5 Lessons Employee Wellness Programs Can Learn from Pokémon Go

You can see them in city parks, on busy boulevards, maybe even in your office hallways. Scores of people using their smartphones to capture Weedles, Rattatas, Zubats, and more. It’s all part of Pokémon Go, a version of the classic Japanese video game of the late 1990s combined with GPS and the augmented reality of today. And the thing is, it’s the right idea for increasing employee wellness program adoption. Here are five ways to take advantage of the “movement.”

1. Get employees moving

Designed to get players outside and moving, the game encourages people to explore virtual adaptations of their surroundings to capture varieties of Pokémon (short for pocket monsters in Japanese) that pop up in various places. In a way it’s the same kind of gamification that has made FitBit such a popular fitness tracker. Pokémon players and Fitbit wearers are “rewarded” the more they succeed at their task.

That in a nutshell is the theory behind incentivizing employees to take better care of themselves. Companies have been combining various incentives and disease management programs to help workers improve their health.


2.  Gamification works

In addition to fitness trackers, there are a number of apps and software packages available that in effect turn getting health into a game. RedBrick Health and limeade are two companies that offer employers interactive, online wellness programs. Employees are rewarded for the successful completion of journeys that lead to better fitness and nutrition. And wellness programs pay off. The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans estimates that employers save from $1 to $3 for every dollar spent.

One survey found that 62 percent of employers reported using one or more gamification elements to promote employee health. Engine manufacturer Cummins instituted a Champions’ Challenge with 73 percent of their eligible population enrolled. Louisiana-based Ochsner Health System instituted an employee health game. More than 50 percent of participants earned enough points to receive a discount on their health premiums. Group Health in Washington has a similar program.

3. Provide incentives

Safeway’s voluntary Healthy Measures program evaluates four measures of health: tobacco use, weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. If employees “pass” all the tests, their annual premiums are reduced by up to $780 for individuals and $1,560 for families. The incentive program helped the grocery store chain keep their health care costs stable during a period when such costs to other companies rose by 40 percent.

4. Better yet, combine incentive programs

In a report published on HealthDay, the online news service, PepsiCo found that implementing a disease management program alone among its 67,000 employees resulted in a cost reduction of $136 per month and a 29 percent drop in hospital admissions.

Moreover, employees participating in both disease and lifestyle management programs saved $160 each month, and hospitalizations in this group fell 66 percent. The research also demonstrated that every $1 invested in the wellness program saved $3.78 in health care costs.

Group Health (now Kaiser Permanente) worked with Grange Insurance Association to develop a culture changing wellness program that combined competitions, fitness and nutrition classes, biometric screenings, and more. Since inception, the Association has realized three years of impressive reductions in their health care costs.

5. Consistently promote key health initiatives

Lowering employee hospitalization and readmissions is key to helping companies lower their health care costs. According to PwC, hospitals and physicians account for 79 percent of employer health coverage costs. So, the more companies can do to keep their employees out of hospitals and doctors’ offices the better.


87% of employer health care savings


Wellness programs help. So do chronic disease management programs, especially when you consider that 87 percent of an employer’s health care cost savings come from such efforts. Preventive care, like that practiced by Group Health, can keep employees from getting sick in the first place. And should they need treatment, Kaiser Permanente’s evidence-based medicine and occupational health services can get them back on the job quicker.



All plans offered and underwritten by Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington andKaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington Options, Inc.

(800) 542-6312 
601 Union St., Ste. 3100 Seattle, WA 98101-1374 

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© Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington

All plans offered and underwritten by Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington or Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington Options, Inc.