Troubleshooting corporate wellness strategies that miss the mark

March 25, 2019 Janet Lee

Is your corporate wellness strategy falling flat? It could be time to rethink how you’re engaging employees. Not just because a successful program can make employees happier and healthier but also because that increase in health and happiness can impact productivity.

A 2017 study from the University of California – Riverside found that improving employees’ mental and physical well-being can increase productivity by up to 11 percent. Keep reading for corporate wellness strategies that increase participation and improve your employees’ health.

Cooking demonstrations and other hands-on events can get employees talking about your program.

Incentivize change rather than doctor visits.

Incentivizing annual health assessments is an easy corporate wellness strategy, but it doesn’t encourage change, says Nick Anthony, director of performance at EXOS. Most employees will do the bare minimum to avoid insurance premium hikes or to get back some cash. But visiting the doctor for a checkup, getting blood drawn, and answering a questionnaire mean little without taking the next step.

Rethink when to incentivize, Anthony says. Instead of cutting a check or reducing insurance costs when an employee visits the doctor, consider tying the monetary reward with lifestyle changes that will improve the employee’s health — say after weekly on-site yoga or three visits to a dietitian.

“There’s a good chance over 90 days your employee will pick up two or three things from the dietitian to improve their health,” he says, like instituting food logging or limiting takeout to twice a week.

Fostering groups of like-minded employees with similar goals and interests can increase engagement.

Offer ways for employees to get active together.

Fitness centers are a solid investment that show an employer is dedicated to creating a healthier workforce. Then why are so many empty? Fitness centers tend to draw already healthy employees, Anthony says. There’s a good chance those who need to move most won’t be comfortable hitting up the company gym. Check out these simple ways to help employees stay more active.)

An effective health and wellness strategy is employee focused and fosters community. Before diving into expensive upgrades or providing what you think your employees want, Anthony says, start a conversation: “If you don’t take the time and you don’t ask the right questions, you can throw all the money in the world at your wellness program, but it’s not going to be successful.”

Get the ball rolling by finding out what matters to your employees. “Make the connection between what’s important to them and what will ultimately make them happier and healthier,” Anthony says.

Fostering groups of like-minded employees with similar goals and interests can help facilitate this. “You provide the network. Let them work the magic with each other,” he says. “They’re supportive of each other, and they’re driving each other’s goals.” Not sure where to start? Look for similar goals, life stages, and interests. Early birds can meet up a couple of days a week for a morning walk. Hikers can explore trails together. New moms can hit up a mommy-and-me fitness class after work.

Incentives that encourage action, like attending a yoga class, can lead to more long-term results.

Successful changes are built around process or behavioral changes, not just an end goal.

An effective wellness strategy uses activities employees are actually interested in to foster a community.

Get interactive to get employees talking.

Despite your best intentions, your emails, intranet posts, and posters tacked up in the break room may go unnoticed. To better foster engagement and reach employees, Anthony recommends grabbing some face time.

Your employee health and wellness strategy should include tactics that make your program hard to ignore. Head to a high-traffic area and reach employees in person. Try setting up a table on a topic relevant to your workplace. This is a good time to consider tapping outside professionals. A dietitian, fitness professional, or chef will bring a new voice and authority, and can better reach employees who might not want to talk to a human resources rep.

Start with fun, low-pressure activities, Anthony says. Host a chef to lead a cooking demonstration, then serve healthy snacks. (Find out how free food can keep your employees happier.) Provide some active games to get people moving. The key here is getting the conversation started.

Start small to help employees build sustainable behaviors. 

Ditch the outdated one-size-fits-all initiatives. A companywide weight-loss campaign, for example, may just set your employees up to fail. “It has to resonate with your population, and a lot of times these challenges don’t,” Anthony says.

Successful changes are built around process or behavioral changes, he says, not just an end goal. The key to success is starting small. Focus on small, attainable behaviors that will lead employees to their goal. Instead of weight loss, encourage healthier afternoon snacks or increased hydration. Replace vending machines full of cookies and chips with bowls of fruit and protein bars; ditch soda and stock up on flavored seltzer.

To keep motivation high, encourage employees to focus on how they feel throughout the process, Anthony says. Pounds lost and lower blood pressure take time, he says, but people will feel the benefits of higher-quality sleep, improved energy, and better focus right away. “Now you start to build habits,” Anthony says. “Employees are taking steps to make sustainable change.”

For more ways to improve your corporate wellness program, look at what’s trending in 2018.

About the Author

Janet Lee

Janet Lee, L.Ac., DACM, is a health journalist whose work has appeared in Self, Shape, Real Simple, Consumer Reports, SKI, and Cosmopolitan, among other publications.

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