5 simple ways to engage employees in a wellness program

By Michael Cochran, Director of Wellness and Productivity
June 10, 2015
360Me blog pic_2

In a previous blog post, we’ve talked about the need to turn workplace wellness programs on end—to replace them with solutions like Regence 360Me SM that foster a culture of health. We also talked about the importance of employee engagement.

According to a Gallup survey, “engaged employees are generally healthier than their unengaged peers, have lower incidences of chronic health problems and are more likely to participate in company wellness programs.”

Gallup also found that “though more than 85 percent of large employers offer a wellness program, only 60 percent of U.S. employees are aware that their company offers a wellness program—and only 40 percent of those who are aware of the program say they actually participate in it.”

So, what’s it take to engage employees in a culture of health? There’s no silver bullet, but when looking at our client success stories, several themes emerge: Here are five that stand out:

  1. Communication: Ongoing, consistent communication is essential. It’s a good idea to create an annual plan with key themes, messages and tactics that are spread through multiple channels, such as online newsletters, email, podcasts, short videos, direct mail and posters. Employers need to remember to clearly articulate the reasons they’re introducing the program, emphasizing the “what’s-in-it-for-me” benefits.
  2. Financial incentives: While financial incentives can motivate employees to engage in wellness programs, rewarding spouses and domestic partners for participation can improve employee engagement too. Incentives can be tied to all kinds of activities, including health risk assessments, preventive health screenings, biometric screenings and lifestyle management programs. The forms of payout are numerous, too: cash, gift cards, reduced insurance premiums, paid days off, lower deductibles, or contributions to Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Spending Accounts.
  3. Health activity challenges:  Whether individual-level challenges or team competitions, health activity challenges are a great way to engage employees without breaking the budget. Employers can launch a nutrition challenge or kick off a bike-to-work program. A leader board showing how teams and individuals stack up can be a great motivator.
  4. Accessibility: Plenty of wellness solutions today don’t go beyond a website experience. Engagement needs to comprise a person-focused portfolio of innovative, technology-forward touch points, device integration, mobile or other wireless solutions, health portals or personal health records. Although technology is a great enabler, it’s important to also take advantage of low-tech options like encouraging employees to take stairs instead of the elevator, promoting healthier food choices in the cafeteria, or taking regular stretching breaks. 
  5. Recognition: Employees who are already taking care of their health and wellness are often overlooked. They can be role models for the rest of the organization and should be recognized. This includes individuals who may be living with diseases and illnesses but are effectively managing them with healthy lifestyles.

A successful culture of health hinges on employees’ willingness to engage with it. Employees need to know the program exists, understand why it exists and what’s in it for them. And they need to understand how to engage with it.

To learn more about creating a culture of health in the workplace, visit our online press kit.