A Simple 'Nudge' Can Increase Employee Health Engagement, Such as Flu Shot

While Americas employers are spending millions of dollars each year to incentivize their employees to change their health behaviors, a newly published study by leading researchers reveals that simple, interactive messaging may be the most effective strategy of all.

The study, published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, determined that simple messaging that prompts employees to "make a plan" by writing down the specific date and time when they intend to complete a health activity can significantly increase the likelihood of follow through. The research was conducted by a team of academics at four leading universities The University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, Yale University and Harvard University in conjunction with Evive Health, the nations leading innovator in the design of customized communication tools that motivate individuals to engage in health and wellness activities.

"Our research found that prompting people to simply write down the specific date and time when they plan to engage in a health activity in this case, getting a flu shot is a highly effective and zero cost method for improving behavior," said lead researcher Katherine L. Milkman, PhD, assistant professor of operations and information management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. "We anticipate that similar prompts could be used to increase employee engagement in many other healthy behaviors that people intend to follow through on but often overlook due to competing demands on their time."

"This is significant news for any business or organization concerned with motivating employee or consumer health behaviors," says Prashant Srivastava, chief operating officer of Evive Health. "The research supports our long-held belief that tailored messaging designed to incorporate leading insights from behavioral economists is extremely effective, in addition to being a low-cost way to increase employee health engagement."

In the controlled study of 3,272 employees at a large Midwestern utility firm, individuals 50 years of age or older or those with chronic health conditions were randomly assigned to receive one of three reminder mailings encouraging them to obtain a flu shot at an on-site clinic. Of those who received a specific prompt to write down the date and time when they planned to get a vaccination, 37.1 percent obtained the vaccination, an increase of 4.2 percentage points over those who received a general identical reminder, except that it contained no prompt to make a plan. Additionally, the planning prompt was most effective among employees for whom on-site flu shots were offered on a single day only. Prompting these employees to write the date and time when they intended to receive their shot increased compliance by 7.9 percentage points, presumably because for this group, forgetting to attend the on-site clinic once would mean missing out on the opportunity altogether.

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