Behavior Change, User Engagement, User Retention
Areas of Focus:
Health & Wellness, Design, Development
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Improving corporate wellness with principles of behavioral design

“Lifestyle diseases” is a catch-all term used to describe preventable illnesses — such as heart disease and certain forms of cancer — brought on by unhealthy habits like smoking or inactivity. Unfortunately, though preventable, lifestyle diseases are on the rise. A UN report reveals 35 million people died of chronic diseases in 2005 — and that number is expected to increase 70% by 2030.

One of the biggest roadblocks to a healthier lifestyle is our modern work culture. Sitting at a desk in an office from 9-5 is not conducive to getting the exercise a human being needs to stave off chronic disease. In fact, research shows only 23% of Americans are getting enough exercise.

“People who are insufficiently active have a 20% to 30% increased risk of death compared to people who are sufficiently active.”
World Health Organization

Increasing activity and charitable giving with behavioral design

To combat sedentary corporate culture, improve employee health, and raise money for great causes, Vessel Partners partnered with the Dan Abrams Healthy Living Center at the Mayo Clinic to develop a fundraising-exercise challenge for employees.

The Mayo Clinic’s goal for the challenge was twofold: raise money for patient-centered causes and improve the health and wellbeing of its staff. Vessel Partners addressed these needs by developing a challenge based on evidence-based behavioral science — such as setting small goals, gamifying the experience, and rewarding participants with social motivation. Let’s take a closer look at each.

Start small

The first step of creating an engaging challenge for the Mayo Clinic was to determine the motivating factor and the mechanism of the challenge itself. Working closely with Mayo Clinic stakeholders, Vessel Partners developed an exercise-driven model where Mayo Clinic employees would earn $1 each day they completed an achievable exercise goal. By setting small goals for exercise, Vessel Partners ensured the challenge wasn’t intimidating but accessible and appealing to a broad demographic of employees.

Healthy competition

To further incentive participation in the Mayo Clinic’s fundraising challenge, Vessel Partners added a dose of healthy competition to the design. After identifying five fundraising teams — cardiovascular, oncology, neuroscience, general fund, and transplant — Mayo Clinic employees were invited to join the team of their choice and help contribute to that team’s specific fundraising efforts. If the camaraderie of working toward a shared goal wasn’t enough, employees were further incentivized to participate through gamification: the winning team would receive an extra $10,000 in fundraising dollars.

The power of social motivation

Building on the team aspect of the challenge, Vessel Partners added social functionality to the app — including the ability to follow fellow employees, see their activity, and send them virtual kudos. Due to the rush of oxytocin resulting from group belonging and social recognition, participants were motivated to continue working out and contributing to their team.

Similarly, employees were extremely motivated by the patients the fundraising dollars would benefit; 99% of surveyed participants stated that the idea of giving back to patients was an encouraging factor.

"The biggest motivation I got was to help and support Mayo Clinic for the wonderful purpose called “Well- being with a Purpose” where we as a team will be able to help our patients by funding the advancement of our practice and research. So, the more we move, the more our patients benefit. It gives an immense satisfaction that by joining Perk Health and recording our activities using the tool and resources, we are not only taking care of our patients, but also taking care of ourselves as well. Thanks to Perk Health for keeping a track on our activities"
— Participant, Mayo Clinic

Big results from small changes

Though the stakes seemed low — just $1 raised for each time an employee worked out at the Mayo Clinic — the results of the challenge were big. Ultimately, 2,400 Mayo Clinic employees participated in the challenge, logging over 30,000 hours of exercise and raising over $45,000 for Mayo Clinic patients. In addition to burning close to 11 million calories collectively, participants also noted myriad personal benefits to participating in the challenge. 80% reported feeling encouraged to do new types of activity, while 62% felt they made new connections with colleagues as a result of the challenge. Most notably, 100% of participants identified a link between improved physical well-being and their performance at work.

Though the Mayo Clinic fundraising-exercise challenge was a one-time event, Vessel Partners continues to successfully implement principles of behavioral design in the products we develop. For more information on behavioral design, check out our post, “4 Keys to Behavior Change.”

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