Guest: Ann Wyatt
Air Date: May 15, 2015
Ann Wyatt has been with HealthFitness for 20 years and has more than 22 years of experience in the health management and fitness industry. Her role includes startup of new health management and fitness management programs, transition of existing programs, employee recruiting and training, program quality assurance, and operations management for the East region.
John: Good morning, and welcome to the HR Examiner radio show. I’m your host, John Sumser. Today we’re coming to you again from beautiful downtown Occidental, California, the place where innovation got its start in the state of California. The sun is out, the roses are just dripping off of the rosebushes, and I want to give you greetings from paradise.
Today we’re going to spend some time talking with Ann Wyatt. Ann Wyatt is a long‑term player in the wellness movement. One of the biggest obstacles for managers of flexible workers to overcome is the communication barrier. In an office environment, you can casually stop by someone’s desk or office to check they’re okay, ask a question or pass on important information. Max Panych of Advance Systems: flexible workers are constantly operating from different places, at different times, meaning even the simplest communication can be difficult. She’s been working with a company called HealthFitness for about 20 years, and has a bucketful of interesting things to tell about how wellness works in organizations and the kind of programs she sees being effective. Ann, how are you?
Ann: I’m great. Thanks for having me today. I can’t say that where I am is quite as beautiful as where you are in California, but Delaware’s not doing too bad today.
John: Oh, this is the right time of year everywhere in North America, I think. Why don’t you introduce yourself, and give us a little bit of color on your voluminous experience, and let everybody know who you are?
Ann: Sure. As you mentioned, my name is Ann Wyatt, and I’ve been working in the corporate fitness and wellness industry for the past 23 years. I started as an intern with HealthFitness, and worked my way all the way to the position I have now as a regional vice president.
I was trying to think of a way to tell you a little bit about myself in introducing myself, but really two words kept coming to mind from both a professional and a personal perspective. I think the best way to tell you about me is to tell you that I think of myself as a problem solver, and I love a good challenge. Those are probably the best ways to describe me.
From the professional side, in my role with HealthFitness, what I do is I go into unique situations and circumstances with companies, and my goal is to help them solve their problems in helping their employees to get healthier. From my perspective, knowing how to tackle barriers that exist within a corporate culture, and then translating that into a design to help the employees get healthier is probably one of my favorite challenges that I see out there, and I get it quite often.
From a personal side, I have two teenage daughters. That alone gives me the title of problem solver. I have learned very quickly, so I know if I survive the teenage years, I know I can survive just about anything. On a serious note, thank you for having me today and giving the ability to speak about health management.
John: Great, great. Tell me a little bit about your job. What do you do? What do you actually do?
Ann: Sure. As I mentioned earlier, I’m a regional vice president, and I work within the account management team at HealthFitness. In that role, what I do is I supervise a team of our account managers in the eastern region of the United States, and I serve as the client’s contact at a high level for our accounts that are in my region, and I oversee the start‑up of brand‑new programs, whether they’re focused only on wellness or maybe just a corporate fitness program, where they might have an onsite corporate fitness center.
I transition programs to our management that may be existing already that maybe someone else ran, or one of our clients actually ran themselves and decided they needed a little bit of extra help and focus. I do recruiting, I do employee training, focus on quality assurance of our programs, and then overall operations management and making sure that everything … you know, all the trains are running on time.
John: What keeps you going? Why do you come back to work?
Ann: I think I have the best job in the world. I truly mean that. What better job is there out there than to impact someone’s life in a positive way, is how I really have always looked at it, and I tell people as they’re interviewing for our company what great roles we have and what impact we can make. Then beyond that, I think I’m just constantly challenged and I’m constantly learning, and I take that knowledge and apply it to my work every single day, which makes it a lot of fun.
John: You talk about having impact in people’s lives. There’s got to be sort of a high failure rate in the work that you do, or everybody would be in a wellness program. How do you get success? You come to me and you want to encourage me to take better care of myself. How do you break through and get me to do that and have the sort of impact that you want?
