By Jennifer Bruno
To address the negative effects of rising health care costs and declining employee productivity, many companies are investing in strategic solutions—such as health and wellness programs—to help improve employee health and morale while reducing per-employee health-related expenses. However, a critical component is often overlooked when planning such programs: employee participation. To fully realize the benefits of corporate health and wellness programs, engaged and motivated employees are needed.
People learn through observation, so peer modeling and social recognition can influence employee behavior. Given that working adults spend most of their day at their place of employment, developing a corporate culture of health is a practical way for an organization to influence its employees’ health-related behavior.
According to William Baun, president of the National Wellness Institute, “In a culture of health, employee well-being and organizational success are inextricably linked.” He asserts that the alignment of leadership, benefits, policies, incentives, programs and environmental supports can reduce barriers to active engagement and help sustain healthy lifestyle behaviors.
A strong culture of health has been shown to have a meaningful effect on employee participation in on-site health and wellness programs. Employees at companies with a sound tradition of health are more motivated to engage in healthy acts because doing so is viewed as acceptable and convenient. For example, if a company has an on-site gym that’s regularly used by management, employees may feel encouraged to begin an exercise routine during their lunch hour.
Additionally, employers can facilitate positive changes in health behavior by offering employees access to programs, such as digital health coaching, that can help them better manage their health. Digital health coaching is an individualized, interactive solution that provides employees with the knowledge and tools they need to help change health-related behaviors.
Employees can access programs online, which provides them with 24/7 convenience and privacy. The programs range from smoking cessation to nutrition to handling chronic illness.
Once an organization decides to incorporate health and wellness programs into its business planning, management should consider taking these steps:
· Assess the workplace to understand the needs and constraints of the employees.
· Determine how employees learn about and practice healthy behaviors.
· Observe the natural tendencies of employees to determine the level of effort that will be needed to facilitate positive change.
· Remove organizational barriers to participation in health and wellness programs, which will help motivate employees to engage in them.
· Learn about employee preferences to enable the developers to build sufficient choices into health and wellness programming. If employees find program options appealing, they will be more likely to participate in them.
· Create opportunities for employees to learn about healthy lifestyle choices and how these can be applied to their own lives. This will increase the employees’ confidence and encourage long-term program participation.
· Look for informal teachers and influencers among the employees—individuals who can model healthy lifestyle choices because they have successfully incorporated such behaviors into their routines. This will create another opportunity for employees to learn about healthy behaviors.
· Deliver targeted, personalized communications to stimulate interest in health and wellness programs and to promote employee engagement and participation.
· Learn from your successes and failures.
· Make it fun!
Higher rates of employee participation in corporate health and wellness programs can lead to improved employee productivity and reduced absenteeism. By establishing a corporate culture of health, organizations display an understanding that a healthy employee base can contribute to lower health care expenditures and improved organizational performance.
As general manager for the employer franchise of Wellness & Prevention, a Johnson & Johnson company, Jennifer Bruno brings firsthand knowledge from a career spanning nearly 30 years in the employer health and wellness industry. She also serves on the board of directors of the Integrated Benefits Institute.