We’ve Got the Cure for These 4 Common Wellbeing Program Ailments

September 13, 2017

With most ailments like the common cold, you usually know exactly what to do. When you have a sore throat, you gargle with salt water. If you have a cold, nothing works better than Mom’s chicken soup. But what if you’re struggling with something that’s a little more complex?

We understand the difficulties of launching a successful employee wellbeing program. You’re up against time restrictions, budget restrictions, and the need to prove the value and return on your investment.

It’s really tough, but not impossible, to create a wellbeing program that has high enrollment, engagement, and leads to sustainable behavior change. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to some of the common wellbeing program ailments.

If your wellbeing program is a little under the weather but you don’t know why, read on to diagnose the ailment and get some ideas on how to cure it.

Symptom: Enrollment in your wellbeing program is low.

Diagnosis: Too narrow of a focus on at-risk population or disease management.

common approach to employee wellbeing is to think about the high-risk group of employees (10% of your company) that contribute most (80%) to healthcare costs. The tradeoff, though, is that you forget about the 90% of people that could also benefit from wellbeing programming. Targeting a single population can be isolating for that subset of people, and it also neglects cultivating workplace culture change across all of your employees.

Rather than focusing on combating common health issues (diabetes, heart disease, etc.) through disease-management programs, think about the needs of 100% of your population. How might you expand your programs to include all employees rather than select groups?

Symptom: Low program engagement and participation.

Diagnosis: Overly prescriptive programming or a one-size-fits-all approach.

In this scenario, your employees may initially seem interested in participating in wellbeing programming, but there’s a fast drop-off in participation after one or two events. While it’s nice to support employee health by providing resources like a biometric screening or the occasional yoga class, you may not be seeing the engagement that you’d like with this top-down, one-size-fits all approach. When programs don’t seem relevant to the unique lives of employees, they feel less of a true desire to engage.

As an employer and wellbeing program provider, it’s important to think about all the places in an individual’s lifestyle that may be contributing to unhealthy behaviors. When an employee is having to commute a long distance, can’t get much sleep because of stress, or has an entire family to take care of, overlooking such crucial details may be leading to interventions that are completely ineffective. Rather than telling employees how they should be approaching their wellbeing, allow them space to choose what feels relevant, and you’ll see greater engagement.

Symptom: Employees are participating for a little while, and then reverting back to old behavior.

Diagnosis: Your program relies too heavily on social challenges.

In this situation, you may see some short-term participation, which looks promising, but employees give up after a little while and revert back to old habits and behavior.

One of the most common reasons for this type of short-term burst in participation is a wellbeing program that’s designed around social challenges and competitions. While these are great starting points to engage your employee population around wellbeing as extrinsic motivators, this approach can sometimes distract from a true focus on wellbeing.

When you offer social challenges, participants may be getting too distracted by the game rather than the actual health behavior. Plus, those who tend to participate in these social challenges usually are the most highly motivated, so you may be unintentionally excluding those who are scared off by the social aspect.

Symptom: There’s no long-term behavior change among employees.

Diagnosis: You are relying too heavily on rewards and incentives, or have solutions that work in the short term with unrealistic conditions.

Like social competitions, rewards and incentives for accomplishing health and wellbeing behaviors are a great way to spark action among your employees. The downside, though, is that a carrot-stick model doesn’t tend to lead to to sustainable changes; without the extrinsic reward, people are less likely to continue doing the behavior.

Consider how you can use rewards on a longer term basis, so your employees get used to delayed gratification and require some personal volition in their actions.

Another reason you may not be seeing longer term effects after your wellbeing programming is that one-off solutions or social competitions create artificial conditions on a short-term basis that aren’t applicable to the real world. The key to behavior change involves constant, consistent practice in your real-world environment. Research shows that it takes at least 66 days to change a behavior for the long term, so one team 5K run or a three-week clean eating challenge will not likely lead to true behavior change in the long term.

The prognosis

Creating behavior change on a large corporate scale is a challenge; it’s a juggling act between keeping employees interested and engaged, staying within your budget, and proving the tangible cost benefits of your program. Solutions that may seem intuitive—like social competitions, or one-size-fits all approaches—are not always the most effective to get people to initiate change. If you can diagnose and treat some of these common ailments, you are one step closer to creating a truly effective employee wellbeing program.

If you’d like to explore the approaches to employee wellbeing that have been proven to be effective, be sure to download a copy of “The 5 Pillars of Employee Behavior Change” white paper.

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