Build­ing a path to wellness from the ground up

Af­ter grow­ing a small fol­low­ing at Ac­cen­ture for her wellness pro­gram, Julie Wilkes’ high-tech ap­proach now helps 50,000 em­ploy­ees stay ac­tive.



MOST BEN­E­FITS pro­fes­sion­als will be hard pressed to have a con­ver­sa­tion around com­pany health­care with­out us­ing one of to­day’s buzzi­est of buzz words: wellness.

But back in 2002, when Julie Wil- kes be­gan ad­vo­cat­ing for a wellness pro­gram when she started as an HR con­sul­tant at pro­fes­sional ser­vices firm Ac­cen­ture, the con­sul­tancy had ab­so­lutely no in­ter­est in the then­new con­cept, she says. Lack­ing cre­den­tials in wellness and phys­i­cal fit­ness, Wilkes took two years to earn a mas­ter’s de­gree in ex­er­cise phys­iol- ogy and health be­hav­ior at Ohio State Univer­sity in 2004, only to re­turn to Ac­cen­ture and start the pro­gram with­out any fund­ing or spon­sor­ship.

Back in her HR con­sul­tant po­si­tion, Wilkes in­for­mally be­gan de­vel­op­ing ex­er­cise rou­tines and a healthy eat­ing plan. Her co­work­ers, who were look­ing for a work-life bal­ance and wanted to com­mit them­selves to wellness, took no­tice. Soon enough, Ac­cen­ture lead­er­ship also no­ticed and turned it into her full-time job in 2007.

“I did it be­cause I re­ally felt it was im­por­tant and I got quite a big fol­low­ing,” she says. “It took quite a few years of con­vinc­ing that this was worth putting money into. Now, our lead­er­ship ab­so­lutely gets it.”

Fif­teen years af­ter Wilkes’ vi­sion for a com­pany-wide wellness plan, the firm’s pro­gram has evolved from a grass­roots ef­fort into Ac­cen­ture Ac­tive, a highly per­son­al­ized, high-tech pro­gram. About 35,000 of Ac­cen­ture’s 50,000 U.S. em­ploy­ees, nearly 70%, have em­braced it.

The suc­cess also has helped earn

Wilkes, now Ac­cen­ture’s North Amer­i­can Wellness and Dis­abil­ity Pro­gram Lead, this year’s EBN Ben­e­fits Lead­er­ship in Health­care Award.

From pa­per to app: an evo­lu­tion

When Wilkes started the Ac­cen­ture wellness pro­gram in 2002, she says em­ploy­ees re­sponded to what she thought were im­por­tant as­pects of wellness, such as ex­er­cise and healthy eat­ing. From there, she brought in var­i­ous ven­dors to bet­ter as­sist em­ployee wellness; how­ever, the variety of pro­grams were not housed in a cen­tral hub and be­came too frag­mented, she says. As her wellness pro­gram evolved, the firm also toyed with its in­cen­tives and of­fer­ings be­fore set­tling on its lat­est it­er­a­tion, Ac­cen­ture Ac­tive, with the help of dig­i­tal health ben­e­fits plat­form Jiff, which is now part of Cast­light Health.

Al­though the mo­bile-en­abled in­te­grated wellness plat­form is white-la­beled and pow­ered by Jiff, Wilkes and her team work in­ter­nally and with mul­ti­ple ven­dors to pro­vide re­sources like health coach­ing and dis­counts, along with a re­wards cen­ter, to Ac­cen­ture’s 50,000 U.S. em­ploy­ees.

Em­ploy­ees can ac­cess the plat­form via a com­pany por­tal with their em­ployee log-in in­for­ma­tion, and al­though Ac­cen­ture has a variety of apps in Ap­ple’s App Store, Ac­cen­ture Ac­tive is only avail­able to em­ploy­ees through the com­pany.

“We’ve been able to re­ally shift and make it a re­ally en­joy­able em­ployee ex­pe­ri­ence by putting ev- ery­thing un­der one um­brella and mak­ing it a very so­phis­ti­cated, sim­ple tool,” Wilkes says. “The big­gest change has prob­a­bly been just in our de­liv­ery model and how we reach peo­ple and us­ing the sci­ence of so­cial me­dia and what we un­der­stand how peo­ple re­spond to things.”

