engaged in their resolutions day in and day out to develop healthy habits.

Finally, employees today expect everything they touch to be personalized, mobile and engaging, just as it is for them as consumers. Employers can drive healthy behavior change through consumerization of their employee health benefits and programs. Employers can use digital marketing principles to help steer employees to the right health resources, to get them to use them and to keep them engaged.

This, first, requires meeting employees where they already are — on their cell phone, computer or tablet. Engaging employees through mobile health and wellness programs ensures they are able to access the health tools and resources they need to stay on track, wherever, and whenever they need them. In addition to reaching employees at the right time and place, it’s important to send the right message.

The same way you wouldn’t advertise McDonald’s to a chef, reminding a marathon runner employee about the gym membership discount isn’t effective. Personalized, timely communications — whether it is a reminder to take medication or a notification during flu season for employees far from an urgent about the company’s telemedicine program — are far more effective in encouraging healthy behaviors.

Employers should see the New Year as a big opportunity. It’s a time to show employees that the company cares about their health and wellbeing, and is supportive of their goals both inside and outside of the workplace. Employers can leverage these principles in their employee health benefits and wellness programs to help employees achieve their resolutions and, at the same time, create a happier, healthier workforce.

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