We live in a culture of immediate gratification. “On-demand” cable television services, pre-prepared foods from the grocery store, fast-food carryout, and diet programs that claim you will shed pounds “without trying” all are signs that Americans have lost sight of the fact that not everything can be obtained without waiting. And when it comes to changing behaviors to eliminate unhealthy habits and adopt healthy ones — such as giving up cigarettes, losing weight, exercising more, and managing stress effectively — hard work and sustained personal effort also are required. In order to succeed, workplace wellness programs need to recognize this and include elements that engage employees over time.
Suppose you host a brown-bag lunch in your company cafeteria with a presentation on the health benefits of eating right and leading an active lifestyle. You might find that this seminar is well-attended, but observe that few employees actually seem to make the recommended changes, and that even fewer are doing so after a few months. This experience is all too common, and reflects the reality that more individuals are well-intentioned than are self-motivated. Your wellness initiatives, therefore, need to provide the motivation. Here are a few ways to do this:
- Personalize the experience by offering health risk assessments that show each employee, on an individual basis, their current health risks and the steps they should take to address them.
- Tie any offered health risk assessment incentives — such as reduced health plan premiums — not only to taking the assessment, but also to completing any recommended follow-up actions.
- Focus on helping employees want to make the sought-after lifestyle changes, because behavior change is more likely when an individual is ready to make it. This can involve offering incentives as discussed above, but also thinking of ways that would help employees see the risks of not changing (such as posting clear statistics on differences in lifespan for smokers versus non-smokers, individuals with normal blood pressure versus those with hypertension, individuals who maintain a healthy weight versus those who are overweight or obese, etc).
- Provide motivation in the form of support systems. This could involve initiatives such as Weight Watchers at Work, lunchtime walking clubs, articles in company newsletters on employee success stories, providing lists of local gyms and a small company subsidy for joining, sponsoring a “biggest loser” competition, and the like.
Most of us find any change difficult, and lifestyle changes can be daunting. Remember this facet of human nature when implementing wellness programs, and you might find employees more engaged in them, over the long run.