Gold standards are starting to emerge for corporate wellness programs. Virgin Pulse, which has been monitoring wellness program adoption and design, says there are basically two categories extant in the corporate world today: wellness 1.0 and wellness 2.0.

The overarching difference lies in engagement levels. But engagement has been a tricky quality to define, and even harder to achieve. Virgin’s idea with 1.0/2.0 is to simplify the process, identify the major components that can lead to engagement, and offer easy-to-adopt methods to begin to grow engagement.

“While wellness 1.0 is a great start to showing your employees you care, it’s limited from the very beginning — many of these programs can be inapplicable and unappealing to a vast majority of people,” Virgin says in “Moving Beyond Wellness 1.0. “They may not offer enough variety or flexibility for people at different stages of their journey to better health. For some, there may be too many barriers to participation for them to overcome.”

Wellness 2.0 programs tend to include options that address three key health areas:

  • Exercise options, which make “people more energetic, focused, and productive”;
  • Healthy food options and health eating support, which offset “poor nutrition stemming from eating too much sugar, carbs, or fat can actually [which] cause cognitive impairment”; and
  • Sleep assistance options, because people who are well rested perform much better on the job than do those who don’t get enough sleep.

But beyond those elements, the 2.0 programs don’t have the characteristics that Virgin found in programs that are bedeviled by lack of engagement.

Virgin starts by examining the 1.0 level of wellness programs, and offering a list of defects that these low-engagement programs typically display. The Seven Deadly Sins of wellness 1.0 programs are:

  • They only target the sick
    Positive: Good for those with health issues who want to change.
    Negative: Limits the number of employees who will be interested in the program or who can take advantage of what is offered.
  • They don’t encourage lasting behavior change
    Positive: Elements of the program can lead to quick benefits.
    Negative: Healthy behaviors aren’t reinforced so health gains are often lost later on.
  • They don’t engage your potential wellness champions
    Positive: For those they target, these plans can work well in the short term.
    Negative: If the program is all about helping people with health problems get somewhat healthier, the program leaves out the healthy workers who want to further enhance their health. These people can be champions of the wellness plan, Virgin says. But too often they are not considered in plan design, so they don’t participate.
  • hey lack daily engagement
    Positive: There isn’t one for this category.
    Negative: Poor communications with employees about their wellness options can doom even a robust wellness program. As Virgin notes, “Once the kickoff meeting is over, an employee’s health risk assessment is complete, and they have their login for the wellness site, most don’t engage with the program again until they’re nudged — or as far out as the next wellness kickoff meeting.” Engagement needs to be daily, Virgin argues, to drive engagement.
  • They focus on HRAs and biometrics alone
    Positive: Both are great tools for evaluating the physical well-being of your workforce.
    Negative:  Too often, the information from HRAs and biometrics screenings isn’t used to create an actionable wellness plan that helps address the health concerns these assessments uncover.
  • They only offer rewards upfront
    Positive: The upfront “bonus” attracts people to the program initially.
    Negative: That bonus is often the only tangible reward employees ever see for participation. “The unfortunate result is that many of the people you’d like to see in your program may very likely disengage after the big initial reward is gone,” Virgin says.
  • They’re an administrative burden
    Positive: Keeps employment strong in the HR department.
    Negative: Costly! “The last thing you need is a system that’s tough for you to manage and tough for your people to use. Unfortunately, that’s often what happens with wellness 1.0 programs. The harder it is to administer, the further down the list of priorities it falls.”