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The Do's and Don'ts of an Engaging Wellness Program: Part Two

Benjamin Prinzing

Founder and President of Kadalyst

This is part two of our three part series by Benjamin Prinzing, President of Kadalyst, exploring the 10 things you need to do to engage employees in your wellness program.

From gym memberships to health screenings, workplace wellness offerings are more common than ever. And yet, not everyone with these options is getting the most out of them. The U.S. Department of Labor cited a 2010 report that states only 20 percent of employees engaged with wellness programs and interventions. Some of the greatest obstacles to engagement are awareness and understanding.

In this article, I'll outline four through six of ten common practices to avoid if you want to increase your employees use of your wellness program. You can read the first three steps in part one of this series.

4) Don't Skimp on Your Plan

It may seem obvious to write out an actual plan for your corporate wellness program, but according to a study from professional services firm Willis, only 22 percent of employers actually do. That means nearly 80 percent of employers are winging it. No wonder organizations struggle with engagement.

There's an easy fix for this. Prepare a written plan and, just as important, share it. According to the same Willis study, 59 percent of employers who have a written plan, do not communicate the goals and objectives of their worksite wellness program with their employees. This is a missed opportunity to get your teams on board.

I recommend using the seven-step operating plan developed by the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA):

  1. A Vision/Mission Statement
  2. Specific Goals and Measurable Objectives
  3. Timelines For Implementation
  4. Roles And Responsibilities
  5. Itemized Budget
  6. Appropriate Marketing Strategies
  7. Evaluation Procedures

5) Choose Vendors Who Are Partners

You purchase products or services from a vendor and typically, the relationship ends there, but sometimes you need more than that.

When your biggest hurdle is getting staff excited about those very products or services, you need help promoting and teaching employees how to use them. This is where having a partner with a vested interest in the success of your wellness program comes into play.

One way to distinguish a vendor from a partner is understanding what you're paying for. A "Per Employee Per Month" (PEPM) fee is the most commonly used pricing structure among wellness providers; it's easy to budget and scale. Keep in mind this guarantees the provider gets paid no matter how many of your employees use their product or service. Would a "Per Active Participant Per Month" fee be more appropriate? This is for you to ask and answer.

One way to foster partnerships with your vendors is to host quarterly meetings with all of your vendors. Set an agenda, have vendors prepare plans and share among everyone. Ask your vendors to work together to meet the goals of your program. You'll quickly see who steps up to become a real partner.

6) Don't Singularly Focus On Physical Health

Employees commonly think wellness programs are only about losing weight, quitting cigarettes and getting more exercise. Why? When organizations host biometric screening events, the reports come back with physical results: you're too heavy, you have high blood pressure, etc.

Then, the wellness program managers follow the results by promoting a weight loss program or step challenge.

The most effective wellness programs move beyond physical health. According to a recent study from Gallup and Healthways, organizations who incorporate five elements of well-being (Purpose, Community, Social, Financial and Physical) show significant improvements compared to organizations only focusing on physical health. Employees in well-rounded programs reported 41 percent fewer unhealthy days, were also 65 percent less likely to be involved in a workplace accident and 81 percent less likely to look for a new job.

Think of the other elements as gateways to improve physical health. If employees score high on social well-being, chances are they have people close to them who care about their physical health. Those who score high in financial well-being have far less daily stress, which makes it mentally easier to avoid unhealthy eating temptations.

Check back soon for part three of our series on the do's and don'ts of engaging wellness programs!

Photo: Creative Commons

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This is due in part to a lack of communication about the availability of these services—and because these programs typically offer the bare minimum in terms of usable mental health benefits and options for support. EAPs don’t require a lot of effort or money from companies, which is why so many prefer to use them. Most are relatively inexpensive, costing between 75 cents and $1.50 per member per month, regardless of how often staff uses them. Companies need to invest in EAP programs that offer better, more effective treatments. For example, in addition to an EAP’s existing offerings, employers should consider providing onsite counseling services and online programs that use cognitive behavioral therapy to treat patients. There are also other services, such as Psyched In Residence, that businesses can use to bring qualified, accredited and experienced psychotherapists in the workplace—without people needing to specifically ask for it. These days, practitioners can also deliver their professional and emotional therapeutic services in-person or virtually. Reiterating Available Benefits Now—And Later Thankfully, experts predict that a majority of employers that added, or made changes to, their mental health resources in response to COVID-19 will likely keep them long-term. But providing resources is not enough. In order to convince employees that their mental health is important to a company now and into the future, action must come from the top down. If serious about normalizing mental health at work, companies should place CEOs at the center of their mental health initiatives. Most companies do not have a single owner for all their mental health initiatives—instead, they allow many departments, like HR and learning and development, to play different but simultaneous roles in managing them. But without a proprietary leader for these programs, it’s harder to create accountability. CEOs can act as the "normalizer-in-chief." They can oversee all of a company’s mental health initiatives, hold different departments accountable to them and lead more conversations about mental health and the role it plays in the workplace. By making it clear at a company-wide meeting that they understand the importance of removing the stigma around these conditions at work, a CEO sends a message to the rest of their organization that they are serious about creating workplace culture that’s understanding and prioritizing of mental illnesses—while focusing on eliminating associated stigmas. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed a lot of underlying workplace issues—addressing and providing resources for mental health chief among them. But to effectively address these issues, thoughtful changes must be made to how often a company talks about mental health and how it invests executive time and money in supporting these initiatives. For more information on how to support employees’ mental health during this difficult time and into the future, check out this recent article from Cornerstone’s EVP of Learning and Organizational Effectiveness Jeff Miller.

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