Rules for Successful Wellness Programs

By SHRM Online staff Jun 10, 2011

No matter an employer’s goals for the company wellness program, without employee engagement, the program will fail, according to Henry Albrecht, CEO of Limeade Inc., provider of an online corporate wellness platform.

“Employee engagement is the holy grail of well-being, health and productivity programs. Employers that have achieved real returns from wellness programs recognize the role of engagement—not just in health programs, but in the interconnected health, work and personal factors we call life. Fortunately, employee engagement is easier than many employers think. Simply following these five ‘rules of engagement’ will help maximize company performance,” said Henry. His five rules are:

Be Relevant

It’s elementary: self interest drives behavior. Said another way, human beings respond to what’s important to them. If you want employees to engage in any type of wellness (or well-being) program, “hit ‘em where they live.” The most successful programs speak to all of the interests and concerns of employees (I want to feel and look better, have more energy, meet new people, have fun); are clearly and obviously aligned with corporate goals (we want you to be healthier so you cost less to insure, we want to build a strong culture to reduce employee turnover); and are linked to incentives that are personally or financially meaningful to employees (put dollars in my wallet, save on my health care premium, give me days off, etc.).

Make It Social

In some ways social is a logical extension of relevant, as in: “I like to do the things my friends, family, and colleagues are doing.” Human beings are social animals (and no one wants to be singled out for behavior modification). Some recent groundbreaking research is demonstrating how things like obesity, alcohol consumption, and smoking travel through social networks. According to social learning theory, peers—those we like and respect—encourage behavior change by modeling and supporting it. Successful programs take a “we’re all in this together” approach with relevant health-enhancing activities (challenges) within a social network. An added benefit: social programs extend beyond work to family and friends.

Stay Positive

Successful social movements are almost always hopeful and positive. Positive, well-being improvement-oriented approaches encourage rather than threaten; reward rather than punish. Looking at one’s strengths objectively can be a life-altering experience, and can help reframe thinking away from what’s wrong toward what’s possible. When people feel good about themselves and what they’re doing right, they have the fortitude to tackle what isn’t working. And positivity is infectious. Make a list of five employees who have the biggest impact on your workforce (those who lead the most successful teams and the most profitable business units, and attract and retain the best talent), and note how positive these people are. It never occurs to you to think of them as “health cost drivers.”

Integrate, Integrate, Integrate

Making things complicated is easy. Many employers just keep adding more “point solutions” until their multiplicity confounds and confuses. Ironically, making things hard for employees is easy, and making things easy is hard. Employers typically contract with multiple vendors to provide a variety of wellness, training, ergonomics, EAP, disease management, screening, vaccinations, and other services. Some are buried in the bottom drawer of your employees’ filing cabinets—paid for, but unused. It’s your job to help employees navigate the various offerings. The only way to do this is to insist your vendors integrate—and seek those who are open, partner-friendly, integration-optimized, and, most importantly, obsessed with making what can be a complex user experience simple for your people.

Play It Safe

The new era of wellness—including results-based wellness—is uncharted ground for most companies. It is fraught with perceived risk—and some real risk, too. Make sure you’ve covered all your bases regarding data integrity, safety, security and regulatory compliance. Your incentive program needs a clear set of rules that are reasonable and fair. Getting these details right will inspire your employees’ confidence, earn their respect, and win their engagement. Clear communication at every juncture about what your approach is (and isn’t) reassures people. Perception can easily become reality when you are talking about privacy (and money).

Six More Tips for Promoting Health and Fitness

Promoting health and fitness at work might seem difficult, but it actually isn't. To help employees get started, here are six tips from workplace wellness program provider Shape Up the Nation:

Break it up –For many, an eight-hour work day is a thing of the past. We’re working long hours. But that doesn’t mean you have to be chained to your desk all day. Allow yourself a break and use it to move, even if it’s just for a couple of minutes. Take a walk, say hello to a friend on the other side of the building, or travel an extra block for your afternoon coffee.

Say it out loud –By making your fitness goals public, employees are more likely to stick to them. A little bit of peer pressure is a good thing. Take over an office bulletin board and invite co-workers to post their goals for the month – and then check in and see how everyone’s doing.

Introduce moving meetings – Touch base with your manager while taking a lap around the office. With Blackberry and Android devices and iPads, our work is more portable than ever, making it easy to tackle the to-do list while on the go!

Start small – Studies have shown that fidgeting and repeated small movements can combat the negative side effects of sitting all day at a desk. Take this as a great excuse to turn up Pandora or your iTunes play lists and tap your feet to the rhythm. Or find a friend and toss a ball back and forth over the cubicle for 5 minutes.

Upgrade your snacks – It’s easy to reach for treats when you’re stressed and short on time. This month, bring in a box of all-natural granola bars for you and your team to munch on. These snacks are still sweet and delicious, and will give you and your colleagues the proper nutrition to stay alert and energized.

Make it social – Lots of research shows that good health behaviors are contagious. Be a positive influence on your peers and your company and invite a friend to join you on a walk during lunch or an early morning workout. Including friends will keep you committed and motivated, plus it’s way more fun to tackle fitness in groups!​

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