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Engagement vs. Participation

Employers often use the terms “participation” and “engagement” interchangeably when describing the outcomes of their wellbeing program or resources.

Wellvation views participation and engagement separately, with each providing value in understanding whether the wellbeing program is working.  

Wellbeing Participation

Participation is a measure of how often, and in what specific ways employees are active in the wellbeing program. Wellbeing participation is easily tracked and reported.

Participation includes things such as the number of employees who complete a health assessment, biometric screening, a health coaching session, a quiz, or challenge.  

But not all participation is the same.  Participation in some programs are more meaningful than others and their relevance often varies from person to person. How much time does the activity take? How much learning was gained? Is the activity related to a participant's own health priorities or goals? 

What Wellbeing Participation Metrics Do

High participation is critical for wellbeing strategies to work. When workforce participation is strong, employees have a greater awareness of their

  • wellbeing benefits and purpose
  • available resources when they need to take action
  • opportunities for growth and development as a person and employee

Wellbeing Participation Metrics Do Not

1)    Reflect whether someone is healthy 

2)    Determine whether employees are taking the right steps to manage their risks

3)    Indicate growth, learning, or the development of intrinsic motivations

4)    Assess commitment to sustained change

Employers often equate high participation rates with program success. The reality is that participation numbers are best used to determine effectiveness of promotional efforts, your population's willingness to trust your resources and the effectiveness of your incentive strategy. 

Wellbeing Engagement

Wellbeing engagement is a measure of an individual’s commitment and actions to their own lifestyle behaviors. 

At engagement, employees have either gotten to or are approaching the development of intrinsic motivations. 

Measuring engagement is trickier and what to measure can depend on your organizational program and technical capabilities. However, a common place to start is by tracking participant commitments and actions related to their desired healthy behaviors. 

Examples: Trackable Health Commitments

Commitments are employees’ intentions to act. 

1)    Self-recorded wellness goals

2)    Registration in challenges and programs

3)    Wearable devices settings such as steps, calories burned, intensity minutes

Examples: Trackable Actions

Actions go a step further by focusing on whether employees successfully complete their commitment. 

1)    Goal milestones

2)    Challenge completions

3)    Wearable device tracking criteria

4)    Health coaching sessions

5)    Preventive care adherence

Key Engagement Metrics

The final layer is developing KPIs that assess each employee’s skills and confidence within their own risk areas. With this information, employers can use technology to deploy skill-based programs that focus employee commitments and actions to their own lifestyle risks. 

Here are a few examples

1)    Prioritized Health Risks*

2)    Prioritized Lifestyle Risks*

3)    Number of Health and Lifestyle Risks Present

4)    Perceived Skills and Abilities to Change 

5)    Perceived Confidence to Change

6)    Overall Perceived Health as Compared to Actual Health

Putting Wellness Participation and Engagement Together

For most employers, wellbeing starts with participation in order to get to engagement. To make this conversion, companies with wellbeing programs need the right metrics, dashboards, and technology to individualize programming and take advantage of instructive opportunities in real time. 

When employers use participation and engagement together, they create a wellbeing skill-building journey that accelerates health ownership and sustains change.



Research:  Self-Determination Theory, University of Rochester Medical Center

Blog: Aligning Organization Strategy & Health Culture to Support Leaders In Accelerating Change

Video: The Puzzle of Motivation, Dan Pink

Blog: Leading Wellness Metrics to Predict Wellness Outcomes & Workplace ROI

Article: Why Self-Confidence Is More Important than You Think, Psychology Today

Recommendations: CDC’s Characteristics of and Effective Health Education Curriculum