How to Personalize Your Employee Wellbeing Program

August 30, 2017

Here’s a common scenario: Your company decides to offer a wellness challenge, and you get a big group committed to running a 5k or walking 10,000 steps a day for a month. People seem excited and motivated at the beginning of the program. But by the end, or a few weeks after? That excitement has vanished.

Why does this approach to employee wellbeing tend to fade out? First off, once the ideal conditions and group encouragement are gone, most people revert back to their usual habits (you can learn more about how tricky it is to really create new habits here). But perhaps more importantly, it’s because the goal was set externally and isn’t necessarily relevant to each individual participant.

Want to know how you can start making personalized wellbeing programming that recognizes your employees as individuals? Read on to learn more about the benefits to personalizing your wellbeing program, and how to actually accomplish this. Let’s get personal.

Why it pays to personalize your approach to workplace wellbeing

When employees regard their work environment as unpleasant, health care expenses are about 50% higher, absenteeism rises by 37%, and productivity and profits dip. As it is, only 30% of the US population is actively engaged at work. Even more surprising, absenteeism and presenteeism at work are a larger drain on funds than direct healthcare costs.

The only way you can begin to learn why your employees aren’t showing up to work, or not engaging in their work when they do, is to provide a space for employees’ individual needs to be recognized.

In this post, we’ll cover three ways that you can implement a more personalized wellbeing program. These include: providing opportunities for employee choice, person-centered communication, and health coaching.

1. Offer employees choice

When approaching health and wellbeing programs, it’s important to keep in mind that individuals, at the end of the day, are the experts about themselves. Therefore, it’s important for your health and wellbeing program goals to be in alignment with the individual participants’ goals. This alignment ensures employees are intrinsically motivated to act (What’s intrinsic motivation, you ask? In a nutshell, it refers to a type of motivation that’s found within an individual rather than relying on any external factors. Learn more about this topic here!).

Company-wide biometric screenings or fitness challenges are better than nothing, but don’t encourage long-term adoption of a healthy behavior. Research shows that allowing your employees to choose how they will tackle their health and wellbeing goals is key to their motivation. When employees feel supported in their individual choices, trust, job satisfaction, absenteeism, and psychological wellbeing can all improve.

So what does this mean for your wellbeing program? It won’t work if you tell employees they need to take up jogging or eat more kale, for example. You’ll want to make sure to give your employees the choice to focus on a habit that they’re interested in and willing to adopt, and then your role is to provide the structure that supports those chosen habits.

2. Take a person-centered approach to communication

Much of the personalization that you can provide to employees can happen in daily communication. Communication between managers and employees is especially important, with 8 out of 10 managers reported to not be motivating for employees. According to Gallup, only 35% of managers themselves are actively engaged at work, but have the ability to increase employee engagement by 59% if they are engaged.

Whether you’re a manager or an employee, how might you help support and engage those around you in their wellbeing goals through the way that you communicate?

Drawing on a type of psychotherapy devised by the psychologist Carl Rogers, the person-centered approach revolves around the key relationship between a therapist and their client, with the therapist serving a non-judgmental, encouraging, and empathetic role. The better a therapist conveys a sense of empathy to their client, the more likely the client is to have a positive outcome from the relationship.

What managers and employees can derive from this type of approach is the crucial aspect of empathy in the workplace. When individuals feel as though coworkers respect or understand their personal experience, they are more likely to feel comfortable and trusting in their work environment. This type of communication is one way managers can get closer to employees and begin to understand their personal wellbeing both in and outside of work.

3. Include coaching in your program

This person-centered communication approach can be extended into your company’s health and wellbeing programming through formalized personal coaching. A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that providing personalized health coaching boosted long-term program engagement and outcomes.

Many companies opt for one-size-fits all events because they seem inclusive and resource-efficient. However, adding in one-on-one health and wellbeing coaching can be an invaluable resource to help employees feel like their individual needs are being considered. One report indicates that employees that engage with health coaches will account for 70% of your health savings.

When individuals feel like someone else understands what they’re going through, and has even undergone similar challenges, this type of shared experience can be a powerful motivator. In large, diverse corporate environments, personalized health coaching can be especially transformative for wellbeing because of the large variability between the backgrounds, lives, and identities of your employees.

Don’t have the resources currently to integrate professional health coaches into your wellbeing platform? Studies also show that peer-to-peer coaching is nearly as effective. Social networks are shown to be a primary determinant of health and longevity. Create an environment that encourages collaboration in health and wellbeing goals in which employees and managers become each other’s cheerleaders. There’s nothing better than some solidarity with those around us when overcoming the difficulties of health and wellbeing.

What to take away

Forty-eight percent of employees aren’t satisfied with their company’s health and wellbeing efforts. To both engage and satisfy employees, consider how you can appeal to their individual desires and needs through personalization. Employees lead extremely different lives, so try to appeal to them on an individual level.

A place to start in both your wellbeing program and everyday work life is with using a person-centered approach to communication to learn about the personal needs of those in your company. Additionally, providing choice and leveraging health coaching can be powerful ways to add personalization to your program.

Remember: There’s a reason the one size fits all approach to wellbeing doesn’t work! But now you’ve got a few better ideas to test out. Give it a try and let us know what happens!

Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash
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