Benefits and Compensation, Learning & Development

Studies Show That Coaching Makes a Difference in Wellness Programs

Many wellness programs now incorporate technology to appeal to tech-savvy employees, but the human element is still a critical component in the success of wellness programs, according to recent studies.


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A 2016 survey by ComPsych® Corporation found that personal health coaching motivates program participants to meet their wellness goals. In fact, a personal coach was the top motivator, cited by 37% of participants. Only 10% indicated that technology, such as apps and fitness devices, motivated them the most to reach wellness goals.

Other responses from the survey included a discount on health insurance (18%), a gift card (12%), a deposit into the participant’s flexible spending account (11%), and a company contest (8%).

“While apps and fitness technology are increasingly popular in the wellness field, nothing encourages accountability and results more than personal help from a trained wellness coach,” said Richard A. Chaifetz, PsyD, founder, chairman, and CEO of ComPsych.

Similarly, a HealthFitness study released this year showed that “technology, although crucially important, is only one piece of the puzzle. Participants are seeking a highly personalized experience. And programs that can offer this personalized experience, along with innovative technology, can attract and keep participants active in the wellness program.”

Thirty percent of HealthFitness client participants enroll in wellness coaching, and 70% of the cost savings realized by their employers is attributable to those participants. On average, that translates to an annual cost savings of $586 for coached participants (11.3% of medical costs) compared to $261 for participants who are not coached (5.2% of medical costs).

Overall, coached participants had better personal results than those who were not coached, according to the company. For example, coached participants gained less weight on average. In addition, the nearly 20% who were coached took certain steps to change their diet, participated in strength training, and lost about 8 pounds each on average.

“When considering how to bring personalization to your wellness program, it’s important to think of how best to match the program with the people,” said Cherie Buraglio, HealthFitness senior director, Product Management. Wellness programs incorporate a variety of “activities, resources, devices, apps, and challenges,” but Buraglio said the people involved—the coaches in particular—“bring the program to life and provide participants with a personalized experience.”

Citing a new study, HealthFitness reports that participants who are enrolled in coaching “via live session stayed in the program longer, had more coaching sessions and, as a result, were more successful in building healthy, sustainable habits.”