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The Do's & Don'ts of an Engaging Wellness Program: Part One

Benjamin Prinzing

Founder and President of Kadalyst

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

The number one undisputed challenge employers face in their wellness programs is employee engagement. The big question everyone seems to ask is, "How do we get employees to show up?" But the question we should be asking instead is, "How do we get employees to care?"

According to a recent study of nearly 20,000 employers across industries, 80 percent scored "improving overall health" of their workforce as their top-ranked objective. However, fewer than 15 percent of those employers were actually satisfied with the results of their own efforts.

Organizations obviously have the best intentions, but many are missing the mark. We need to shift the programming focus from simply increasing "employee participation" to having employees become enthusiastic fans.

In this article, I'll outline three of the ten common practices to avoid if you want to your employees to care about your wellness program.

1) Don't Overwhelm or Underwhelm

The "throwing spaghetti at a wall to see what sticks" methodology of wellness programming just doesn't work long-term. If you try to launch too many initiatives, you overwhelm your employees, which creates confusion and causes the new initiatives to get lost in the noise of everything else you're doing.

The opposite, of course, is not doing enough. This gives the appearance that employee wellness is just not that important and ends up being forgotten. To keep your program effective, keep it simple, set realistic expectations, keep it up and change it up.

2) Don't Program "at" Your Employees

When you finally get the green-light to develop your organization's wellness program, you might get overly excited and want to take it all on yourself. But your best intentions will more than likely give off the vibe that you're programming wellness "at" your employees, versus "with" them. To stand the test of time, ask yourself, "If I was no longer in charge of the wellness program, would it still live on without me?"

For a wellness program to be sustainable, it has to be rooted within your culture and the only way to do that is to go deep and horizontal. This means gaining support from all levels of management (or at least the ones who'll listen) and have them extend messaging about the program within their departments. Ask for feedback from employees and leadership, form an employee-focused "wellness committee" and give ownership to other individuals in your company.

3) Don't Send Lengthy Emails

Effective marketing and communication strategies are extremely overlooked in the area of employee wellness programming. According to Aon Hewitt's 2012 Health Care Survey, only 17 percent of employers are using consumer marketing techniques to drive employee engagement.

As HR and benefits professionals, I know you didn't go to school for graphic design, journalism or brand marketing. However, wellness programs are absolutely a product that needs to be properly marketed, and your employees aren't just employees: they're your target customer.

Your biggest competitors as wellness program manager are big tobacco, energy drinks, fast food and drug companies. Sadly, they have billion dollar budgets to attract your employees, so though it may appear to be an uphill battle, your main advantage is having their eyes and ears for at least eight hours a day. In that sense, you do have the upper hand.

Let's put it to the test. Which memo would you rather read? Does one give off a different "energy" than the other?

At Kadalyst, we are limited on the time we have to develop, promote and manage our clients' wellness programs just like you. In the beginning, we found ourselves making these mistakes, so I want only to pass along what we've learned in the hopes you do it right from the start.

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

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