Workforce Health + Benefits

Wellness App Fatigue: Why Relationships Matter in Long-Term Health Improvement

When it comes to personal wellness, there’s an app for whatever fitness, nutrition or wellness goal we have. Without question, the myriad of wellness apps we have access to can be helpful and push us towards improvement, but they can also lose their luster over time, mainly when the real effort occurs outside of the app.

When it comes to wellness in the workplace, sure – the convenience of a wellness app can be a valuable tool to increase participation within your wellness program. But personalized guidance and encouragement from an actual human being is an invaluable experience in the behavior change process.

Without human connection and communication in any wellness initiative (and, instead, a significant focus on app usage), app fatigue can quickly set in, participation can dwindle, and your progress towards healthcare cost reduction and risk prevention and reduction can rapidly decline.

What is app fatigue?

App fatigue is exactly what it sounds like: Being tired or underwhelmed by the app options available on a smart device.

In 2018, Tim Cook announced that there were 20 million registered iOS developers catering for the 500 million weekly visitors to the App Store.

As of the first quarter of 2019, these app users could choose to download between 2.6 million Android and 2.2 million iOS apps.1

Keep in mind that your workforce is not only focused on work-related apps, but also a plethora of personal apps. While so many app options may seem ideal, the reality is that most apps today typically leave people underwhelmed, driving them to either ignore a majority of the apps they downloaded or, eventually, delete them altogether.

Research firm comScore found that among mobile users they surveyed, most spent 85% of their time using just five apps.

While there may be an app for everything, app fatigue is more likely to set in even before you start using the new apps you download.2

Why does app fatigue occur?

The excess of options available for smart devices leaves many people reeling from the surplus of choices and longing for familiarity.

The average app user spends 77% of their time on their top three apps, so unless the app is fulfilling a new need or requirement of everyday life, it has a high likelihood of under-utilization.

And speaking of familiarity, difficulty assimilating to new apps at the onset of use is another critical factor increasing the potential for app fatigue.

Statistically speaking, 57% of new users will stop using an app after only one month, and that number jumps to 71% after only three months.3

This relatively short-term attention span, combined with the desire to avoid unnecessarily compromising internal storage on personal devices, continues to contribute to the growing trend of app fatigue.

Moving beyond the tech hype: relationships are vital to success in wellness.

While the ever-present threat of app fatigue continues to impact the effectiveness of wellness apps (potentially even the one your organization uses) the power of personal connectivity remains steadfast and dependable.

Relationships and accountability lead to the greatest success when it comes to sustainable behavior change because they help every employee to become invested in the process.

Most people are heavily influenced by those around them when it comes to their everyday lifestyles. The top three social groups or people that affect us the most in our health journeys include:

  • Co-workers, company leaders and company culture
  • Family members and friends
  • Personal health coaches or counselors

When these social influences work together in favor of your employees’ physical and mental well-being enables them to make and sustain changes that will benefit them in the long run.

1. Culture, Work Environment and Co-worker Relationships

Employers have a tremendous opportunity to not only positively impact their employees’ physical well-being, but also establish a culture of encouragement and social support.

Establishing a culture in which wellness is both encouraged and practiced across your organization is an effective way to create sustainable change.

Consider creating a wellness champion network to increase awareness and buy-in around your wellness initiatives.

What does a wellness champion do? That is up to you, your champions, and the needs of your organization. In general, your network should support the goals of your wellness program by:

  • Providing boots on the ground to support your wellness program
  • Promoting the program to help reach employees in a more personal way
  • Leading by example, encouraging and counseling co-workers to practice healthy lifestyles

Learn more about how to engage wellness champions at your company by downloading our guide.

2. Employees’ Family and Friend Network

Getting the whole family involved in the wellness conversation is a beneficial approach on multiple levels. Family buy-in (particularly from spouses) enables your employees to receive encouragement outside of work and provides them with additional support to achieve their wellness goals.

The HERO Health and Well-being Best Practices Scorecard, in collaboration with Mercer, found that only 14% of employees participated in wellness programs when their spouse didn’t .4

Healthy habits start at home and continue with proper familial support. Excluding spouses from your wellness initiatives may result in short-term savings but will have long-term consequences on your program’s performance.