Ann: Well, you know, that’s the challenge. If our jobs were easy, I wouldn’t have a job. You know, if it was easy to get people to do all the right things they need to do to manage their health, we’d be one healthy population out there. To me, I think ensuring success is taking a hard look at what you’re doing with what you offer from a corporate perspective. You know, what are you offering to your employees, and how are you really focusing on reaching all the people that you interact with, because one size does not fit all when it comes to working with people to help them to make healthier choices.
John: I’m actually really interested in you come to me … you know, so my employer offers something and I come to you. What makes that relationship work?
Ann: It’s a partnership. First and foremost it’s a partnership, because I need to understand what your barriers are, what is causing you to have issues, whether it’s you want to lose a couple of pounds, your cholesterol might be high, you just can’t make time to get physically active, and then really understand how do we make some small changes to help you get there. How do we just tackle one thing at a time?
You know, as I mentioned, if it was easy, everyone would be healthy. It’s work. They call it a workout because it’s work. We want to make sure that we’re partnering with individuals, helping them understand their individual journey that they need to make, and personalizing it for them. Personalization is a real key in helping someone overcome all the barriers to having a healthier lifestyle.
John: I have to have a problem for you to be able to work with me? Is that what you’re saying?
Ann: No, it is not. That’s a great question. We definitely see many more people that might have something that they want to focus on or work on to improve, but one of the things that we’ve learned from many studies that are out there is that you want to keep your healthy people healthy. We don’t want them to eventually see that their risk has changed and they’re starting to see some issues in their health that they didn’t have before, so we want to make sure that we’re meeting every individual where they are.
It could be, as I mentioned earlier, the person that wants to focus on a specific area, whether it’s weight loss, high blood pressure, physical activity, smoking cessation, things along those lines, or it could be that person that seemingly does all the right things now, and how do we keep them on track. You know, someone’s life can change every month with different challenges at work, different challenges in their personal life, and it’s helping them remember that life … your health is something that will happen throughout the year.
You want to make sure that you’re always focusing on it, because it’s going to be there every single day, and how do we just keep making adaptations and being flexible to make sure that we’re able to do the right things we need to do to stay healthy.
John: I’m still going to kick this dead horse just a little bit. I think that what you said is I have to have something that I want to work on for wellness to work. Is that right?
Ann: Well, not necessarily.
John: I have to have a problem? I can’t just do something? I have to know where I want to go?
Ann: Well, I think what always helps, and something we try to keep in mind is you want to begin with the end in mind, so why are you doing anything? For me, I look at it and I internalize it. I mentioned I have two teenage daughters. I want to be a mom that can show my daughters that I can have a work life, I can have a personal life and I can balance it all, and I want to keep up with them because they keep me extremely busy. That’s how I look at it, so maybe it’s not necessarily such a strong word as a goal, but it’s having a thought in mind as to what is my vision for what I want to be as I progress through life.
For some people it might be something very specific, as I want to lose ten pounds by the Fourth of July so I have a great bathing suit body. I mean, that’s what people might focus on, but for me, I look at it a little bit different. That’s why I mentioned earlier it’s important to be personal with how we work with people, because everyone’s a little bit different. If it’s a goal that helps them be measurable, then yes, then that’s the way to go. It could just be a concept of I just want to feel healthier, then we can focus on that too.
John: Maybe this is a good time to just ask what in the world is wellness. What does that term mean?
Ann: Sure. Well, what we’re seeing from employers as well as the wellness industry partners such as HealthFitness is really that they’re increasingly looking at employee health from a whole‑person view, that well‑being point of view. It recognizes physical, social, emotional, financial and environmental dimensions, and you have to consider all of those when you’re planning a program, and address those dimensions so that you’re having success.
Because wellness isn’t just about being physically active. It’s not just about watching your weight and keeping your Body Mass Index to a desirable level. It’s taking a combination of all those things and making sure you’re able to go about your daily life in a positive way.
John: Are there levels of wellness? I haven’t really looked very hard at the wellness universe, but as I listen to you, there must be different levels of effective use of the programs, or different levels of feeling state or something, some sort of progress towards wellness. Is there a wellness index?
