Wellness for Life
Motivate Employees to Adopt a Permanent Healthy Lifestyle
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.
Wellness Programs Work, But Things Can Go Wrong
Do wellness incentive programs work? When done right, yes. "But unfortunately," McEndree said, even though employee wellness programs are commonplace, only 20 to 40 percent of eligible employees participate in them, according to the Department of Labor. "There are ample opportunities for employers to get more out of their wellness programs," she concluded.
Total Wellness Founder and President Alan Kohll believes that "Companies must think about their strategies and not duplicate anyone else's strategies to be successful. You need to take your own fresh look at things and see if it really works for your population."
Kohll suggested running a pilot program with a small population before you spend lots of money. "We see companies that will switch their programs every two or three years because they don't get the results," he said. "So, you have to think about your strategy, re-evaluate it and make sure you're not spending so much money and not getting results."
Just remember, warned Aldana, "Anybody can have healthy behaviors for a few days or weeks. The key is to maintain healthy behaviors for years. As soon as you stop having healthy behaviors, as an employer, you stop getting the benefits."
Aldana said to watch out for what he calls "hollow engagement: employees going through the motions of participating in the wellness programming, but their hearts are not in it. They are essentially being forced to participate. No one likes to be forced to do anything, and forcing people to be healthy is never going to work." Aldana tells of a large company that told employees if they did not participate in their wellness program, not only did they not receive a discount on their insurance premium, but they also were required to pay the full amount of the cost of their insurance. By not participating, they would have to pay the employee and the employer portion of their healthcare costs, about $1,500 a month. Naturally everyone participated.
"The program," Aldana said, "had great participation but terrible engagement. Without sincere, honest engagement from employees, it's impossible to have successful wellness outcomes."
Having programs in which all employees can participate to the extent they are able, noted Ozer, makes them work better and makes them comply with regulations and avoid lawsuits. "People also can't be pushed to do activities that are not appropriate to their lifestyle, fitness level, age and medical conditions," he added.
Incentives & Rewards to Boost Wellness Program Engagement
To generate engagement and interest in wellness programs, McEndree insists, "a smart reward and incentive strategy is key. Our research found that 47 percent of employees want wellness rewards, but only 32 percent of employers offer them. The research also found that the number of employees who would participate in wellness programs nearly quadruples when rewards are offered."
Wellness programs are more effective if management has specific goals, Blabolil explained, adding to McKendree's point. "First," he said, "understand what your employees value as it relates to a healthy lifestyle. Then, find ways to integrate those values into your specific company culture. Once you do that, establish clear and achievable goals to motivate and inspire engagement from employees.
"Understand the hot topics and trends and incorporate them into your culture in a way that makes sense for your specific organization," Blabolil continued. "Make employees feel like you support the cause and make it convenient and easy for them to participate. Also, motivation is everything. Find out who or what motivates them. Bring in experienced, trained professionals to coach and guide employees, offer webinars and educational videos to help individuals stay on track and make relevant products available to them that can propel their efforts."
Providing product rewards that are relevant to health and wellness will offer mass appeal and help to bolster the company's message of supporting a healthier lifestyle. Offering products from brand-name manufacturers that fitness lovers recognize can strengthen your rewards catalog and drive motivation. For yoga lovers, offer products from Gaiam. For runners or gym-goers, offer gear from Under Armour or Nike. For the more committed in-home cardio buff, treadmills and elliptical machines from companies like Bowflex can be a real motivator.
Technology is a huge motivator. Fitness trackers continue to be a must-have item at retail. Offering wearable fitness trackers is a fun way to engage and encourage staff. Allow them to earn points for the progress they make and offer incentives (like winning a set of free weights or piece of exercise equipment) to reach certain goals. This will increase engagement and help employees get closer to their fitness goals.
Lastly, leverage social media platforms. This will help to increase participation among employees by allowing colleagues to challenge each other to participate in wellness initiatives. The peer-to-peer dynamic stimulates team-building and can further drive engagement.
Above all else, McKendree said, "employees value choice more than any specific reward, and customizable choices such as gift cards and prepaid cards are top employee favorites."
She added, "There are numerous reward card products that target and support a healthy lifestyle—perfect fits for wellness programs. These include gift cards for retailers like Spafinder that promote self-care, or filtered cards that enable you to tailor cards to your specific program and are good for active lifestyle brands such as Nike, Lululemon, REI, as well as gyms, or vitamin and wellness retailers. With the right assortment of cards, businesses can create an abundance of choices to fit the right incentive with the right recipient."
It's also important to note, McEndree said, that employers who deliver rewards quickly and often can improve the chances that their employees more frequently engage with the organization's wellness program.
For people who are already fit and well, added Ozer, there is a strong appeal to have Apple watches and other devices that measure activities and fitness level as well as fitness gear. "However, to encourage people to begin participating," he said, T-shirts and water bottles can begin the process of reward and recognition. The goal should be to use tangible wellness-related merchandise items as extrinsic rewards to inspire participation and achievement to the extent that the intrinsic motivation of improved wellness results, like weight loss, feeling better or reducing stress will take over and sustain motivation on an ongoing basis.
Wellness is a personal matter, but it is also about the collective nature of wellness. It is contagious, Blabolil said. "It needs to be culture-based and welcomed as an entitlement. Employers and employees should see the link that wellness is a part of the quality of life and the quality of relationships. We are able to grow our skills and make a greater impact on what we do with a foundation of well-being."