8 tips to re-energize your workplace wellness program

Workplace wellness is a passion for us stemming back many years to when we were employees and now especially as fitness consultants.  If you’ve ever tried to launch a wellness campaign or fitness challenge at your place of work, you know what an uphill battle this can be. It is extremely difficult to get initial participation, and it only gets harder as time goes on.  So is there any point?

We say YES, for many reasons. Most people spend a third of their lives in their place of employment, so if it becomes a healthier environment, people can’t help but benefit. If people become healthier, they will feel better, live longer, be happier, work more productively, and miss less time due to sickness. Not only that, with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, everyone has access to medical insurance. If we all don’t stay healthy, imagine what will happen to the costs! Furthermore, many insurance companies give reductions on premiums or even cash back to companies participating in wellness. So all that’s missing is the oomph – how do you get that?

Personal motivation, commitment and drive are the cornerstones of success in achieving any goal, and this is as true of fitness as anything else. As passionate as we are about getting people fit and healthy, if we want it more than our clients then success is doubtful. One of the uniquely challenging things about workplace wellness campaigns is that 90% of the time the participants are solicited or ‘encouraged’ (by way of financial incentives, social pressure or even more overt pressure) to change their behaviors. The lack of an initial strong driving desire for change is, in my opinion, the central reason for challenges in managing wellness programs.
To make it harder (and don’t worry, solution is coming) everyone does things the same way, so if you are starting a wellness program you’ll probably take the advice of the experts or use the tools provided to you which would probably work out fine IF people had strong intrinsic motivation to get well. I have seen time and again from my perspective as an HR Director what is typically provided to companies. It’s usually a computer questionnaire folks can take to assess their health risks with possibly a biometric scan to determine factors such as cholesterol, blood sugar etc. I know one person who said that when her scan indicated she was pre-diabetic it motivated her to make major life changes, but most people give them as much credence as the terms of use on a new I Phone (Yes, yes, I agree, give me my phone).

Companies are usually told that to make their wellness programs effective they need to have significant financial incentives; either premium reductions or grand prizes or people won’t stay engaged. If you’ve tried this, you will probably realize that this may get people to join, and it may improve your ‘on paper’ results, but are your people really getting more fit? The reality is, it is very difficult to change behavior. The diet and fitness industry wouldn’t be a billion dollar industry if one fix fixed everyone. The good news is there are things you can do to greatly increase the chances that people will change their behaviors – at least for the duration of the program.  I will list them here and expand on them next week.

1)    Top down support
2)    Specific identification of outcomes, achievement and behaviors
3)    Feedback from a perceived authority figure
4)    Frequent, consistent reinforcement
5)    Random reinforcement
6)    High volume communication
7)    Reduction in availability of unhealthy alternatives
8)    Random, unpredictable cross checks

Want to know more? Tune in next week!

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