Health coaching doesn’t work. Or does it? (Part I of III)

by Apr 24, 2018

In Part I of this three-part blog series, you’ll learn more about why we steered away from traditional health-coaching programs to build our own lifestyle-coaching platform from scratch. (Part II will include information on our fresh approach to coaching, and Part III will introduce you to our awesome team.)

Health coaching, much like the health-risk assessment and biometric screening, has been a key component of employee-wellness programs for pretty much forever. And while traditional coaching methods CAN help members pave their own personal paths to better states of wellbeing, we don’t think they’ve been helping nearly enough. In many cases, coaching is even undermining members’ progress toward healthier lifestyles (and wasting gobs of money in the process). More on that later…

We could’ve easily partnered with a traditional coaching vendor (pretty much all “comprehensive” wellness programs do this), integrating for communication-and-incentive-management purposes and letting the same 2-4% of employees participate. But if you know Sonic Boom, you know that we’ve rarely been satisfied with simply maintaining the status quo. So we brought health coaching in-house – rewriting the rules of what coaching should be to more-closely align with what we believe know it’s capable of.

Our take on 20+ years of health coaching

Picture this: You’ve just been assigned a health coach to help stub-out your smoking habit (which, as study after study shows, is costing your employer big bucks). “What a drag,” you think to yourself as you read through the profile of Mark, your soon-to-be coach. You haven’t talked to Mark yet, but you’re already feeling bummed about the process. Sure, Mark’s probably a nice guy – and yeah, you’ll avoid the $100 surcharge on your premiums just for chatting with him – but you don’t actually want to chat with Mark. You know you shouldn’t smoke, but you don’t really want to stop. “Why should I have to talk to this Mark guy, or ANYONE for that matter, about my personal habits?” you think. “Who says he knows how to fix me? And who says I even need to be fixed?” You probably feel a bit ashamed, or worse – you might even resent your employer for “forcing” you down this path…

Of course, this is just one of many scenarios that we can expect to play out under the traditional coaching model of the last twenty years. Yes – some employees have benefited from this model – but here are a few more qualities (and shortcomings) that we’ve found to be typical of standard coaching programs:

  • Telephonic scripts. Most employees who agree to participate in coaching are already hesitant to talk to a coach (many are just doing it for the incentive, or to avoid the penalty – or they’re anxious about being judged by a stranger – either way, they typically aren’t joining the conversation with enthusiasm). Lots of them cancel or postpone their scheduled calls to delay the process as long as possible. And then when they finally DO sit down to chat, they get someone following a by-the-numbers “script” instead of a true coach who listens, wants to learn their personal needs, and supports their decisions. No matter how good you think you are at reading a script, people can still tell that you’re reading a script. And they don’t like it.
  • Limited options. Until recently, coaching programs typically covered weight management and tobacco cessation (and not much else). “Lifestyle” coaching, which covers multiple aspects of physical AND mental wellbeing, is just now taking shape.
  • Punitive/outbound-coaching approach. Employees are often targeted based on their risks (e.g., overweight, smoker), and then contacted by the coaching vendor telemarketer-style (typically during their family dinner). It’s targeted to high-risk employees only, rather than allowing all interested employees to sign up of their own volition.
  • Heavily tied to financial incentives. Most programs offer gift cards and cash as a way to incentivize members to enter initial coaching conversations. This may promote participation early on, but you’ll commonly see a significant drop-off once employees earn their participation incentive. As we said earlier, most employees aren’t actually interested in talking to “Mark” (or whomever) about improving their unhealthy habits – they just want to collect their incentive and continue doing what they’ve always done.
  • Isolated. Traditional wellness programs were strictly comprised of three pillars – biometrics, HRAs, and coaching (okay, maybe they did some disease management too) – but they didn’t interact with (or build off of) each other much, if at all. And employers wondered why participation and engagement was so low…

What’s worse is the fact that these shortcomings aren’t limited to the “early days” of coaching. Not much has changed about traditional coaching programs in the last twenty-something years that effectively helps employees get healthier AND integrates coaching into a greater employee-wellness initiative.

In the past, we simply washed our hands of all coaching, but we aren’t standing for it any longer – especially not when we have solid answers to some of the coaching world’s biggest issues:

  • Engagement over incentives
  • Focus on long-term achievements
  • Personalized approach
  • Fewer penalties; more opportunities
  • More-frequent communications

Coaching … continued

Okay – that’s enough grumbling about the shortcomings of typical coaching. Stay tuned for Part II, where we’ll share how our passionate approach is making coaching a positive, personally relevant experience that helps our awesomely capable members achieve some awesomely meaningful results.

But if you really can’t wait, and wanna know more right now about how we’re changing the rules of health coaching, call us at 1-877-766-4208 or shoot us an email, and we’ll be happy to give you a tour.

Eric Seal

Flippant Writer Extraordinaire


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