Help Employees Keep Their Wellness Resolutions Past January

Encourage commitments to healthy behaviors throughout the year

By Greg Goth February 14, 2019
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New Year's resolutions made at the top of the year, including employees' personal health and wellness goals, inevitably start to fade as the year progresses. Workplace wellness programs, however, when aligned with personal goals, can recharge employees' commitments to healthier behaviors.

January is not an easy time to start a new diet and exercise regimen. Daylight hours are short and, in most of the U.S., it's cold—perfect conditions for snacking and couch-surfing.

So common is the theme of the quickly discarded resolution that Jan. 17 is recognized as Ditch Your Resolution Day. Analysts at location data vendor Foursquare calculated the ebbing of resolution commitments by comparing weekly check-ins at fast-food restaurants and check-ins at gyms. They found that every year since 2016, food was back on top by the end of the second week of February—only six weeks or so into the new year.

Workplace wellness programs can pick up where resolutions leave off.

Making a Fresh Start Anytime

Jan. 1 doesn't have to be the only start date for self-improvement efforts. Recent research in behavioral psychology reveals that any calendar-based "temporal landmark" can be effective in helping employees to visualize a better future. Researchers call this the "fresh start" effect.

In separate research, people were asked about the best times of year to remind them about making progress toward a goal. Only 7 percent of respondents chose March 20. However, when March 20 was called the first day of spring, 25 percent selected it.

"We are definitely missing opportunities" to encourage personal health commitments throughout the year, said Jeanette Diamond, wellness and staff development coordinator at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. "Resolutions can happen any time of the year, not just New Year's."

Dickinson's wellness program makes the arrival of spring a time to encourage employees to focus on health and well-being. The college's annual Spring into Fitness Challenge begins each year right after the college's mid-March spring break and lasts through April. Diamond said 150 to 200 of the college's nearly 900 employees actively participate in the challenge—a campus competition in which self-selected teams compile points based on the time team members spend exercising.

As another example of how playing off national observances throughout the year can help keep wellness seekers on track, Dickinson employees are offered tips on safeguarding personal information during National Identity Theft and Protection Month (December) to promote their safety, security and financial well-being, Diamond said.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Designing and Managing Wellness Programs]

Maintaining Commitments

Giving employees a choice among wellness activities is a way to continually support personal resolutions "because people are then using these opportunities to help them achieve those goals," noted Kristin Kipp, Marquette University's wellness director.

University wellness programs, through cooperation with campus-based researchers, could measure whether New Year's resolutions offer a good hook for wellness offerings or not, Kipp noted.

"There is a lot of research about goal setting, but it's not necessarily tied into corporate wellness," Kipp said. "There is definitely a great opportunity there."

Kaitlin Woolley, a professor of marketing and management communication at Cornell University's S.C. Johnson School of Business, co-authored a widely reported 2016 study that found that participants who enjoyed some sort of immediate reward were more likely to stick with their resolutions' long-term goals. Woolley received numerous requests from journalists and other researchers about the study, but "I have not been contacted by business managers," she said. "I don't even know if it's on their radar, something they're aiming to do—to think about how to assist their employees with following through on their resolutions."

Greg Goth is a freelance health and technology writer based in Oakville, Conn.


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