Ann: Well, what we do is we assess that through a health assessment, typically. It’s a great tool that provides a foundation for us of what does your current health status look like, and how likely are you to make changes if you need do, but lastly also helping you focus on what are the areas and healthy habits you do that help you keep away from having risk in any certain area.
When I look at a wellness range or a wellness score, HealthFitness’s tool, their health assessment tool, provides an individual, when they’ve completed their health assessment, with an overall wellness score. We look at ranges from Good to Fair to Poor, so Good means, you know, keep doing what you’re doing. You have a lot of great things working in your way. There may be a couple of little red flags that might go up that you might need to pay special attention to, but overall you’re in a good spot with your health and your wellness overall.
Fair means there’s definitely more warning signs that are popping up. You may have some more healthy habits that you have to focus on, or habits that you need to focus on making healthier. Then, we look at the Poor range as … our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Dennis Richling, he refers to it as the … when you get a score that’s in the Poor area, or we look at it as the red area, is that it’s the OMG moment, where you say, “Oh, my God, I have to do some real work here and improve my health.” Yes, there are some levels that you can attribute to wellness and helping you understand where you stand on that overall spectrum of health.
John: Okay. How do you design a program … because every workforce is going to have that entire range of people, how do you design a program that serves the entire range? How do you do that?
Ann: Yeah. Well, that’s a great question, John, because when there’s different kinds of people within your employee population, like I mentioned earlier, one size doesn’t fit all in the programs that you offer. If you want to really create a thriving health management program for all the different types of employees you see, from those that might be from a Good range of wellness to the Poor range, you want to make sure that you’re taking an approach that starts with asking all the right questions that help you design the program best. Why should employees care? What’s in it for them? How well do you know your workforce, and ultimately you want to have … to make sure that you’re understanding how you measure success.
What we look at and what I focus on, I have a role within HealthFitness as an expert voice, and that means that I have subject matter expertise in things like program design and leadership engagement and support in our corporate culture. When I look at that, I look at all the best practices that exist to help design programs for people in all these different ranges. Those things include, again going back to the well‑being concept, remembering that wellness is more than just physical health. It’s social, emotional, financial, environmental. All those things have to be addressed as well.
You want to make sure that you’re committing the appropriate resources to your program, and making sure that you have internal champions that will help you, all the way from the top leadership down to the people that work in the trenches, that help promote the program and make people know that it’s a good thing that’s out there and it’s a great support available for you.
Then, you also want to leverage multiple communication channels that are out there for any corporation. One of our engagement strategies managers within HealthFitness shared with me a great stat. She said that your target audience will need to be exposed to a message an average of 11.4 times before it triggers a response, so keeping messages out there and doing it multiple ways is going to be really important.
Then lastly, you just have to ensure your program is nimble enough, to make sure it resonates with your client’s unique corporate culture. One thing I always know about our clients is that if you’ve seen one of them, you’ve seen one of them. I learn a lot from all of them, and they all approach how they work differently, and so we have to approach how we program differently as well.
John: If you install a program in a company, what’s a typical participation rate and what’s a stellar participation rate?
Ann: Got it. That’s a loaded question. For us, there’s a lot of factors at play. One of the factors might be are you offering an incentive for your program, and what we will typically see is that companies that don’t offer any incentive to participate in the program, whether it’s to complete a health assessment or do a walking program … you know, there’s many different levels of programs that might be offered … if there’s no incentive, we typically see about 25 to 30 percent of the population participate, so it’s not a complete failure. You know, there’s people that are getting out there, but there’s still … when you have 25 or 30 percent participating only, there’s still 75 people … or 75 percent of the population that aren’t engaging in what you’re doing, so definitely room for improvement.
We do see some locations or some of our clients that have participation rates that are as high as 75, 80, 90 percent that participate in the program, and typically those are driven by pretty robust incentives that tie in a benefits premium reduction. It really creates that link between you’re taking care of your health, we’re also going to reward you with lower benefits premiums in your paycheck, so that you see that this is impacting your health eventually. We want them to focus on doing the right things to get healthy, or stay healthy if they’re already there.