The wellness pro­gram aims to en­gage em­ploy­ees in a num­ber of key ar­eas: holis­tic health, in­cen­tives (around $600 a year), en­gag­ing user ex­pe­ri­ence, em­ployee com­mu­ni­ca­tion and mea­sure­ment. While the pro­gram can be ac­cessed on­line, Ac­cen­ture launched its mo­bile app, which has An­droid, iOS and Mi­crosoft ca­pa­bil­i­ties, in Jan­uary 2016 to en­cour­age higher rates of em­ployee en­gage­ment be­cause it’s at their fin­ger­tips.

“We’re a tech com­pany,” Wilkes says. “You have an app for gro­cery shop­ping. You have an app for every­thing. If you have to go out to a web­site for your health, you’re not go­ing to do it.”

Post it, share it

Be­fore the app’s launch, Ac­cen­ture pri­mar­ily used so­cial me­dia as its method of com­mu­ni­ca­tion re­gard­ing wellness; the firm had 150 so­cial me­dia posts on plat­forms like Twit­ter and Face­book that re­lated to Ac­cen­ture’s es­sen­tial wellness pro­gram in a year.

Within six months of the app’s launch, em­ploy­ees cre­ated 30,000 posts about Ac­cen­ture wellness that in­cluded plank­ing pho­tos and lists of of­fice-friendly ex­er­cises. The plat­form in­cludes a so­cial feed and con- tent cen­ter to drive or­ganic em­ployee in­ter­ac­tion and en­gage­ment.

Em­ploy­ees also have stream­ing ac­cess to work­out videos through the app and por­tal that Wilkes, a certified fit­ness in­struc­tor, pro­duces from her home in Colum­bus, Ohio.

“I used to try to do it at my fit­ness stu­dio, but ev­ery­body liked it when I did it at my house be­cause my dogs would get into it,” she says. “It’s fun be­cause it’s not some­thing you would ex­pect. You ex­pect it to be pro­fes­sional at Ac­cen­ture, but hav­ing the wellness lead at her house with her dogs do­ing planks, there’s some­thing fun.”

She adds: “If I don’t do a video with my dogs, peo­ple will com­ment, ‘Where are the dogs?’”

Con­nect­ing heart, body, mind and soul

In­ter­act­ing with em­ploy­ees is one of the most re­ward­ing parts of Wilkes’ job.

“When I’m teach­ing classes to peo­ple be­fore or af­ter work and they’re telling me what they’re able to do or not able to do at their work, it gives me a sneak peek at what we can do for our peo­ple,” she says. “My back­ground in fit­ness and health, all of that helps me un­der­stand the hu­man psy­che for [the rea­sons] why I will or will not do some­thing, and that then helps me make more pro­grams mean­ing­ful at Ac­cen­ture.”

Wilkes knows a thing or two about the in­ter­sec­tion of the hu­man psy­che and wellness.

Di­ag­nosed with heart disease at a very young age, doc­tors told her she wouldn’t live to be older than 12. Now 41, Wilkes is a fit­ness in­struc­tor, wellness ex­pert, mo­ti­va­tional speaker, life coach, small busi­ness owner, au­thor and en­tre­pre­neur, and looks to make fit­ness a per­sonal mis­sion for ev­ery em­ployee us­ing the pro­gram.

“We try to de­velop pro­grams that aren’t just about run­ning marathons, that aren’t just about fit­ness,” she says. “Maybe it’s about you just hav­ing the en­ergy to play with your grand­child. We can use mo­ti­va­tion that’s real for our peo­ple and what they might be mo­ti­vated by.”

One part of Ac­cen­ture Ac­tive’s mar­ket­ing cam­paign is its Jour­ney­ers pro­gram, where 30 em­ploy­ees take on a 90-day blog­ging po­si­tion to talk about their jour­ney to wellness and the tools they are us­ing.

The blogs are for em­ploy­ees, by em­ploy­ees, and are posted within Ac­cen­ture Ac­tive.

