August 25, 2021

Leveraging Behavioral Science to Drive Healthy Habits in the Workplace—and Beyond

Each year, chronic conditions cost the U.S. healthcare system more than one trillion dollars. Research shows that healthy lifestyle habits play a major role in preventing and managing many chronic diseases. For example, certain lifestyle changes can decrease new diabetes cases by more than 50%. So, it’s no surprise that, when employees adopt healthy habits, their employers can experience fairly significant cost savings.

However, when it comes to incorporating healthy activities into your health benefits programs, it’s important to take into account the health goals that are the highest priority for your employees. Because while physical activity and nutrition are critically important, true wellbeing is about supporting each individual’s holistic needs, including mental, emotional, financial, and social.

Top Employee Health Goals

Castlight’s health navigation solution provides members with the opportunity to select their top health goals. We collected anonymized health goal data from 806,000 Castlight members who work at various customers. The top three health goals they selected were strength and fitness, weight management, and healthy eating habits, but stress management, sleep, and mastering finances were popular, too.

The main point is: Every employee has unique health goals. Not everyone prioritizes the same thing, nor do they have the same health history. Rolling out one program to address a single health goal likely won’t work, as it will fail to engage the portion of the population the program isn’t relevant for. Alternatively, employers should provide their population with a range of healthy habits that address employees’ varying wellbeing priorities and health needs—by leveraging a customized approach, employers can connect the right employees with the right programs at the right time.

That’s where Castlight’s Healthy Habits feature comes into play.

How Healthy Habits Works

The goal of Castlight’s Healthy Habits is straightforward: Encourage members to make small lifestyle changes that positively affect their health. Currently, the 11 habit options are:

  • Power Down (to Improve Sleep)
  • Eat Veggies
  • Eat Fruit
  • Drink Water
  • Feel Grateful
  • Breathe
  • Connect (with a Friend or Family Member)
  • Read
  • Meditate
  • Stretch
  • Make Coffee (to Save Money)

While the goal is fairly simple, getting there is not. Forming healthy habits can be tedious, difficult, and unsustainable. Castlight’s Healthy Habits incorporates the latest behavioral science to effectively support our members in achieving their health goals:

  • Bite-sized Approach: One of the biggest mistakes people make is setting goals that are too lofty or vague. As a result, getting started can be intimidating, and when the person inevitably falls short of their unattainable goal, they’re tempted to give up completely. In Healthy Habits, each habit is broken down into a seven-day challenge, which is a concrete timeline most people are able to commit to. Simple, seven-day healthy activities don’t take much time or energy, so they’re less likely to discourage the user. However, the seven days is long enough to help them start feeling the health benefits and build confidence. In addition, each individual can only choose up to two habits at a time, as trying to take on more than that could hinder their success.
  • Easy Engagement: Creating an entirely new habit from thin air is hard. But adding on one extra action to an existing habit is much easier. When a member chooses a habit, they are prompted to anchor it to an existing daily routine. For example, they could choose to drink water after they wake up, when they eat lunch, or at another time of day in which they regularly do something. In addition, Healthy Habits is easily accessible from the member’s Castlight home page, and members receive daily reminders and can see their progress.
  • Incentives: Providing an incentive is one great way to get folks over the inertia hump of getting started. Castlight customers who offered certain incentives, such as awarding a participant five points each time they completed their habit check-in, experienced 1.5x more Healthy Habit registrations, 50% more engagement, and 80% more habit renewals than employers who didn’t incentivize Healthy Habits.
  • Delight: An obvious but often overlooked fact about human behavior: People are more likely to do things that are fun and delightful. Each time a user logs their habit, they see a fresh, positive, encouraging message, and a fun visual animation of their progress in the form of an acorn growing into a sapling.
  • Transition to Lifestyle Changes: Behavior change doesn’t happen overnight—it’s a journey. After a member completes a seven-day challenge, they’re prompted to renew it for another week. In this way, they build their habit and self-efficacy one week at a time. And yes, the animated acorn continues to grow week over week as an added visualization of their progress!

Ultimately, when employees change their lifestyle behaviors for the better, it can prevent chronic conditions and help them manage any current conditions they may have, which has the potential to reduce healthcare costs for employers. Healthy Habits is thoughtfully designed to support employees in practicing healthy behaviors that span the holistic wellbeing spectrum.

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