How do we increase enrollment and usage of employee wellness programs?

How do we increase enrollment and usage of employee wellness programs?

Project Summary

We partnered with the Office of Human Resources of the City and County of Denver to increase enrollment and usage of their wellness support program for employees, which promotes regular medical checkups as well as tutorials to develop healthier habits. We tested two email interventions in randomized controlled trials - one aimed at increasing enrollment and another aimed at increasing usage among enrolled employees. We found that behaviorally-informed emails failed to increase enrollment but succeeded in increasing usage among enrolled employees.

Why is this issue important?

Many private and public sector organizations have invested in comprehensive wellness programs for their employees, in the hope that such programs can improve employee health and well-being over time. Yet the evidence on whether these programs are effective is mixed. One potential challenge is how to encourage people to use them. In a partnership with the City and County of Denver Office of Human Resources (OHR) and Office of Social Equity and Inclusion, TPL found meaningful gender and racial differences in both enrollment and program usage in Denver’s wellness program, Vitality, where White female employees were overwhelmingly more likely to participate in the program. These large differences in enrollment and usage of Vitality have the potential to exacerbate pre-existing inequities in employee wellness.

What are we doing?

We tested two email nudge interventions to improve enrollment and usage of Vitality. To improve enrollment, we tested two types of emails to over 4,800 unenrolled employees encouraging them to enroll. One experimental email was written to evoke loss aversion and the other emphasized social norms. To improve usage, we tested two types of emails that encouraged over 5,800 enrolled employees to complete a ‘mental well-being review’. One experimental email was written to emphasize the confidentiality of employees’ health data and the other emphasized the ease or convenience of completing the mental well-being review.

What have we learned?

Neither experimental email produced positive, statistically significant increases in Vitality enrollment relative to a control email. Both the ‘confidentiality’ and ‘convenience’ email led to positive, statistically significant increases in the completion of mental well-being reviews - a key program usage indicator. Interestingly, we found that the enrollment email nudges were more effective for female and White employees, suggesting that the racial and gender gaps in program usage are difficult to close using only email nudges.

What comes next?

TPL has continued to study other approaches to improve employee wellbeing, focusing on interventions to reduce burnout over time.