New Year's resolutions for better health and lower costs

Resolutions are great in theory, but the simple fact is that people usually find them hard to keep. Yet year-after-year, as the calendar turns to January, resolutions are made, many of which are health related, such as exercising more and eating healthier.1

Employers can jumpstart companywide wellness and keep their employees on track all year with the right tools, timely cues and meaningful rewards.  Those who do may realize a better engaged workforce and lower health costs. 

Wellness can drive better business results 

2 out of 3 businesses will offer wellness programs in 2019, up from just over 1 in 3 in 2017.2 A few reasons wellness programs have become so popular: 

  • Employees are 4 times more likely to be engaged at work if a company has a strong culture of health.3
  • Wellness programs have been shown to reduce health care costs and increase employee productivity, satisfaction and turnover.4 5
  • A Virgin Pulse survey found 87 percent of employees consider health and wellness offerings when choosing an employer.6

Ultimately, wellness program participation can help employees develop healthier habits, which can be key to improving health.7 How can companies help steer their employees to the wellness resources they offer?

Start small, make well-being fun and realize results 

Information isn’t always enough to compel behavior change. People are more likely to do the right thing for their health if it’s also enjoyable and reasonably achievable.  Look no further than the “piano stairs” experiment done by Volkswagen, in which a set of musical stairs was able to get people to walk up the stairs rather than using the nearby escalator – ostensibly because it was fun.8

In addition, the most effective resolutions are those that can actually be kept.9 Firms may encourage healthier habits as part of the work environment, such as scheduling walking meetings or encouraging people to take the stairs instead of the elevators; these types of habits can have a better chance of sticking than, say, running 5 miles every day before breakfast.

UnitedHealthcare offers tools and resources to help get employees started on a path to wellness.  A digital Health Survey covers things like sleep, stress and diet and then offers a slate of resources based on their answers. Employees are then prompted to select programs they are most interested in based on their personal goals such as weight loss, and then they are guided though sub-goal settings on food and activity.  A personal coach assigned to the employee can then help them establish and meet their wellness goals. 

The power of tracking and rewarding good behavior 

Keeping track of progress can help people stick with their health goals.10 Digital tools can do a great job of tracking performance, which is why UnitedHealthcare captures that information in a digital dashboard to show how the employee is progressing toward meeting personal wellness goals. When employees’ progress stalls, they receive messages of encouragement in their dashboard and from their personal coach.

Incentives can be an important part of the success of wellness programs. After all, when wellness programs offer incentives, participation may be 47 percent compared to 29 percent when they do not.11 For example, employees who participate in UnitedHealthcare’s wellness program can earn points they then can redeem for discounts on marketplace products.  

Reimbursing employees for fitness activities is another way to reward them for improving their health. In 2019, UnitedHealthcare is introducing a new reimbursement feature of its wellness programs called Gym Check-In to help drive higher member engagement and increase value and effectiveness to customers.

The enhanced experience of Gym Check-In – which will offer increased choice, such as traditional and non-traditional gyms as well as boutique studios – is designed to make it easier for employees to report their monthly gym visits and track rewards through their smartphones. The program also offers faster rewards, as members receive their reimbursement quickly after completing their 12 gym visits a month.

Some wellness programs offer cash incentives to members to complete certain activities, such as a gift card credit for members with osteoarthritis who want to explore treatment options with a UnitedHealthcare Orthopedic Decision Support health coach.

The goal of better health and lower costs

By enabling employees to see their goals, progress and rewards in one place, UnitedHealthcare supports employees to move toward better health.

For employers, this approach is designed for better engagement and outcomes. An internal analysis of this approach projects some impressive results: 12

  • A 20 percent closure of gaps
  • An 89 percent member acceptance of programs recommended
  • $2,600 per employee per year cost avoidance in unhealthy behaviors
  • A 20 percent active member participation in programs.

To seize upon the New Year’s resolution mindset, employers should encourage their employees to take advantage of digital prompts, trackers and support in setting wellness resolutions that will stick.  To learn more, visit here.


Woolley K, Fishbach A. Immediate Rewards Predict Adherence to Long-Term Goals. Personality and Social

Psychology Bulletin (2016). 1–12.

2017 22nd Annual Willis Towers Watson Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey, Jan 2018.

2017 Consumer Health Mindset Survey, Aon Hewitt, NBGH, Kantar Futures.

Purcell J. Meet the Wellness Programs That Save Companies Money, Harvard Business Review, April 20, 2016.

Wang Z, et al. Employee Fitness Programs: Exploring Relationships between Perceived Organizational Support toward Employee Fitness and Organizational Sustainability Performance. Sustainability (2018); 10, 1930. file:///C:/Users/jim.mccartney/Downloads/sustainability-10-01930.pdf

6 The Business of Healthy Employees: A Survey of Workplace Health Priorities

Ladwa S., Grønli TM., Ghinea G. Towards Encouraging a Healthier Lifestyle and Increased Physical Activity –  An App Incorporating Persuasive Design Principles. In: Kurosu M. (eds) Human-Computer Interaction. Interaction in Context. HCI 2018. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 10902. Springer, Cham.

Ramos K. Volkswagen brings the fun: Giant piano stairs and other ‘Fun Theory’ marketing. Los Angeles Times. Oct. 15, 2019.

Making your New Year’s resolution stick, The American Psychological Association

10- Michie, S., et al., The behavior change technique taxonomy (v1) of 93 hierarchically clustered techniques: building an international consensus for the reporting of behavior change interventions. Annals of behavioral medicine, 2013.46(1): p. 81-95

11 Employer with 500 or more employees. Mercer National Survey of Employee-Based Plans, May 2018.

12 Results expected based on internal analysis of well-being approach, 2018. Individual results shown may vary based on customer specifics and are not a guarantee of future results.