John: In organizations, it’s often the case that 20 percent of the people create 80 percent of the value. I wonder if, in wellness programs, if you have some sense of the relationship between participation in the program and the benefit to the company. Is it the same kind of thing, where 20 percent of the people participating will get you 80 percent of the benefit of having a wellness program, or do you have to have a sort of a one‑for‑one correspondence?
Ann: I think in wellness, my opinion is that you need that one‑for‑one. Overall, I think the more people you have doing things that are moving in the right direction of making positive choices towards their health is only going to be the best thing for you. In every culture that we walk into, every client that we walk into, one of the things we see is that there’s always going to be that subset of people that always do the right thing. They’re going to be the members of the fitness center. They’re going to be … if you tell them to take their health assessment, they’ll take it. They’ll get their cholesterol screening taken during the health fair.
You name it, they’re going to … they’re the doers, they’re the joiners, and they definitely make up the backbone of the culture and helping you towards getting your employee culture healthier. One of the things we know is that if we’re not moving the dial on the rest of the population, you’re not going to see the returns that you want.
John: Do you generally find that that core enthusiastic crew are the same people who produce the biggest value for the company? Do you see that?
Ann: Not necessarily. I think overall, what we’ll see is that they certainly contribute to it, but we can’t put all the eggs in that basket. I think we have to really see the part of the population that really we’ll focus on, helping them change their risk status. Maybe they were physically inactive and now they’re being active, and now we’re starting to see their weight drop, and eventually some other great things will happen as far as their health’s concerned. It’s really moving those people into a healthier state that gets you a bigger bang for your buck.
John: Yeah. I was going to say, I think there’s a fairly large group of people who are workaholic like me, and the idea that wellness is something that I should take time for was very counterintuitive for, let’s say, the first 60 years of my life. If you came to me and said exactly what you just said, that what we need to do to make the company work better is have people take time off and do exercise, I would have laughed you right out of the office, absolutely laughed you right out of the office. How do you communicate that, right, because there is a sense that it’s the 80‑hour‑week workaholics who produce some significant share of the value in the company, and wellness is sort of the opposite of that.
Ann: I think you … again going back to I guess my earlier theme of you have to make it personal for them, so why is it important for them? If they don’t see a value in it, they’re not going to keep doing what they’re doing. The example of you, John, if you didn’t see a value in it eventually, you weren’t going to make a change. It’s really helping them to see what’s in it for them. How does it really translate into their own personal goals or at least thought process in what they want to achieve in life, whether it’s personal, professional, or a mixture of both?
John: In my case, I never, never experienced a light bulb that said, “Oh, it’s time to take care of yourself.” It’s more like my resistance wore away and one day I found myself sort of accidentally taking care of myself. There wasn’t some break. It was more, “Oh, that’s what they mean. Oh.” There was some sort of solid understanding, but you never could have taught me or educated me into that position. Some other things had to happen for that to happen, so I assume that that’s true of people more than me. When you have to get large participation chunks in a program, then you have to find some ways to reach people like that. How do you do that?
Ann: Well, I think it goes back to just finding multiple ways to connect with individuals. It sounded like, in your example, to use your words, you got worn down a little bit, or we wore you down, they wore you down to eventually see that … you know, maybe it wasn’t a light bulb, but something clicked that helped you to see that there were some things that maybe you could focus on. Maybe I misread what you were saying, but when I think about the general population, it’s really again that focus of what are each individual … what are they looking for, and how do we connect with them.
I think about populations where we have … something we hear a lot about is technology and how to reach people through technology, and there’s people out there who say, “Well, everyone has a smartphone.” Well, what we’ve learned in our world, in the corporate wellness industry, is that that’s not true. Not everyone can be reached by a cellphone. We have some manufacturing locations that don’t have a cellphone or they have very limited use of it throughout the day, just because of the job requirements.
It’s trying to figure out, “Okay, so I can’t have an app for them, maybe that’s not going to work, but maybe it’s me being in front of them face to face and reminding them about the program, and maybe specifically talking to them about the risk factors that they may have, if they have any, and what we can do to help them feel better if they are looking for that.” It’s posters. It’s the old paper, poster route, where we have different things that they can see throughout their buildings when they come in for the day. It’s being creative too, and thinking of the different ways that we can make sure we get the word out there.
