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Seven Steps to Creating an Engaging Employee Wellness Program

Employers face a number of challenges within today’s healthcare and economic environment including finding cost savings and growing their top line, while also faced with rising healthcare costs. As a result, HR professionals are charged with increasing employee productivity and finding viable ways to engage employees. 

We all know happier, healthier employees are more productive, but how do you accomplish this? One way is through an effective wellness program that engages employees and makes it fun, and at the same time, reduces overall costs. Our own company wellness program saw an engagement rate of over 70% within the first month. What’s the secret to engagement success? Check out our seven steps to get you started.

Step #1 — Understand your barriers. Identify potential roadblocks/solutions to employee engagement across your unique employee population, including: demographics, location, culture, language, or technology. You will want to tailor your program specifically to your population to keep employees motivated and engaged for the greatest impact. Four common barriers include: trust, time, motivation factors, and access.

Step #2 — Gain visible commitment from company leadership. A visible commitment from company leadership will encourage participation and sustained engagement. Consider these ideas: tie program success to company performance/rewards, create policies that foster program success (e.g., relaxed dress code, healthy food at company meetings), or develop a video to launch the program that involves senior leadership to create a sense of excitement.

Step #3 — Develop a centralized, coordinated communications plan. One of the most important steps prior to launching your program, is to develop and implement a centralized, coordinated communications plan to maximize engagement. As you develop your plan consider the following: use a fun and engaging tone of voice, include a clear implementation schedule, strategically time your communications to create hype and curiosity, and leverage multiple communications tools (e.g., e-mail, videos, intranets, and webinars). 

Step #4 — Integrate with your benefit program. With high-deductible health plans on the rise, employees are increasingly motivated to become informed healthcare consumers. Combining your wellness program into other aspects of their healthcare can be a significant factor in driving engagement. Here are a few ideas: partner with your medical, dental, and vision providers; host an on-site biometric screening or health fair; offer fitness or weight loss program reimbursements.

Step #5 — Provide incentives and peer support. One of the most effective strategies to support engagement in your employee wellness program is the use of incentives. These can include rewards such as gift cards or other monetary prizes, or added employee benefits such as additional vacation time. Incentive strategies should not only reward positive, engaging behavior, but also be designed to keep employees motivated throughout the year.

Step #6 — Encourage grassroots leadership at the local level from all employees. Identify champions and empower them to be leaders across your entire population and different geographic locations. It is important to create a program that reflects the culture of each employee’s local environment to make their wellness program relatable and personally relevant. 

Step #7 — Follow up to sustain engagement. Consistent and coordinated follow up is critical to sustain engagement across your employee population. Effective follow-up strategies include: publish an annual wellness calendar that highlights events and campaigns, involve employees in the planning of the program (e.g., online surveys or focus groups), and develop an online e-newsletter that provides program updates and highlights employee success stories. 

In the end, the path to good health is different for everyone. But when a strategic, comprehensive, and customizable approach is taken, wellness programs work — providing employer and employee with mutual incentives, and empowering people to live longer, more productive, healthier lives.

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