From the Blog

Top 10 ways wellness MUST be relevant (with a score-at-home worksheet!)

Relevance is defined first as “relation to the matter at hand,” and “practical and especially social applicability.” (Thanks Merriam-Webster.)

On the road toward happy, healthy, high-performance workforces – we are always asked “What drives real program engagement?”

So we’ve consolidated our experience into a new, simpler way to talk about engagement:  Is it relevant? Or not?

For wellness programs to succeed, they must be relevant to many masters.  They have to feel meaningful to employees and their spouses.  And even though we know that meaningful incentives transcend the purely financial – programs have to make a CFO economically ecstatic.  They have to fit in the schedule of a busy HR or benefits executive dealing health care reform, tight budgets and morale issues.  And they must reinforce the company culture the CEO promises every day.

So as we eschew the checkbox approach in many aspects of life, here it makes sense:  Is it relevant?

(Hint:  Most wellness programs we’ve seen are not).

If your answer is “Heck no” or “Um, I dunno,” that’s OK.  You are not alone.  Most employers and health systems aren’t trained to look at all of the drivers of relevance in a systematic way.  So we have created a cheat sheet.  I thought of calling it the ‘Pertinence Pyramid’ or the ‘Does it Matter Matrix’ – but settled on the following:

The Top 10 Ways Wellness MUST Be Relevant

When going through your relevance checklist, score yourself on each type of relevance, and then find your total:

The Boring but Important Basics

  • Behavioral: Does it recognize that people are not just bundles of health risks, but sentient, emotional beings capable of change? Does it use the best improvement ideas from the science of behavior change, gaming, and behavioral economics?
  • Predictive: Does it predict outcomes you care about in statistically meaningful and significant ways? Is it built using robust assessment design methodologies? Do you gather population-wide insights you can act on?
  • Medical: Would the CDC, NIH and their ilk approve? Does it apply best practice risk scoring and stratification? Is it reviewed by experts not just in disease-care – but in prevention, health promotion, chronic disease avoidance, health benefits design and the intersection between health and human capital??

The Essential Human Factors

  • Personal: Does it antagonize your people – or treat them like people? Is it in tune with what matters to you? Does it ASK you what you want – or does it TELL you what it wants you to do to save someone else money? Does it make you think – and act if you are ready? Does it ride shotgun on your rounds at the hospital, your project meetings in the office, and drive your van around town?
  • Social: Do your friends like to talk about it on their walks to lunch? Does your spouse chime in? Can you talk about it at a sports game, at a church or a bar? Does it change and reinforce social behaviors and norms?
  • Organizational: Is it connected at its core to organizational and human capital goals (or is it a ‘benefits only’ thing)? Is it connected with the way you attract and retain top performers and keep them psyched and growing? Does it reinforce a culture of performance and profit growth?
  • Cultural: Does it connect with the ethos of the city, the region, the country? Does it match the vibe of your market? Tribes form locally – but are influenced by the zeitgeist, too

The Business Essentials

  • Benefits Ecosystem: Does it connect benefit programs, interventions and communications in a cohesive way? Does it fluidly connect not just the data, but the user experience? Is it core connective tissue – like a central nervous system – or just “one more vendor to manage?”
  • Financial: Every company offering benefits feels the pain of health costs in their pocketbooks – but does it hit your employees’ pocketbooks? Does it factor into how you address the 17% of costs we as employers (and as a country) spend on health benefits? Does it connect individual agency with meaningful incentives across a multi-vendor, complex system of employee goodies? Is it low-cost and high-value?
  • Strategic: If it is really strategic – it will just happen. Is wellness tied directly to one of the top 5 strategic goals of the company? (When I was at software badass Intuit, they got 96% of people to participate in their Great Place to Work survey. Why – because it was a strategic imperative to be a great place to work.) Is it an imperative to have employees with the energy, health and sharpness to clear the high performance bar you set for them?

Keep Score

And every new framework needs a score sheet – so score your company or health system.  And yes, you should feel free to use this as a Wellness RFP 🙂

Way to Make Wellness Relevant Importance

or “How Important is Each Relevance Driver” (with weighting in parentheses)


or “How is your Wellness Program doing?” (1=Poor, 3=Great)


(Importance * Success)

Behavioral Low (1) 2 2
Predictive Low (1) 3 3
Medical Low (1) 3 3
Personal High (3) 2 6
Social High (3) etc… etc…
Organizational High (3)
Cultural Medium (2)
Benefits Ecosystem High (3)
Financial Medium (2)
Strategic High (3)


If your score is under 45, drop us a line.

How well are you doing on the most important relevance factors?  HR execs are great at intuitively knowing what will fly and what won’t at their companies.  You know it when you see it.  But you MUST choose a wellness approach that not only gets that this is YOUR wellness program, but that is hyper-configurable enough to deliver relevance (and engagement) without breaking the bank.

Engagement and relevance are two sides of the same coin – where you find one, you will always find the other.  Follow rabid testimonials where you see them.  Ask references if the offering was a “one-size-fits-all” approach – or one that started with good rules and guidelines but soon “went native” and became totally organic.

Listen for the following sentiment:  “It’s OUR wellness program, not some vendor’s!”

Be relevant and you will be happier for it.  And healthier.  (And more profitable.)