Motivated employees reaching top of trail

Ask any wellness professional what one of the most challenging tasks of a wellness program and they will likely say: motivating individuals and encouraging wellness program participation. When thinking in terms of motivation, it is essential to know your audience, listen to their needs and provide various methods to encourage wellness program participation.

It’s common knowledge that productivity is directly affected by work-life balance. In fact, balancing work and personal lives has been a corporate talking point for several decades, leading to a parallel discussion on wellness. 

Wellness was, once upon a time, a personal endeavor. You would go to the gym or yoga after work or prepare healthy meals as a personal choice. If you needed mental or emotional assistance, you would seek therapy on your own personal time. 

However, the tides have turned and it is clear that wellness and worksites go hand in hand. People who are not physically healthy tend to be absent, demotivated, have low morale, and have poor work-life balance. People with high stress levels also become prone to presenteeism — being present at work but not fully functioning in terms of their responsibilities.

With the realization of the symbiotic relationship between wellness and employees, there have been an increasing number of corporate wellness programs. This brings us to a crucial point — wellness motivation and why it’s essential to get it right.  

Employees are a company’s biggest asset. It is wise to have happy and healthy employees. Implementing a wellness program that achieves high participation through appropriate motivation is essential.

To understand how to motivate individuals, we must get to know our individuals and what makes them tic. What are their likes? Dislikes? What is meaningful for them? What is their wellness “why?”

increase participation with focus group

Each employee is motivated by different things. For some, it’s for health, while others may be for aesthetic reasons, others it could be mobility into their senior years. There are no wrong motivations, and that is important for companies to know.
Let’s dive in, starting with the basics.

What are the Benefits of a Wellness Program?

Healthier and happier employees are productive, stay loyal to the companies for longer periods of time and miss less time at work, all of which benefit the company. It’s clear that for businesses, wellness programs are excellent investments. However, it only becomes a sustainable investment when employees participate and see results directly tied to the program. 

So, what are the benefits of wellness programs?

Wellness Programs Improve Employee Health

It’s commonly accepted that all individuals want to be healthy. Everyone wants to feel good, strong and successful in their health endeavors and no one likes to be sick. Unfortunately, some individuals lack the motivation to take the extra steps to be healthy, such as buying healthier food, preparing healthier meals, scheduling and attending their annual exams or getting sufficient exercise. 

Wellness programs provide individuals with the tools, resources and knowledge to make healthy choices and improve their overall health.  This could include things such as: 

·       Providing employees with healthy grocery lists

·       Cooking tutorials for healthy meals or a healthy recipe roundup

·       Quick and easy stretches or short-no equipment-exercise tutorials

·       Health Fairs to highlight medical, dental and vision insurance and benefits

·       Individual and team-based Challenges (bonus points if these are readily available on an app)

motivated employee

Wellness Programs Make People Happy

Healthy employees are happy employees. According to a study performed based on US Census data, healthy people are 20% happier than average individuals. When you don’t have physical ailments, you feel better physically and have a more positive view of yourself mentally. It’s also science — when you exercise to stay healthy, you release endorphins, known as happy chemicals. Incidentally, being happy also makes people healthier. 

Wellness Programs Increase Positive Well-Being

People living a healthy lifestyle are on a trajectory to have positive holistic health. Eating healthy food, being physically active, and avoiding bad habits add to a more positive well-being, which includes mental and emotional health. Improving employee behavior is the goal of every wellness program, and the right wellness motivation can help achieve that. 

Health and wellness author Greg Anderson said: “The concept of total wellness recognizes that our every thought, word, and behavior affect our greater health and well-being. And we, in turn, are affected not only emotionally but also physically and spiritually.” This is exactly what wellness programs are about–holistic health and positive well-being. 

Wellness Programs Increase Productivity

Healthy employees are more productive. When employees feel good physically, they are in a great condition to work. They are also more mentally and emotionally present. More importantly, employees who are productive feel better about themselves, which gives them a sense of achievement and accomplishment.

Wellness Programs Improve Employee Morale

As mentioned, a wellness program is an investment. The company has to spend money to implement a program – this makes employees feel good knowing employers are looking for their holistic well-being. When sharing in the quest for health with employees, employers show they genuinely care about the individual, not just the bottom line.  When employee morale is high, the company retains better talent as employees tend to stick around longer and lift others while encouraging good and honest work ethic.

Wellness Programs Encourage Camaraderie

Some wellness programs call for team competitions that encourage camaraderie among colleagues. The sense of competition will spur unity and teamwork and a sense of competition. It also helps touch social health among employees. When the company as a whole is working toward better health, individuals will feel a part of something bigger. They tend to take programs more seriously when they know the “team” is counting on them, encouraging them and working together for the success of all.

increase participation with Camaraderie

Importance of Participation and Motivation in Wellness Programs

We know that it is essential to increase wellness program participation with motivation. The success of your wellness programs hinges on the participation of your employees. So, how do you motivate individuals to engage?

Help Employees Understand

If an employee does not think wellness programs are important, it is likely just a matter of not fully understanding wellness programs. You can properly motivate employees by explaining why wellness programs are important. 

Unhealthy behaviors lead to poor habits that can lead to chronic disease. By implementing a wellness program, individuals replace poor habits with healthy ones, leading to less prevalence of chronic disease and happier, healthier, individuals. 

increase motivation with understanding

Make Wellness Flexible

Companies should provide flexible programs that allow employees to participate in their own time or better yet, complete elements of the program while at work. Not only does this show leadership support and buy-in, but it can have an immense impact on the overall moral and wellness culture of your workplace. 

