(Photo: Yonatan Malka is a former professional triathlete and corporate fitness coach for companies such as Nike Israel.)
By Susan Belknapp, California Business Journal.
Corporate wellness is a great concept, right? Implement a program that fosters employee engagement, teamwork and well-being, while helping to combat soaring healthcare costs and revenue drain caused by sick employees? Where’s the downside? The problem with is that it struggles in the implementation.
Finding a program that works, can be sustained, and doesn’t have an extremely high attrition rate has been very challenging. In fact, across the industry, corporate wellness programs average only a nine percent participation rate.
Enter Yonatan Malka, a former professional triathlete and corporate fitness coach for companies such as Nike Israel, who knew the industry’s challenges. After an injury derailed his dreams of competing in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Malka set out to find a better solution. The result: Reaction Club. The Tel Aviv, Israel-based corporate wellness concept started at the top, with Nike and Microsoft two of its first clients.
Initial response has been overwhelming. Since its launch, the company moved the employee-participation needle for its clients from the standard of nine percent to an incredible 31 percent. Amazingly, this feat has been accomplished with extremely large companies as Reaction Club’s first clients. In addition to Nike and Microsoft, Nespresso, Ernst & Young and Israel-based web-development company, Wix, have all used Reaction Club.
Approaching it Like an Athlete
“I felt I needed to apply the lessons I learned as an athlete to solve the problem of corporate fitness,” Malka says. “To be an athlete who willingly puts hours of his or her life into pounding the pavement, digging into bike pedals and cutting through icy water, you have to be strong in certain areas as an individual, the two most important are having the ability to be a teammate and being creative enough to find solutions.”
After his Olympic dreams were derailed, Malka had to find a new plan of action. He returned to school to earn certifications in athletic coaching and education while also studying marketing and business management.
“Since these skills became my career, I started to think about how wellness might look to a typical, corporate employee, someone perhaps without a fitness background,” he says. “I also knew there was a strong connection between overall health and wellness and work performance. This is when I started to take a closer look at current corporate wellness programs and think, ‘How can I make this better?’”
Through his research, Malka discovered that nine out of 10 companies have wellness programs that cost an average of about $700 a year per employee and that nine percent participation figure was quite consistent across developed countries.
“I saw an opportunity to utilize wellness in a new way, not just as a practice for weight loss or aesthetic goals, but to use it as a tool to increase internal communication among employees and enhance business performance,” he says.
With this in mind, he created Reaction Club. Its approach is centered on a few different simple but effective tools, including a powerful online platform, a team of trainers and experts, and onsite services.
“It was a lot of trial and error and we really dug deep to investigate why things were not working and why the programs on the market were repeating themselves,” Malka says. “We realized most were very traditional by nature. They were all doing the same thing and it wasn’t working.”
The Reaction approach involves creating personalized wellness plans – or Wellness Road Maps – for each employee while connecting them with their team members in their wellness journeys. And this is for participants across all ages, fitness levels and office locations that can connect and encourage each other through shareable content.
“We support employees like professional athletes,” Malka says. “That’s what makes the program so effective.”Each participant starts with a Wellness Task. These can be: Eat Smarter, Go Stronger, Be Active, Find Your Balance. Then the program breaks the task into segments that goals and milestones. Each goal is three months. The first milestone will be after five days, then the next will be nine days, then 14 days and three weeks. This extends until the end of the third months and then we start again with something even more challenging.
Tech is a Short-Term Tool
“We also did deep research into how technology benefited or not,” Malka says. “The social media support element lasted but the wearable technology, like fitness trackers, had a steep decline in participation after four months. It’s human nature when you work with a machine that it’s only effective during a certain window. We realized we need to put a human behind the technology who can know when the participant is going to turn off the program and give the right adaptations for the next phase.”
The results have been extremely impressive, which Malka attributes to not just the high rate of participation over extended periods but the company’s multi-faceted approach and cost-effective payment model. The platform is designed to create cost-effective wellness plans, as it self-adapts to employee needs over time and allows HR leaders to easily track ROI and effectiveness.
“We are still in the final phase of developing a company’s ability to assess themselves so they can develop what kind of program they need,” Malka says. “This will allow us to figure out the culture and, based on what we see, give them information they can build on. Currently, it takes about three months to even begin a corporate wellness program – after months of getting quotes, etc. – and the decision makers don’t always know where to start and a lot of time gets wasted.”
Once Reaction Club starts to work with companies, the personalization process allows the employees to determine the right path for them and then connects the employees to the company’s health experts.
There is a plan in place to take the entire assessment and implementation phase from three months to three days within a year.
Reaction Club’s mission has expanded to San Francisco. Soon, it will expand across the nation.
“This year, we will serve up to four companies in the U.S. to further test and improve our methodologies for business performance enhancement via wellness programs,” Malka says.
The first U.S. companies will be “collaborators,” with Reaction Club giving feedback throughout the process.
“With our first tests in the U.S., we are not chasing as many customers as possible,” he says. “We’re chasing the most victories as possible.”
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