Seven ways to bolster employee participation in wellness programs

Planning ahead for a new plan year is a good time to evaluate current program performance. If employee engagement in your wellness program is a concern, you’re not alone. Here are seven ways to evaluate and bolster employee participation:

  1. Evaluate your messagingAs wellness programs have evolved, successful efforts have moved away from one-size-fits-all strategies to custom outreach plans for employees. The message needs to focus on and resonate with employees – how the program benefits their health, family, and future. Employer-focused messaging such as less absenteeism, lower healthcare costs, and increased productivity may fall on deaf ears.
  2. Understand that motivation and interests differ widelyIt frustrates many employers that employees most eager to participate are the healthier employees. Others may want to improve their health, but don’t want to be singled out and are afraid of failure. Some may not recognize that they have poor health habits and others don’t consider it a priority.Employees who feel that their wellness program is designed for their needs and level of fitness are more likely to participate. One way to customize is to offer support for a variety of wellness activities. Traditional wellness programs focusing on physical health are morphing into integrated programs, including everything from nutrition, exercise, and sleep-health to mental health, stress management, and even a financial wellness.
  3. Recognize the barriers to participationA recent study in the Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health looked at six factors most likely to improve participation. Job control, which refers to the freedom to choose when and how to complete work, topped the list. With “not enough time” a common objection, flexible working hours is a primary motivator for participation.Second to job control was the employees’ relationship with their supervisors. Employees highlighted not only the role of a supportive supervisor, but also the importance of all employees benefiting from it.

    Study the participation and look for uneven involvement. Positive results may be distributed highly unevenly across the workforce. Who benefits and who doesn’t? Educating employees and wellness options may not be enough for some employees. You may have to more broadly help employees understand that set backs are inevitable and develop steps to control failure.

  4. Promote stress managementIn its latest survey report, A Closer Look: 2018 Workplace Wellness Trends, the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans identified two practices that are more popular in successful wellness programs when compared to programs finding less success. Those organizations that have involvement and support from organizational leadership and offer stress management programs yielded more successful results across the board – from a positive impact on health care costs to higher employee participation rates.
  5. Incorporate wearablesFitness trackers, smart watches, and other wearable technology are the number one fitness trend for 2019, according to an annual survey of health and fitness professionals. The popularity of technology can invigorate and sustain participation. Employers can utilize the wearables employees own or, if feasible, provide the wearable device. This overcomes one participation hurdle for employees, ensures equal access, and sends a strong message of commitment.
  6. Be creative – keep it interestingChallenges, competitions, gaming, social media…develop a pulse for what motivates your workforce. And don’t let it get stale. It’s normal for employees to lose interest.
  7. Evaluate incentivesIf you offer incentives, they should be evaluated annually. Employers have struggled with getting this right and some have concerns about the future legality of the plans. The incentives must be meaningful to the employees and provide value to the employer.

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