Feature Article - March/April 2018

Wellness for Life

Motivate Employees to Adopt a Permanent Healthy Lifestyle

By Rick Dandes

Motivating the workforce to become engaged in wellness programs that promote a commitment to a healthy lifestyle is one of the challenges facing corporations today.

Wellness programs are important because they focus employee attention on individuals managing their own health and well-being, said Richard Blabolil, president, Marketing Innovators, of Rosemont, Ill. "Instead of just trying to incent someone to be or stay healthy, the idea is to help individuals understand the current state of their health, understand a long-term plan to improve and maintain that state of health, and provide a way to implement and sustain that health plan."

This is meaningful for the employee, their family and the employer, Blabolil said. An employee's sense of well-being is critical to their ability to perform and monumental to their attitude or frame of reference for work.

Happy and engaged employees are huge assets to the organizations that employ them, and wellness programs are one of the ways to engage employees and boost workplace satisfaction, explained Theresa McEndree, vice president, marketing, Hawk Incentives, Addison, Texas. Employees want to feel appreciated and recognized for their accomplishments. By rewarding behaviors tied to wellness program goals, employers show employees that their hard work is noticed and valued—helping generate satisfaction from wellness program activities and driving engagement.

On the employer side, McEndree added, "the benefits of wellness programs extend beyond improving the health of employees; they can also boost morale, reduce absenteeism, increase retention, improve work performance, reduce healthcare costs, drive sales and even increase employee loyalty. According to Gallup, the benefits of a happy and engaged workforce are extensive, from driving innovation, growth and revenue to increasing productivity, profitability and customer engagement. When done right, wellness programs can play a role in the success of your business."

If properly designed and communicated on a continual basis, added Ira Ozer, president, Engagement Partners, of Chappaqua, N.Y., "wellness programs provide both a return on investment from reduced insurance premium costs for the employer and employees, as well as an increase in engagement scores as a result of employee camaraderie from active participation."

The corporate culture, he said, must support the program by encouraging participation, communicating progress, recognizing achievement and rewarding results. A wellness program cannot be launched without senior leadership cheerleading and coaching.

All of that is right, said Paul Gordon, senior vice president of sales, Rymax, Pine Brook, N.J. Happy, healthy employees generate higher levels of productivity than unhappy employees, so supporting health and fitness efforts can improve company culture, output and ultimately, your bottom line. "Employee wellness programs can bring a variety of benefits to organizations, and the success of these programs can be measured in different ways," Gordon said. "Companies will see an ROI through financial gains, but they'll also see an ROI through a reduction in staff turnover, a reduction in employee stress and an improvement in employee attendance. Recent studies show that unscheduled absenteeism costs roughly $3,600 per year for each hourly worker and $2,650 each year per salaried employee."

Effective Programs Lead to Engagement

Steven Aldana, CEO of WellSteps, based in Mapleton, Utah, looks at the broader picture of well-being. "The big audacious goal of every wellness program should be to have every single employee be actively engaged in healthy behaviors for the rest of their lives," he noted. "However, very few people are able to do this. Very few people have healthy diets, exercise regularly, avoid tobacco products or don't drink in excess and yet, this is exactly where we would like people most people to end up."

How to define wellness program engagement "is really up to the individual worksites," Aldana explained. It should be based on what their goals and objectives really are.

"If a program is just starting, your program goal may be to get people to complete a health-risk appraisal," Aldana said. "In that first year, completion of your health-risk appraisal might be your measure of engagement. As a program matures, getting people to actively participate in behavior change strategies and helping them create and sustain healthy cultures at work may be a more accurate and effective description of engagement."

Wellness initiatives are the most effective when they are wound into the culture of the company rather than rolled out as a program, which infers a roller coaster of starts and stops, Blabolil said. "Wellness is a lifelong journey," he said. "As such, it should be viewed as a critical piece of the work environment."

Employees should participate and be invited to wellness throughout the workplace, Aldana added. It isn't something you take time out to do at work. The employee kitchen or cafeteria offers healthy choices, parties and events promote appropriate alternatives and snacks, and there is a mindfulness of taking breaks and "stretching or walking" to relieve stress and tension—literally and figuratively. Wellness can embrace education—cooking classes, wine classes, yoga and even community events to get out and touch someone else's life. All of these activities are positive "fuel" toward wellness and well-being.