By allowing elements of your program to be completed while at work and others to be completed off site, you build options and flexibility into your program. No longer will time restriction be a barrier to participation.

Wellness is not something being done to you; it is something being done with you for the betterment of all.

Make Programs Fun

Your wellness program should be inclusive, interactive and fun. Employees do not need or want another chore-like program. Wellness can be fun when you make it personal, tailored, meaningful and impactful. Pick program elements important to your population. Wellness is more than just exercising and eating healthy. There are endless activities and ideas that can infuse fun into your program.

Programs Must Meet Employees’ Needs

When creating and designing a program with wellness program participation in mind, “read the room.” Knowing your audience is key and helps build a program that not only makes sense for your population, but one that has meaning and purpose. Employee needs vary from one person to another. Include elements of your wellness program that can be completed as an entire company, as an individual, in small groups or partnerships.

One sure fire way to ensure a program is meaningful and desirable to employees is to involve them in the planning process.  Start with a focus group. See what the needs and wants are before just throwing something out. Look at insurance data. Where are you experiencing high-cost areas?

When employees are involved in the planning of their program, they feel a sense of ownership and “have skin in the game.” They will participate because they had a part of planning and take pride in what they created. 

5 Key Elements for Motivating Participation in Wellness Programs 

Now that we know the benefits of a wellness program, and we have established that motivation is essential for success, where do we go from here?

The success of wellness program participation depends mainly on the participation of the employees. So, how do you make sure they engage with the program? Aside from saying the right words about wellness motivation, you also need to make sure the program meets the following criteria. 

A wellness program should be:

1. Simplicity increases participation

Life can be hard enough; navigating a complex wellness program will not motivate employees to join. Keep it simple. Allow employees to sign up for the program in multiple ways, keep instructions clear and brief, and ensure all the activities are able to be completed by most, if not all, employees. Make the healthy choice the easy choice

increase participation by keeping it simple

2. Accessiblity adds motivation

Make sure employees can access the wellness program, and easily. Many wellness program providers offer free downloadable apps as well as online access. This means employees have access to the program anywhere and anytime as long as they have their phone. 

Accessibility applies to all elements of the wellness program. For example, if part of the program is a discount deal at a gym, the gym must be within the vicinity of the workplace. Better yet, the company could make space for an in-house gym, making it even more accessible for employees. If books or educational videos, pamphlets or PDF’s are utilized, ensure they are accessible through an easy-to-find internal file system, or posted and available physically onsite.

Be sure to consider all locations of your company, different divisions, seasonal challenges that may be applicable and the various life circumstances of your different employees.

3. A Readily Available Wellness Coordinator

Even the most well thought out programs need to be supported by a readily available and heavily involved wellness coordinator or champion. When questions arise, and they will, employees need to know who to contact. Knowing who to contact is just half the equation. The wellness coordinator or champion must be available. 

Be strategic when planning your program and selecting a coordinator. Ensure someone who has a passion and drive for health and helping others is selected. Your coordinator should be someone who wants to be involved, not someone who has no other choice but to accept. 

4. Customization leads to higher participation

Since employees have different needs and wants, the program should be versatile so employees can “choose their own adventure” for elements of the program. Consider your industry, size, culture, location, barriers and passions when creating a program. Wellness is not one size fits all.

When individuals have a say in what they choose to do within the program, they have a sense of ownership and autonomy. They feel responsible for their wellness.

increase participation with team building

Be sure to include a variety of wellness topics, events, activities and incentives when planning your program so that there is something for everyone-including those who are just starting their journey to wellness and those who have become masters. 

5. Incentives help motivate

When considering how to increase wellness program participation and motivation, using incentives effectively is one of the best ways. Often times, a more up-front extrinsic motivation of an item associated with participation and engagement (gift card, raffle prize, public recognition, etc.) lead to the intrinsic motivation including feeling good, looking better, and having more balance. 

Living a healthy lifestyle is incentive enough, but the result takes time. It is important to emphasize that the goal is always long-term behavioral change. However, sometimes, you need to ignite a program with incentives to get it rolling. 

What incentives can companies offer?

  • Gift Cards or cash prizes
  • Merchandise or Company Swag
  • Paid time off
  • Reduced insurance monthly premium costs
  • Free gym membership (or discount)
  • Athletic/workout gear
  • Meal subscriptions

See other incentive ideas here.

Make it Simpler to Motivate Employees to Participate in Wellness with the WellSteps Experience

The WellSteps experience takes the guesswork out of wellness program participation. Our programs can be highly customized based on both the company needs and individual’s preference. Backed by data, WellSteps and your WellSteps Guide create, build, and manage a one-of-a-kind program. Our Guides have extensive experience creating wellness programs with participation with motivation in mind. With company-wide and individual elements, there is cohesion and autonomy and ownership for all. Make sure to achieve the wellness program participation rates you need with WellSteps. Schedule a demo today!

About The Author

Dr. Steve Aldana

Dr. Aldana is the CEO of Wellsteps, a worksite wellness solution that leads the nation in wellness program deployment and engagement. Dr. Aldana authored over 75 scientific papers and 7 books on health risk management, healthy living, and health promotion programs. He has given over 350 keynote speeches across the U.S. on the ability of good nutrition and regular exercise to prevent, arrest, and reverse many chronic diseases.

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