Insights & Ideas

How to make workplace wellness programs work

Most corporate wellness initiatives underperform. Make your well-being program the exception.

These days, it seems everyone is interested in health and wellness. Mindfulness apps. Yoga. Sleep supplements. Metabolic balancing. The consumer health and wellness industry is a $450 billion industry in the United States alone.1

There is, however, one place wellness activities are less popular: the workplace. A Gartner study found that 87% of employees have access to mental and emotional well-being programs, but only 23% of employees use them.2

Yet, when wellness programs are successful, they lead to great results. Research shows that employee wellness programs can improve the employee’s experience and overall productivity. Additionally, organizations benefit by decreasing employee attrition and lowering healthcare costs.3

Want people to participate in wellness programs? Remove the (perceived) obstacles in their way

There are several common reasons employees don’t participate in wellness programs. Luckily, they’re all fixable.

Reason 1: I don’t want my company to know about my health. 
Solution: Ensure health privacy is a priority.

This is the easiest one. Companies are required by law to protect individual health information. So, you can emphatically assure employees their individual medical data is 100% private. Most companies get aggregated data about their workforce from wellness plan providers, but individual health records are not available to anyone in your company.

It’s also important to discuss why wellness program providers need personal information at all. Explain to employees that private health information is only gathered to help participants get the best results from the program and help the company know where to focus their wellness efforts in the future.

(On the flip side, many millennials and gen Z-ers prefer services or apps that leverage personal data to personalize an experience. So, they might wonder why you aren’t doing more with the data you have.)

Reason 2: I don’t have time for wellness program activities.  
Solution: Make your wellness program convenient, easy, and social.

According to a UnitedHealthcare study, about two-thirds (63%) of respondents are unwilling to devote at least an hour per day to improving their health.4 Why? Most say they just don’t have time. To help your employees:

  • Make the wellness program easy to understand. If your wellness program is too complicated (or not explained well), users won’t take the time to figure it out. Clearly explain how the wellness program works and how participants can take part. Avoid having to jump through hoops to get any incentive rewards.
  • Offer activities that can be done anywhere, any time. Use online tools such as webinars, videos, exercise plans, or apps (e.g., exercise/nutrition/sleep trackers) that can be accessed at the office, in a remote office, or at home.
  • Incorporate wellness activities into work hours. Allowing employees to work on wellness during the workday increases participation—whether an employee chooses to focus on exercise, nutrition, mental health, or another aspect of well-being.
  • Make it social. Encourage work wellness buddies. Or, better yet, create initiatives employees can do with their families. Doing wellness activities with others helps keep everyone more engaged.
  • Have fun. Think about your corporate culture and figure out what fun looks like. Maybe it’s wellness challenges that pit the senior leadership team against other teams. Or wellness challenges that require team costumes. Whatever your company enjoys.

Reason 3: The available wellness benefits aren’t valuable to me.
Solution: Give employees choices and recognition.

Not everybody needs the same kind of wellness help. While some people might need to get in shape others might need help with sleeping through the night, coping with stress, or even financial or social issues. To make your wellness program more enticing:

  • Tailor your program to each participant. The more personalized you can get, the more impactful the program will be. That way, people who are married with children can choose different benefits than new college grads or retirees. Or people might choose to meet with a financial advisor instead of a personal trainer.
  • Encourage employees to come up with ideas for the program. Wondering what employees want from a wellness program? Just ask them. Do a survey. Organize a wellness committee. Help them feel ownership in the program.
  • Recognize wellness achievements with worthwhile incentives. Recognize employees for their wellness participation regularly. And, instead of giving people a mug or a gift certificate, make wellness worth their while. For example, consider a financial incentive or bonus day off.

Reason 4: My boss gets annoyed when I participate in wellness programs during work time.  
Solution: Incentivize employees and their managers.

A successful wellness program starts with the c-suite and trickles down, with each level of management reinforcing the importance of the program. In a landmark report, Gallup research showed managers account for at least 70 percent of team variation in employee engagement.5 That means managers need to see wellness as a key corporate goal that will be measured, reported, and rewarded.

To be truly successful, managers need training and the latitude to prioritize wellness activities. For example, a manager might want to have a wellness meetup every other Monday, give employees time to focus on wellness activities during the workday, or even give an employee a mental health day after a stressful project.

Reason 5: After a while, I forget about the wellness program.  
Solution: Brand your wellness program and send regular reminders.

It always goes the same way. You launch the wellness program with fanfare and balloons. People are excited and motivated. Until they’re not. Often after the first big hurrah, wellness program participation plummets. To stop this problem:

  • Make it memorable. Brand the program with a catchy name and logo that shows the energy.
  • Make it permanent. Put together a long-term schedule of wellness events and a communications plan to promote them within the organization.
  • Make it findable. Make it easy for people to find all the wellness program information in one consistent place (such as the company intranet or wellness website). Use other communication channels (e.g., email, social media, company chat tools) to remind and reinforce the wellness message.’
  • Make it measurable. When you set goals and measure them regularly, you’ll notice when participation is trailing off and be able to remind employees to take advantage of the benefits you provide.

Need help with your wellness programs?

When you spend all the hard work, time, and money to offer a wellness program, you want people to use it. Salo has HR consultants that specialize in setting up and administering successful wellness and well-being programs. It’s just another way you can help your employees Make It Meaningful®. Contact us to learn more.

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