Companies globally are realizing that success in this increasingly competitive world depends on healthy and productive employees and the employees themselves are realizing that they can improve their lives by becoming self- leaders and taking charge of their health. So a critical requirement for a successful corporate wellness program in the workplace is engagement from both senior management and employees, a two-sided coin. And engagement is the pre-requisite to participation, which in turn is the prerequisite to achieving success in corporate wellness programs
We know that if employees are to make a sustainable behavior change, they must work in an environment that supports that change. Although this is widely accepted, it is often ignored, with companies focussing only on employees and their health issues and ignoring the environment in which these employees work. The main reason for that is because the corporate wellness program is not driven from the top, treated as just another employee benefit. Unless there is engagement in corporate wellness from both “top-down” and “bottom-up”, the initiative will only partially be successful and will not achieve its full potential.
“Top-down” engagement involves a clear and widely circulated statement from senior management of what the corporate wellness program is all about, why it is implemented and what are the expected goals. “Bottom-up” engagement involves empowering and listening to employees and facilitating their participation through wellness programs that are varied, based on their needs and offered during work hours.
The support of senior management is imperative for any workplace wellness program to succeed. This is true for any organization, large or small, public or private. Senior leadership must define the vision of a healthy and productive workforce, connect it to the organization’s mission and share that vision widely with everyone throughout the workplace. It is not enough for top company executives to approve a corporate wellness program and then step back and leave it to others in the organization to implement. Support for the health and well-being of employees has to be incorporated into the values of the organization and that can only come from the top.
The challenge then for senior leadership is to create the vision and put the policies and procedures in place to create a culture of health and empower managers, union executives and employees to work together towards the common goal of a healthy and productive organization. Another challenge is that senior leaders have to “walk the talk”. They need to buy into wellness for their own personal health and must be seen to participate and engage in the corporate wellness program. Management also decides and approves the budget and puts in place the required resources for the wellness program. Once these requirements are met, the responsibility for wellness program implementation is then delegated by senior management to human resources or operations, who are given the responsibility and accountability for program implementation.
In order for corporate wellness programs to succeed, they must engage employees to participate. Without enough participants, the benefits of these programs cannot be actualized. Research has shown that employee participation rates increase when programs are flexible, easily accessible, supported by senior management, well communicated and credible. They are also more successful when employees have a personal interest in the wellness programs and offerings are multiple, convenient and accessible during the workday. A gold standard is for at least 60% of employees to participate in a Health Risk Assessment and at least two wellness interventions per year.
There are a number of key components in a corporate wellness program that have been shown to engage employees and promote participation. These include an annual company-wide Health Risk Assessment (HRA), targeted coaching, a variety of wellness challenges for employees to choose from, and effective incentives and rewards program and a well-rounded communications plan.
Best practices dictate that the first step in designing workplace wellness programs is to offer a Health Risk Assessment (HRA). The HRA is a confidential survey that provides employees with a complete report about their current health and lifestyle based on up-to-date guidelines for optimal health and well-being. An aggregate and confidential report for the whole organization that does not identify individual employees is then created for senior management. This report outlines the major health issues in the organization as a whole, the readiness of employees to make a lifestyle change, their interest in specific wellness programs and recommendations on how best to address the identified health issues
Research demonstrates that HRAs are valuable to the success of workplace wellness programs. They are critical to raise awareness, motivate employees to set health goals, track results and identify issues. When HRAs include clinical screening for BMI, cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar as well as a follow up by a health professional to review results, participation and engagement are increased. It is good practice to allow employees to complete their clinical screening and HRA questionnaire, print their personal reports and then receive a consultation on their results ideally during the same time period or as soon as possible after the completion of the HRA
Targeted coaching is a key component to increasing employee engagement and participation rates and is important for both high and low-risk employees. It should begin as soon as possible after the completion of the HRA and is valuable to empower both low-risk employees to maintain their low-risk status and high-risk employees to adopt healthier lifestyle behaviors. The preferred method is to have employees contact the coach with their own health questions. Having employees take the initiative to contact the coach encourages them to take control of their own health and become self-leaders in their own wellness. It is important for coaches to guide employees in finding solutions to their wellness challenges and help them set and track their health goals. It is recommended that no limits be placed on how often employees may contact the coach. If limitations have to be placed, at least two contacts are required to secure employee engagement in making the necessary lifestyle change.
Research indicates that while participation in either HRA or wellness activities alone results in savings, participation in both results in greater benefits. This suggests that the sum of various wellness interventions provides a greater benefit than the impact of the individual elements alone. We also know from research that participation is increased, if activities are group-oriented and foster positive peer pressure, camaraderie, and recognition. For example, many wellness challenges and activities can be completed as a team, allowing employees to compete in a friendly manner and reach goals individually or as a group. Online interventions and wellness portals should include a social media component that allows employees to talk to each other, offer wellness tips, exchange information they found helpful and organize their own wellness events. This is achieved through the Community Platform of the Evexia corporate wellness portal that enables employees to learn from each other and share successes. Also, the Evexia portal offers multiple wellness activities and challenges for employees to choose from increasing the likelihood that they will find something suited to their interests and personal goals, which are both important in driving employee engagement and participation in workplace wellness.
Linking Incentives to Participation
One proven way to raise employee participation is to offer appropriate incentives. Different types of incentives have been shown to generate different rates of participation. For example:
– Water bottles, mugs, and t-shirts result in about 10% to 15% participation.
– Gift cards, movie passes, and merchandise can result in 15% to 50% participation
– Reimbursements for medical plans or draws for travel can result in 35% to 75% participation
It is also important that the incentives are linked to specific health outcomes or goals which is the basis on which Evexia’s Rewards Platform is based. When employees reach a specific outcome or goal, they are rewarded, either directly or by placing their name in a draw for the major reward.
Other effective and low-cost incentives relate to recognition and include congratulatory certificates or plaques signed by senior management and offered to employees who reach pre-determined goals. Write-ups and recognition in company-wide newsletters and social events are also an excellent way to increase motivation and enthusiasm in workplace wellness and demonstrate the company’s commitment to creating a healthy workplace
Communication is essential to the success of workplace wellness programs. Best practice communication strategies are typically three-pronged with the original message and invitation coming from senior management, followed by a separate communication from immediate supervisors and a more detailed communication outlining corporate wellness program specifics and the process for participation from human resources or the wellness coordinator. It is often necessary to communicate each aspect of the corporate wellness program separately as employees may have different questions. For example, employees have concerns about privacy and confidentiality when their personal information is collected as part of the HRA and must be reassured that the information is collected and stored in a totally private and confidential manner.
Communication about the incentives or recognition employees can expect for different participation rates should be clearly outlined. A participation rate of 100% should be expected, knowing that it is not likely that this will be achieved. However, setting the bar high sends the message that the program is valuable and that the organization is committed to wellness. A gold standard is for at least 60% employee participation in the HRA and two wellness activities per year. Consistent communication is critical to achieving this goal. And finally, it is important that wellness “be in the conversation” as a standing agenda item at management, staff meetings, and workplace events