UHA Worksite Wellness

Workplace Wellness: Eight Ways to Increase Employee Participation

Written by Emily Weaver on May 05, 2015. Posted in Well-Being, Featured2, Post

You offer a fantastic wellness program – but what if staff don’t participate? According to a Gallup poll, only 24% of employees use the programs offered by their companies. If you don’t feel that your team is getting the most out of your wellness programming, don’t give up! Luckily, there are a number of steps you can take to increase employee engagement, so that even the most reluctant participants will quickly feel motivated to take advantage of the offering.

Try these eight specific measures to increase your employees’ participation in wellness programming:

    1. Give Clear Permission
      As a leader promoting wellness, it’s important to ensure that employees understand that wellness benefits their company as well as themselves. Sometimes staff don’t embrace wellness opportunities because they’re not sure they’re allowed, or because they think it’ll conflict with their duties. Be explicit about when staff have permission to adjust their schedules around wellness programming, and about the kinds of activities they can do during work hours (e.g., taking frequent short breaks to stretch or go for walks around the office).
    2. Remove Barriers to Participation
      Are there particular policies, practices, assumptions, or structures in place that may be discouraging staff from participating? For example, is it difficult to find healthy food options within a reasonable lunch-break distance from the office? Are there ways to reduce the perception that at-work wellness only adds to their busy schedules? As much as possible, remove any geographical, attitudinal, structural, procedural, and other barriers to participation, to make it easier for staff to get involved.
    3. Nominate Workplace Champions
      Frequently, staff worry they’ll appear less invested (or less hard-working) if they take time away from work for healthy activities. Change that perception by selecting workplace champions who can lead by example. When office role models make time for mid-day stretches or a lunch-hour exercise class, it will show the rest of your team that prioritizing wellness is praiseworthy – not problematic – for their reputations at work.
    4. Use the Buddy System
      Sometimes employees don’t participate because they think it’ll be boring or they’re too shy to try new activities alone. Involve them by making wellness a social activity! Schedule short group walks after lunch, around 2pm when the mid-day slump hits, and encourage everyone to join. Or schedule weekly pot-luck lunches where everyone contributes a healthy dish. Doing things together is not only a powerful motivator, it also keeps things fun – and this in turn makes big changes feel less intimidating.
    5. Encourage Staff to Set Their Own Goals
      The best motivators for lasting change are concrete, achievable goals. As much as possible, however, those motivators should come from employees themselves. Help staff take ownership of their health by encouraging them to set their own goals, and, wherever possible, offer concrete ways to support them in reaching their personal milestones – and praise them when they do.
    6. Promote Healthy Habits
      Small changes around the office can help remind staff to make healthy choices. For example, put up posters by the elevators to suggest taking the stairs instead. Offer fresh fruit and nuts instead of cookies or donuts at meetings, and provide filtered water stations instead of bottles of soda. Encourage staff to bring refillable water bottles, and to hydrate throughout the day. The workplace is an ecosystem where habits are entrenched: change the ecosystem and help staff form new, healthier habits.
    7. Highlight the Opportunities and Benefits
      It’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day tasks and priorities and forget to make time for wellness. Your busy workers need frequent, gentle reminders of the wellness opportunities available and why it’s so important for their health. In fact, one of the major reasons employees don’t participate is that they just don’t know what wellness opportunities are available!

      It can take a while for your message to sink in: so deliver it frequently, and in different formats, to reach a wider audience and keep it relevant by reminding them of the potential benefits or consequences. It’s not enough to say “There’s a walking group at 1:30 on Mondays.” Go the extra mile and motivate staff, “Just a little, consistent cardio activity can have a huge impact on your mental and physical health. Join our walking group at 1:30 on Mondays.” Remember to use personal invitations to encourage participation. Say you have 20 workplace wellness champions and each champion personally invites three people, the company will have extended 60 invites to an upcoming wellness offering.

    8. Foster Co-operative Competition

      Sometimes even the most stubborn abstainers just need a little push – and nothing gets people going like healthy competition and teamwork. Friendly competition can motivate and inspire staff as they track their goals, celebrate successes, and encourage one another. Architecural/engineering firm Bowers + Kubota can tell you all about these wellness benefits – their team lost a collective total of 87.4lbs with the 2014 Biggest Loser: Sunrise Challenge.

Getting everyone on board takes a combination of the right message, tools, and strategies. Above all, be clear, consistent and provide regular reminders, so that wellness is always on everyone’s mind. With the right framework and support from key influencers in the company, it won’t be long before positive peer pressure takes over and participation in your wellness program skyrockets.

Emily Weaver

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