To get America on a path to better health, health care companies can and must lead by example. At Kaiser Permanente, we believe that taking care of others begins with taking care of ourselves. To inspire total health outside the organization, we must practice, encourage, and support good health practices within the organization and live out our “Thrive” brand internally. Healthy employees and physicians are better equipped to provide excellent care for our patients and members. In addition, improving employee and physician health enhances service and productivity while helping manage health care costs.

With this in mind, in 2010, Kaiser Permanente developed an internal employee and physician wellness campaign for all of the people who drive Kaiser Permanente’s mission in every region we serve. This was a daunting task given our large and diverse population of more than 174,000 employees, physicians, and dentists. In April 2010, we launched Thrive Across America, an interactive, online wellness initiative designed to transcend geographical distance, unite all our employees in a common goal, and promote physical activity for both individuals and teams. Thrive Across America was an internal offshoot of our larger Healthy Workforce program that takes a coordinated approach to health, wellness, and work/life balance — giving all employees an equal opportunity to make healthy choices.

While Kaiser Permanente is well-known for its creative member-based health promotion campaigns, we knew that implementing an internal communications initiative at the national level presented a new set of hurdles. To engage employees at all professional levels, exercise abilities and locations, we needed to do something that not only caught their interest, but provided real motivation. We had to develop interactive tools that were accessible to all employees, easy to use, interesting, and offered clear rewards for participating.

The Thrive Across America program encouraged participants to exercise 150 minutes or more every week for eight weeks, and to record their activities online. Ensuring that individuals logged in and recorded information every day is often difficult. Team participation and competition was a strong way to motivate participants to do this, but individuals need more to keep them moving and recording their progress. To urge them on, we created the virtual cross-country “route” that took them through every Kaiser Permanente region to motivate participants toward a goal. We maintained their interest through memorable stories and photos of landmarks along the way and then provided them daily reminders of this program through interesting, informative tips. A comprehensive communications campaign that was supported nationally as well as by regional communicators across the organization ensured that everyone was well aware of the campaign and had every opportunity to participate.

The benefits of exercise and healthier habits, even a 10-minute walk or remembering to pack a healthier lunch can spread organically and generate more productivity at all levels of an organization. Our main objective, as part of the broader Healthy Workforce program, was to support a routine of regular physical activity for all employees, regardless of their job or fitness level. The Thrive Across America program took that objective and tailored it for our employees. We wanted to encourage not only healthy habits, but team building and camaraderie among Kaiser Permanente employees at the local and national level, because team participation is a proven way to motivate, reinforce healthier habits, and increase the chance for individual success.

We developed a look, feel and strategy for the Thrive Across America campaign that capitalized upon friendly competition. The campaign encouraged employees and physicians to form a team and get moving.
The campaign launched in early April 2010 with the official competition beginning May 3 – June 27. Communications materials included posters in bold, eye-catching colors that promoted Thrive Across America and were displayed in a variety of workplace locations nationwide. Communications efforts also included emails in support of the campaign from the chief executive officer and other leaders and references to the program in meetings and other gatherings. Thrive Across articles were also featured on nearly all regional intranet homepages. Wallet-sized “Thrive Across America” cards were made available and passed out with posters in every Kaiser Permanente building and at all events. Equally as important, team members were able to email each other through the Thrive Across America website and issue friendly challenges to each other and other teams, and the campaign grew virally as people shared fun team names (such as Bye Bye BMI and Hawaii Thrive-O) and experiences with each other.
The program also provided its own reinforcement, as participants received daily tips with healthy ideas and recipes as well as a reminder to log on to the site. They could share these emails with others who were not yet participating. Also, each day a participant recorded 30 minutes or more of exercise, they earned a Thrive Across America “star” for their team. Scoring was based on a combination of team averages for daily exercise minutes and number of stars earned. The more stars an employee earned, the greater the impact on their overall team score. For team rankings, the team leader’s region was used, regardless of where the other team members worked. In addition to activities that could lead to improved health, high-scoring participants and teams were incentivized with recognition and awards, including iPods.
The interactive program on the Thrive Across America Website provided simple, motivating tools for participants to track their progress and see results in real time. In addition to being home to the virtual scorecard, the site featured practical health tips, articles on starting and sticking to an exercise program, delicious healthy recipes, and team competitions to strengthen daily commitment.
By the end of the first week, the Thrive Across America campaign had 20,108 total registrants. By the time the campaign concluded in June 2010, 8,542 participants completed the entire east-to-west virtual route. The interactive tools and team goals provided consistent and effective motivation for individuals, as the participants recorded physical activities in their personal logs. More employees chose to participate in the program as part of a team, driven by friendly competition and more consistent motivation in the workplace. Team registrants exceeded individual registrants by 41 percent (12,318 vs. 7,287), and there were a total of 2,143 official teams nationwide. Those who participated on a team also showed higher active participation than those not on a team.

The strong enrollment numbers were only one part the campaign’s great success. More importantly, it promoted healthier activities and results among Kaiser Permanente employees. Among the participants surveyed, 71 percent said they increased their physical activity. At the time of registration, participants averaged 3.3 days of physical activity. By the time they were evaluated at the end of their program, the average was 5.0 days of physical activity. Nearly 40 percent of participants said their weight decreased over the course of the program, and 56.6 percent said their energy levels had increased.

Thrive Across America utilized an effective, engaging communications program that truly showcased Kaiser Permanente’s commitment to employee health and wellness in every region we serve. Nearly all of the participants who completed their evaluations – 97.1 percent — said they would participate in a future program if offered. The program incorporated national, regional, team and individual elements to motivate participants, foster healthier activities and promote camaraderie in the company.