Eventually, you know, we look at social support, building again that culture of health where it’s the thing to do. The buzzword around the water cooler is, “Hey, did you complete that physical activity challenge that they had out there? It was great. Everyone was out there on the walking trail.” Or, “Hey, I completed my health assessment. Did you complete your health assessment? I’m going to get that $50 gift card,” or whatever it might be.
It’s looking at it from multiple perspectives and making sure that the word is out there and it engrosses them, and eventually maybe they’ll have that light bulb go off, or at least something will click to help them feel that this is the direction and the steps that they should be taking to keep themselves in a good healthy state, or improve it if they need to.
John: These things all sound very complicated. I wonder if you have to have a personal … you have to have some person on site to run a wellness program. Is it necessary to have a professional in charge of the wellness program?
Ann: You don’t have to necessarily have someone on site, but you do have to have someone that owns the program. You don’t want your program to be the best‑kept secret that’s out there. You want it to be the thing that people hear about. They have brand recognition for it, they understand what’s expected of them, and above all you have to keep it simple, because if it does sound complicated to you, then you’re not going to do it, or you’re not going to want to do it, for sure.
We want to make sure that people understand that there are small steps that can you take to get yourself to the health status that you would love to be in and we would love to see you in, as a vendor that provides services like this, and focus from that perspective, that then anything is possible.
John: Last big question, is there technology that you’d use for managing a wellness program? Are there competing tools that help manage the kind of program that you’ve been talking about?
Ann: Sure. There have been a lot of recent technological advances in our industry for sure, especially over the past two or three years, I would say. I think it’s important. There’s corporate wellness platforms that exist out there, and we certainly look at that as the hub of where people get their information and learn about how they can get healthier and become active and informed, and helps to serve as a conduit to engage participants. We do take a step where we tell clients to really take a step back and determine the technology that’s out there, and make sure it’s a good fit for your population.
You know, we work with clients that want something. They might have a group of Millennials out there and they grew up on technology, so we want something that’s flashy maybe, and it wants them to really get engaged by just the use of technology. Then we might have other people in the age ranges that, “You know, technology is nice, but it’s not the only thing that I’m going to use to help myself get healthier.” Again, just like having different ranges of wellness in your population, you’re going to have different ranges of people that are willing to use technology, and you have to consider that.
For me, I think whenever someone looks at technology, if it’s anything that provides them with a spark to get them engaged in a program, then I’m all for it, but I also want to make sure that they understand that we want you to get engaged and stay engaged, and think about long‑term behavior change that you can make.
John: We’re coming to the end of our time. It’s been a great conversation. Is there anything you want to leave the audience with before we go?
Ann: I think overall, first of all, I appreciate your time today, and it’s been a great discussion, you are correct. For me, I think I’m fortunate. I work in an industry that’s always evolving, and the evolution has led to great technological advances overall and an expanded view of what well‑being is. It’s not just about your physical health, it’s so much more.
The one thing I think everyone needs to know is that achieving a healthy workforce will take time and commitment, and it takes recognizing that you’ll never have a perfect program, so you have to focus on one that’s right for your company. You want to have commitment with the appropriate resources, whether it’s a vendor like HealthFitness, whether it’s technology you offer, or the people that are within your organization that you have to drive the success of the program.
Then, it takes asking the right questions. Know your workforce. Determine what is working, what isn’t working, and being ready and willing to change if you need to, because we are in an industry that’s evolving, and the world is evolving, so we have to collectively evolve with it.
John: Cool. It’s been great talking to you. If you don’t mind, introduce yourself again and tell people how to get ahold of you, and then we’ll get out of here.
Ann: Great. Well, thanks so much. I am Ann Wyatt. I’m Regional Vice President with HealthFitness, and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m found on Twitter @AnnMWyatt, and I appreciate the opportunity to be here today. Thank you very much.
John: Great. Thanks very much, Ann. It was great to get to know you, and thanks, everybody, for tuning in today. We’ll be back again next week. It’s a beautiful sunny day here in California. Enjoy your weekend. Thanks, everybody.