“We pick dif­fer­ent peo­ple who have dif­fer­ent sto­ries so dif­fer­ent peo­ple can re­late to each one,” Wilkes says. “So maybe there’s some­body who’s preg­nant. Maybe there’s a sin­gle dad try­ing to raise his teenage daugh­ter and teach her good health habits. Maybe there’s some­body who’s gained some weight re­cently and is try­ing to lose it. Maybe some­body had a heart at­tack and he’s try­ing to live a heart healthy life­style now.”

The Jour­ney­ers pro­gram launched last June. Since then, the blog­ging pro­gram has shared about 60 sto­ries.

The wellness pro­gram in­cor­po­rates var­i­ous in­cen­tives to drive em­ployee en­gage­ment, ac­cord­ing to Ac­cen­ture. In fact, pro­gram en­gage­ment fell when in­cen­tives were low­ered in pre­vi­ous pro­gram it­er­a­tions. Now, em­ploy­ees re­ceive ini­tial en­roll­ment in­cen­tives when they sign up for the wellness pro­gram, such as a $150 credit to­ward buy­ing a wear­able de­vice. About 42,000 em­ploy­ees or­dered a wear­able, and 55% of those em­ploy­ees track their num­bers reg­u­larly, Wilkes says.

“Those num­bers are far and above from our pre­vi­ous pro­gram [prior to Ac­cen­ture Ac­tive]. Our en­gage­ment was more around 20% and track­ing was all self-re­port, and that was much lower, maybe at 10% to 15%,” she says. “You can see the con­trast. The aware­ness alone is su­per pow­er­ful that so many peo­ple are just aware of their ba­sics.”

Over the course of the year, em­ploy­ees can also earn up to $300 for par­tic­i­pat­ing in health coach­ing pro­grams, screen­ings and other healthy ac­tiv­i­ties, she adds. The com­pany also of­fers a $150 pre­mium re­duc­tion on an em­ployee’s med­i­cal plan if she par­tic­i­pates in the bio­met­ric

“My back­ground in fit­ness and health helps me un­der­stand the hu­man psy­che for [the rea­sons] why I will or will not do some­thing, and that then helps me make more pro­grams mean­ing­ful at Ac­cen­ture.”


The pro­gram of­fers on­go­ing, real-time in­cen­tives on a points-based sys­tem that re­ward, en­cour­age and build em­ployee wellness habits. Em­ploy­ees can en­ter Ac­cen­ture Ac­tive’s re­wards cen­ter to use their points for a gift card, fit­ness class or their pre­ferred re­ward. Since im­ple­ment­ing the app in Jan­uary 2016, the com­pany says it has seen a 46% in­crease in ac­tiv­ity track­ing and more than 96,000 to­tal re­demp­tions in the re­wards cen­ter.

Get­ting feed­back

When Wilkes first started the pro­gram, she says em­ploy­ees re­sponded to what she thought were im­por­tant as­pects of wellness. Now that the pro­gram ben­e­fits var­i­ous pop­u­la­tions, such as trav­el­ing, in-of­fice and work-from-home em­ploy­ees, the one-size-fits-all model can’t sus­tain ev­ery­one at Ac­cen­ture.

“I used to just think I knew what em­ploy­ees wanted be­cause I’m an em­ployee and I would hear peo­ple talk,” she says. “But I re­ally started to find that I would know what some of those em­ploy­ees wanted, the ones who were easy to com­mu­ni­cate to me, but there were a whole bunch of em­ploy­ees who maybe wanted some­thing dif­fer­ent that I was miss­ing.”

To help gauge how en­rollees were feel­ing about the pro­gram, Wilkes and her team cre­ated one-ques­tion sur­veys that de­ter­mine where an em­ployee is in that mo­ment and how he can meet his goals to­day.

As the pro­gram evolves, Wilkes says she’s look­ing to grow Ac­cen­ture’s wellness in the di­rec­tion of men­tal health and sleep.

“Ac­cen­ture has been amaz­ing at not just try­ing to be a pro­gram but to also fos­ter a life­style change,” she says.

“I’m not go­ing to say we’re 100% there yet, but our lead­er­ship is com­pletely sup­port­ive and on board and un­der­stands a healthy em­ployee can do so much and be so happy and stay with the com­pany longer.”

She adds, “That’s re­ally our big­gest push: con­tin­u­ing to find ways to take care of our em­ploy­ees.”

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