Research suggests that when spouses participate in the wellness program:

  • Employee participation rates are twice as high.
  • There is increased participation in wellness interventions, like tobacco cessation and lifestyle coaching.
  • Preventable claims costs will reduce.

3. Personal Health Coaches

Helping people achieve new health and wellness goals is no easy task. It can require the aid of a specially trained and educated personal health coach to identify the most effective method of approach for each participant.

Just as people tend to display accountability to the relationships in their personal life, the partnership and tailored guidance that a health coach offers helps make behavior change sustainable.

Decades of behavioral science research shows that consistent human support and accountability is required for people to make and sustain changes.

There is simply no substitute for one-on-one human connection, so identifying a qualified personal health coach to help your employees along the way is a great way to enable your employees’ success throughout their wellness journey.

To understand how to increase employee participation in wellness programs, you must focus on human connection.

Many of the wellness programs provided on the market today do not require personal connectivity or engagement. This allows people to circumvent their responsibilities in exchange for shortcuts and half-efforts.

By facilitating that extra level of accountability and encouragement through coaching, familial and cultural support, you can empower your employees to achieve higher levels of physical health and personal well-being.

You can make all the effort in the world to implement one of the best-designed apps available, but without personal investment and human connectivity, all of your efforts may be in vain.

Why a Wellness App Isn't the Best Accountability Partner

Consider this perspective from Percy Bhathena, Senior Director at Cleveland Clinic:

“I spend most of my days working on ways to help people lose weight, quit tobacco, manage diabetes or hypertension among a myriad of other conditions. And to run a successful business in this space you need two things. 

You need efficacy in what you do and you need scale. And technologies like chatbots and personal voice assistants are deemed the future for chronic disease management. 

And to that I ask a simple question: 

  • Do you own a piece of technology that you consider equivalent to your child or to a loved one?
  • Do you anthropomorphize your phone? 
  • Do you cuddle up with it stare into Siri’s eyes and feel an emotional attachment? 
  • Do you feel the pain of your phone when its battery is running low or when it falls? 

It’s a device, it is a piece of technology that we can’t wait to upgrade. And for all of its great wonder we have no human connection to it. There is no emotional bond that would make me empathize with it.

My first child is a 70lb four-legged mix named Shelby. And Shelby really is a daughter to me, she is in so many ways more human than most people are. 

And that’s why all the hype around chatbots and voice assistants have me shaking my head. 

Shelby is my responsibility. I am accountable to her. I can’t decide not to come home one day because of her, I can’t forget to give her water or let her out, but I can surely forget my phone or forget to charge it. 

And accountability is the key factor in efficacy in chronic disease management.

Click here for the full article from Percy.

Your wellness program is more than a fad.

The fact of the matter is, app engagement doesn’t always equal wellness program engagement or results.

Understanding and respecting the value of human relationships and personal connections in an effective wellness program cannot be overstated.

While apps can be great for tracking progress and accessing resources and education to help employees on their well-being journey, there’s a reason the wellness program from Cleveland Clinic | Bravo aren’t fully automated.

Our solution is a hybrid approach—leveraging technology to enable human-to-human interaction.

While other companies focus on AI and chatbots, we believe the challenge is to find the right balance.


Cleveland Clinic eCoaching pairs employees with a dedicated coach that they can reach daily through email, text, phone, or video chat. Participants can open up to their coach and become accountable to them, which has been proven successful in changing their habits.

Whether your participants are working towards weight loss, managing their stress or a healthier lifestyle overall, Cleveland Clinic eCoaching gets results.

Learn More




1Business of Apps. App Download and Usage Statistics (2019). Accessed August 29, 2019.

2Fortune. How App Fatigue Is Taking a Toll on Smartphone Owners. Accessed August 29, 2019.

3Localytics. Mobile Apps: What’s A Good Retention Rate? Accessed August 29, 2019.

4Mercer. HERO Employee Health Management Best Practice Scorecard. August 29, 2019.

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