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Six tips for increasing worker wellness

Susan Kanvik //May 6, 2011//

Six tips for increasing worker wellness

Susan Kanvik //May 6, 2011//

More and more companies are offering wellness plans, but what separates the best ones from the rest?

As a firm that serves companies of all sizes, we have seen a variety of wellness programs in action. Successful programs share a number of characteristics, but one consideration stands out: employee engagement. To paraphrase the lottery, your employees have to play to win.
Simply put, if employees don’t participate, they won’t reap the benefits. And neither will you as their employer.

What can you do to encourage your employees to participate and ultimately produce long-term results?

Here are some ideas-gleaned from our own observations and from the findings of the American Institute of Preventive Health and the Harvard Business Review-about how companies can make wellness programs work.

Engage with Employees

Successful organizations involve employees in the development stage of the program. One common way to do this is to establish a wellness council with broad employee representation. The council’s mission will vary depending on the nature of the program, but it should always have a well-defined role. Our firm established a companywide “Founders’ Fitness Challenge” to promote wellness and convened a wellness council to craft a charter and goals for the program. If you are developing a comprehensive wellness program, a wellness council can help you identify the most desirable program components or pinpoint barriers to participation that you may not have considered.

Work with the Culture

Successful companies engage employees by conducting internal focus groups to help them tailor programs to their culture. During these focus groups, employees are asked to comment on the current state of the culture and what wellness means to them, which provides a realistic snapshot of your culture and the ability to define a program that will work within the existing constructs. The way employee participation is recognized or incented should also fit the culture. Asking employees for their perspectives up front is a simple, inexpensive and effective way to determine how to develop a program that is highly desirable to employees.

Incentives for Change

Wellness programs were created to encourage employees to take action to improve their health. Even simple behavior changes are difficult to sustain, and the American Institute for Preventive Health recommends that wellness programs reward employees for making healthy choices over time. The incentives offered (or that insurers contribute) will differ depending on company size and budget. But don’t let a small budget deter you from offering incentives. Incentives can be as simple as entering the names of employees who have completed a specific goal into a prize drawing. Not everyone will win, but everyone will have an incentive to participate.

Lead by Example

A recent study by Leonard Berry, Ann Mirabit and William Baun published in the Harvard Business Review shows that securing the visible support of top leaders is crucial to the adoption of an employee wellness program. At Point B, our Founders’ Fitness Challenge was launched by two of our firm’s founders to introduce fun and competition into our program. The active participation of the two top leaders also signaled the importance that senior leadership placed on employee wellness.

MD Anderson’s president supported their wellness program by touring facilities with the corporate wellness coach and engaging employees in discussions about how employees were doing in meeting wellness goals. Whatever approach fits best, senior leaders should be participating in a visible way. Support those efforts by making participation visual. Photos of employees and leaders engaged in wellness activities can be posted throughout work areas and in both print and online publications. Images help reinforce the message that the company values wellness and that employees embrace this value.

Communicate Employee Success

As the same study shows, successful companies communicate compelling reasons for employees to participate in their wellness programs. Communications should be ongoing and consistent with both the company culture and the way employees usually consume information. It’s important to share information about employee participation and success, as well as the personal, professional and health benefits of participation.

Publicize overall statistics that show how employees have visited the gym, given up smoking, lost weight or switched to more nutritional foods. Share personal testimonials and other encouraging stories from employee leaders of the program, such as wellness council members. These stories can have a powerful effect and encourage more associates to join in on the fun and achieve the kind of results their co-workers are experiencing.

Focus on the Long-Term

Finally, the best-run programs keep a long-term view, even as they make a variety of short-term adjustments. The American Institute for Preventive Health recommends that companies start wellness programs by conducting confidential surveys to get a pulse on the overall health of employees. This process gives a clear starting point from which to measure progress in improving employee health. The best programs also evaluate program components along the way to make changes employees want. Above all, employees must be encouraged to keep the long-term in mind themselves. Transformation takes time, and lasting changes may take even longer, but it is worth the effort.

Applying these principles to establishing and improving your wellness programs will result in more engaged employees. Companies that commit to this journey will help employees lead healthier and more balanced lives, while reaping the rewards that come from a healthy, happy and engaged workforce.
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