Wellness in the workplace has been a mainstream concept on the minds of benefits professionals for nearly two decades. When asking friends and family whether they have a wellness program at work, the response is usually, “ Yes.” Why are some programs more successful than others?
Many things comprise a wellness program, whether it’s a subsidy for a gym membership or an employee assistance program. Offering a wellness program is just the first step. The key to success is getting employees to actively participate in the programs, make use of their available resources, and over time, achieve improvements in wellness. Isn’t that why employers invest in wellness programs in the first place?
Knowledge is Power
One critical piece to begin engaging employees in wellness programs is knowledge – knowledge of biometric data, knowledge of potential health risks, and knowledge of changes in health history. By offering an annual biometric screening, employers arm individuals with a baseline that can be used to assess potential risks.
Few would be surprised to learn their Body Mass Index is high, though more may be surprised by what they can’t see: high cholesterol, hypertension, or possibly an impending diabetic state. When employers make this data available as part of a wellness program, employees can explore how to make changes.
It may be necessary to see a doctor to monitor the condition or start medication, or it may be enough to prompt the employee to look a little more closely at the resources offered at work to help them make improvements. If not, keep on offering the screening and data. What might have been considered a moderate risk one year could turn into a higher risk later, or an employee’s personal motivation (turning 30, 40 or 50; becoming a grandparent; death of a loved one) may change.
Leading by Example
People in leadership roles, from supervisor to CEO, play a vital role in impacting employee engagement in wellness programs. Employees look to management as the ambassadors of the organization’s culture.
When managers are positive (or negative) about the workplace wellness program, employees take notice. And when managers are actively engaged in the workplace wellness program, meaning they support the programs, participate in the programs, and encourage participation in the programs, employees may mirror this. An ongoing Gallup study also reveals that employees are deemed ‘engaged’ if they believe their supervisor cares about their well-being.
The same can happen with a committee of employee wellness program advocates. These people become cheerleaders of the program, reminding employees of the wellness program resources the company offers.
Engaged employees are more likely to produce higher quality work, and from a wellness perspective, are less likely to get sick or be injured at work. Take note and do as you’d like your employees to do; it’s a win-win proposition for everyone.
While leading by example is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to employee engagement, the organization’s culture is what lies below the surface. A culture that strives to engage employees in its wellness program can achieve great program success.
For instance, spotlighting individuals’ wellness stories is an effective way to inspire and motivate their peers. Social media makes this very easy to do today. By simply creating a company wellness page on sites such as Facebook and Instagram, employees can post pictures of their participation in events such as a run, bike ride, or swim. The sense of camaraderie builds and builds, making the enthusiasm for wellness contagious.
It also allows people to connect via wellness in ways they may not have realized were possible. Without this medium, someone may not be aware there is an employee in another department who lives in the neighborhood and also goes out for bike rides every Saturday morning.
Organization-wide events, such as sponsoring fees for a 5k, bring employees together for a good cause, a healthy activity and a shared purpose. Wellness becomes part of the culture when the value of the program is communicated both widely and often and as employee participation in the program increases. When participants are engaged, the organization’s identity evolves to include the fact that it’s a wellness-focused employer.
Reason for Action
While the previous factors are more intrinsic ways of encouraging employee engagement in wellness programs, there is one other piece that can greatly drive engagement. Employees want to know, “What’s in it for me?” Offering incentives as part of wellness programs definitely motivates someone to check the boxes and complete what may be required of them, but how does it truly engage them or drive change?
This has to be answered by offering a variety of wellness options so that every employee can find something that works for him. One employee may greatly value having an onsite fitness center available, while another prefers reimbursement of fees for participating in a weight management program.
There is no “one size fits all” program, nor should programs throw the kitchen sink at employees (this can be costly too), but giving employees a choice among four or five options lets them identify what works best for them. And to answer the “What’s in it for me?” question, implementing outcomes-based programs that reward employees for improved results can provide something tangible. In the process, the workforce population has also made positive health changes.
There is no bright-line answer for how to increase employee engagement in wellness programs, but by giving employees personalized data, having leaders who walk the talk, engraining wellness as part of the organization’s culture, and creating motivation to change through choice, employers are on the right path.
Shara Rutiaga, CBP, is a Benefits and Compensation Consultant at Texas Mutual Insurance Company and serves on the Central Texas Compensation & Benefits Association Board of Directors.
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