by Dean Witherspoon   Dean's profile on LinkedIn  


If you’re a longtime reader you know we don’t put a lot of stock in so-called wellness best practice lists (read The Curse of Knowledge and Why We’re Stuck in Wellness). One of our primary frustrations is it takes the focus off what really matters to employees: communication, recognition, growth, respect, leadership, and compensation. If these key issues aren’t addressed in your organization, you’re working in a demotivating culture and pulling people into your wellness program is going to be tough, but not impossible.

Although wellness can’t directly affect all areas, the results can be a guide… setting the tone for how you operate. And you can have an impact on at least the top 4 best practices that matter most to employees.

Communication
This may be the area most neglected by wellness professionals in recent years, as time constraints and competing responsibilities pull you in multiple directions. Here’s what you can do:

  • Aim for continuous communication with participants and management at all levels, keeping them informed not only of program offerings, but results and plans. The last thing you want is people wondering what you really do all day.
  • Maintain an open door policy so you’re accessible to participants and management when it’s convenient for them.
  • Distribute regular, frequent news bulletins outlining programs and services, summarizing accomplishments, and highlighting individual as well as group success stories.
  • Conduct annual interest/readiness assessments to determine what your clients want and are ready to act on. Be sure to summarize feedback promptly so people feel their time was well spent completing the assessment.

Recognition
People love it. You almost can’t give too much recognition, whether it’s for a health accomplishment or job performance. Some ways to make it meaningful include:

  • Involvement of supervisors. With the participant’s permission, let their manager know they’ve made progress in some health area so they can be congratulated where they spend most of their day.
  • A personal pat on the back. A phone call or handwritten note, expressing congratulations for first-time participation or reaching a health goal, goes a long way toward sealing commitment — not only for the health habit, but for your services.
  • Participant-to-participant attaboys. Prepare “I caught you doing something healthy” coupons for participants to give to those caught in the act of exercising, selecting a healthy entrée, or engaging in other positive habits. Coupons can be good for a free massage, exercise class, discount at a grocery store, etc.

Growth
Multiple studies have supported workers’ desire to feel they’re going somewhere, that their work is meaningful, and they’ll always have a chance to learn new things. Some ways you can contribute to that goal include:

  • Programming for multiple abilities. Not everyone is ready to exercise 5 days a week for 30 minutes or more. Consider beginner, intermediate, and advanced participation levels for all programs. Whether it’s physical activity, nutrition, or stress management, giving people the chance to grow to their full potential is good for them and your program.
  • Health mentors. People who have successfully quit smoking, lost weight, or stuck with an exercise program can be great support for those just starting out. Mentors can convey an “I was in the same situation as you” feeling that eases the fears of newcomers and gives them a realistic model for maintaining the healthy behavior.

Respect
Health is such a personal issue for most that it’s vital individuals feel they’re respected. If there’s even a hint of not measuring up to some ideal image of health, you’ll lose the very people you could help the most. Foster respect by:

  • Giving participants a voice in your program. Soliciting then responding to their input is not only respectful, it’s the smart way to make your program better.
  • Allowing for options. Not everyone can commit to a 12-week weight loss program, so offer a quick start or drop-in version. Make flexibility a cornerstone of your services.
  • Involving family members. Besides helping to reinforce the health habit you’re trying to influence, family involvement demonstrates you understand the participant has a life outside of work and shows you care about them more than as a productivity metric or healthcare expense.
  • Embracing diversity. Your programs and promotions should mirror the background of your audience. Seek input from all ethnicities, ages, and religious orientations to be sure you’re inclusive.

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