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Psychographic Segmentation Can Improve Employer Wellness Programs

employee wellnessAccording to a new employer survey conducted by Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), employers plan to increase spending on wellness-based incentives with health care programs by +15% in 2014, resulting in an average $594 per employee. This is more than double the average of $260 per employee five years ago.

Employer wellness programs generally focus on lifestyle modification through weight and stress management, as well as disease management programs for chronic conditions like diabetes. This investment in employee health offers many benefits, including increases in productivity and reductions in absenteeism (not to mention improved quality of life for employees).

The evidence is pretty clear that a healthier workforce means a healthier bottom line. Research by Duke University1 estimates that obesity among full-time employees costs U.S. employers more than $73 billion per year. A Thomson Reuters2 study on PepsiCo employees found that there is a 25% difference in total costs between overweight and obese employees compared to employees of normal weight.

But are Employer Wellness programs working?

Employers’ investment in health & wellness is a tremendous benefit for employees, which could yield significant dividends for the individual and the company. However, employees need to take advantage of these programs for them to work, and there are indications that there is still much room for improvement with employee participation and behavior change. Despite years of disease management and an increasing focus on wellness:

  • Employee participation in workplace wellness programs (where offered) is only 22%
  • Overall cancer screenings across the U.S. have declined over the past 10 years
  • Half of patients taking maintenance medications for a chronic disease stop taking their medications within a year of starting therapy, and 25% of patients prescribed medications for a new illness fail to fill their initial prescription

Education alone is not the answer.

Many in the health care field believe that the right type and amount of information is what is needed to drive patient behavior change. However, information and education can only go so far. Case in point:

Physicians are some of the most educated people on health & wellness, understanding the importance and benefits of healthy living. What they haven’t learned from their intense education, they know how to investigate with the latest medical information at their fingertips. Surely physicians would be the most fit and healthy among us?

Actually, a study conducted at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of public health found that 51% of primary care providers are overweight or obese. 

Education is only part of the equation. A health care provider needs to know the individual motivations of his or her patients to position information in a context that will facilitate behavior change. 

Psychographic segmentation drives Employer wellness program success

Psychographics pertain to a person’s values, beliefs, personality and lifestyle. Psychographic segmentation groups people according to similar motivations. c2b solutions has developed a proprietary psychographic segmentation model (patent pending) that focuses on consumers’ approach to health & wellness, and is a valuable tool in driving positive patient behavior change.

Because of the innovative nature of this model, and c2b solutions’ experience applying psychographic insights in both business and medical settings, we are working with a Fortune 50 company to enhance their worksite wellness program focusing on diabetes and obesity. This client wanted to see if our psychographic segmentation model and insights could help motivate eligible employee candidates to sign up for a 12 week diabetes intervention program.

This client has plants all over the U.S. and they have been working with health coaches to sign up employees at work site screening events. These screening events involved having employees answer diabetes risk factor questions and having a blood test to see if they qualify for intervention. These health coaches were doing a great job engaging employees, but there was still an opportunity to improve participation. 

In phase 1 of a pilot, c2b solutions collaborated with the health coaches at a screening event and had nearly 400 plant workers take the c2b Classifier, which asks 12 questions and its algorithm classifies people into one of five distinct psychographic segments:

  1. Balance Seekers: Proactive; wellness oriented; weighs options and defines own success.
  2. Willful Endurers: Reactive; not invested in — but can be overwhelmed by — health issues
  3. Priority Jugglers: Reactive; focuses on others’ health vs. self; many responsibilities
  4. Self Achievers: Proactive; prioritizes health and image; task and achievement oriented
  5. Direction Takers: Defers to physicians; needs directive guidance; high utilizers of health care

Not surprisingly, a higher percentage of Balance Seekers and Self Achievers attended the screening event; these segments are invested in their health and investigate new information to help them manage their wellness:

c2b Segment Distribution

c2b segment distribution

However, after screening the employees for intervention program eligibility, Willful Endurers were clearly the segment most in need of help and were over-represented among employees with, or at risk for, diabetes. Willful Endurers are also the most challenging to motivate behavior change, and least likely to commit to a 12 week intervention program.

In phase 1, the health coaches were not trained in the c2b psychographic insights, so they did not change their processes or approach to employees. The only variable that changed from past screening events was c2b solutions classifying the employees by segment and interacting with them before they proceeded to the health coach stations. 

Using segment-specific messaging with a focus on motivating Willful Endurers to engage with the health coaches, c2b solutions helped drive a +15% increase in program sign-ups versus past screening events. In fact, Willful Endurers were the most likely segment to sign up for the 12 week intervention program:

index of enrollment

Employing psychographic insights, we were able to elicit increased program participation among the segment that is generally the least committed to investing in its health and wellness. Armed with these encouraging results, we are advancing to phase 2 of the pilot, where we will train the health coaches in the psychographic insights and segment-preferred messaging for application at the next plant screening.

I look forward to sharing these results in the near future.

  • Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM), Volume 52, Number 9: "The Costs of Obesity in the Workplace," Eric A. Finkelstein, PhD, Marco daCosta DiBonaventura, PhD, Somali M. Burgess, PhD, and Brent C. Hale, RPh.)
  • Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM), Volume 52, Number 5: “The Relationship between Health Risks and Health and Productivity Costs among Employees at Pepsi Bottling Group,” Henke RM, Carls GS, Short ME, Pei X, Wang S, Moley S. Sullivan M, Goetzel RZ

Psychographic Segmentation and its Practical Application in Patient Engagement and Behavior Change


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