As an employer, you want to encourage good health and lower costs for your employees through the use of a wellness program, but it’s difficult to determine if your program is actually effective. Some people use it and some don’t, making it hard to evaluate the overall picture. By looking at big data, however, you have a way to better understand what’s working and what isn’t. Better information might spur you to sponsor a different support group, exercise club or new activity to make a bigger impact on your company’s staff.

Hunting for Data: A Two-Pronged Approach

The data is out there for you to harvest, but the huge wealth of information makes it hard to know where to turn. It’s best to take two different approaches. First, think about the bigger view on wellness programs and relate it to how your program works. For example, nonprofit public-policy institute RAND Health composed a lengthy study on workplace wellness programs that polled 3,000 employers of various sizes. It measured results over an extended period, showing the main activities, program designs and structural changes that had the most positive impact. The RAND Health study is a perfect example of big data made easily digestible — information drawn from a wide variety of sources with clear trends and their resultant benefits. The main conclusions this study draws might cause you to rethink your current wellness policy.

The second approach to big data is focusing it on your own workforce. You already know what works for a large group of employers, but that data is useless if you can’t relate it to the people you employ. How can you come up with your own employee-focused data? It comes down, first of all, to the willingness of employees to share their lifestyle and habits; many people will want to keep these matters private, but it might encourage them if you explain clearly that the info is being put toward refining your company wellness program.

Do a lot of your employees smoke? How many exercise on a regular basis? What is everyone eating at lunch? Knowing this information on a company-wide scale will help you merge findings from big-picture studies with internal data. You can also make use of wearables, used by about 2,000 employers according to Gartner, to gain access to even more info.

Developing a Tailor-Made Program

You’re not running a large enterprise business, so you have the benefit of being able to more closely analyze the needs of your workforce. It’s useless to throw together a wellness plan if it doesn’t focus on what employees are looking for, so you need to know what people want. Again, you have to be sure that you’re maintaining employee privacy when doing so, but an employee survey (conducted anonymously) will help you determine the biggest needs in the eyes of your workforce. Once these top needs are apparent, determine which aspects of a wellness program will be most beneficial.

Big data studies look at the majority of options available for wellness programs, so you can filter through the results to develop a customized plan for your employees. Because wellness programs are included in most health plans, you will also have the support of your health insurance provider to implement the plan and help keep it an active part of your employees’ lives.

Dylan Murray has an MBA from San Diego State University and a bachelor’s degree in communication from Boston University. He is a licensed insurance agent in California, but he works as a professional researcher and writer reporting on business trends in estate law, insurance and private security. Dylan has worked as a script analyst with the Sundance Institute and the Scriptwriters Network in Los Angeles. He lives in San Diego, California, and Marseille, France.