5 reasons employees don’t know you have a wellness program

by Sep 16, 2017

It was Friday morning, and no one had a clue what you were talking about…

“What kind of accent is that?” Amber pipes up from the cubicle next to you. “It sounds like you’re trying to say ‘October,’ but you sure are saying it funny.”

“That’s because I said ‘WALKtober,’” you reply, slightly irritated. “I’ve invited you to join me in a walking contest … during the month of October.”

“A walking contest?” she parrots. “Like, to see who can walk the best? I was a model when I was younger, so just so you know, I’m really, really, ridiculously good at walking, and I’ll probably win this whole Walktober thing.”

Martin peeks over the edge of your cubicle. “Why are you two saying ‘October’ so funny?”

You feel a little like ripping your hair out, but instead you take a long, deep breath – the kind you’ve learned about from the Thursday meditation sessions that you (and only you) attend. You aren’t entirely surprised by your coworkers’ comments – you are, however, growing increasingly vexed that the wellness program’s been in place for three months now and no one seems to know it exists. As the enthusiastic catalyst of said program, it’s enough to make you want to scream into a pillow.

Sadly, scenarios like this play out over and over in the workplace, and it’s rarely the fault of any one person or process. As a wellness-program coordinator, you have a gazillion other things on your to-do list. And employees have a gazillion other things vying for their attention. But the health and wellbeing of your people is important, and a ton of time and resources have already been devoted to designing your wellness program and choosing the right partner(s), so let’s make sure you’re taking it to the finish line (and beyond).

“If you build it, they will come” might work for ‘80s baseball movies, but for employee-wellbeing programs, there’s a bit more to be done to make sure people actually show up. Here are 5 common reasons your wellness program could be flying under the radar … and why it’ll likely continue to do so unless you do something about it.

1. Poor communication

If your program doesn’t have compelling communications, your employees won’t want to participate (or worse – they won’t even know that there’s a program to participate in). Creative, custom communications can broadcast benefits to convert even the most clueless coworkers (like Martin up there) into bonafide believers. As we stated previously, there are a gazillion other “things” out there competing for just a few seconds of people’s time. To be successful, you’ve gotta be thorough with:

  • Posters
  • Flyers
  • Email reminders
  • Web-based alerts
  • Push notifications
  • Intranet ads
  • Promos posted on monitors in breakrooms
  • Banners
  • Ravens
  • Smoke signals
  • You get the point

Communication should be constant, too. Not so much that you’re drowning employees in emails (as if they aren’t already), but enough to remember the program long after that inaugural walking contest has concluded. Employees can only engage in a wellness program they know exists – even just a few regular reminders (or, better yet, consistent overall visibility across campus) can pump up participation.

2. Lack of wellness champions

Communication materials are crucial, but they’ll only go as far as program advocates take them! Your company is likely quite large with multiple departments, floors, locations, and/or business units. Without wellness champions (we call ‘em SuperChamps) – the enthusiastic individuals who promote the program within each department, floor, location, and/or business unit – your employee population is like an army without platoon leaders. To get people invested and engaged with the ways of wellness, they need better boots-on-the-ground inspiration. They need SuperChamps.

Employees are much more likely to leave their comfort zones when they’re following the lead of someone they know and trust. Wellness champions have been there – they’ve conquered some previous wellness weakness of their own (or are in the process of conquering it), so they’re able to use that experience to energize employees of all interest levels. They’re out there passing out those flyers you worked so hard to design, recruiting people into the program, setting up walking meetings, and challenging employees to wall-squat workouts, push-up contests, and an endless array of impromptu wellness activities.

3. No social contagion or recognition

When you’re living in your own little wellness world, finding the motivation to stay healthy day-after-day can be hard. Even the simplest recognition for your efforts (“Hey, I see you’re trying to be healthier – good for you!”) goes a long way. But if no one knows you’re making an effort to be healthier, no one knows they should give you a pat on the back.

Social contagion makes a wellness program visible by encouraging and enabling employees to share and recognize the healthy efforts that jump-start real behavior change. Well-communicated challenges that are creatively competitive and/or cooperative (think teams working together toward a donation to charity) encourage all coworkers – even the Martins and the Ambers – to hop right in and play along. And the feel-good effect of social recognition and camaraderie keeps ‘em comin’ back for more.

4. Lackluster support from management

Strong leadership may keep the everyday business boat afloat – but if leaders fail to embrace the wellness program, participation will flounder. Company leaders at ALL management levels can make a big splash by encouraging employee engagement with their wellness program, and the simplest thing they can do is support their crew. (After all, what good is an onsite fitness center if your boss throws major shade at you for using it during the workday?)

Management can empower their wellness programs in three different ways:

  • Support. Allow people to engage in healthier habits at work. As long as their activities don’t interfere with their work, let ‘em do their walking meetings, wall-squat challenges, and whatever other zany, good-for-you stuff the program suggests.
  • Endorse. Openly endorse the program, and help communicate it to other members. Aside from sharing flyers and putting posters up around the workplace, management could consider weaving wellness components throughout the workday (for example, starting meetings with a short session of squats or arm circles before diving into the agenda).
  • Champion. The third (and best) way would be to publically champion the program. When employees gather around for an exercise, management is right there with them, going rep-for-rep.

Members of management across all levels (yes, even the C-suite!) have the power to make or break a wellness program’s success. If they aren’t sold on the idea of wellness and wellbeing by the time that contract is signed, you’re gonna run into BIG trouble getting the program off the ground. But with their support, endorsement, and advocacy, wellness can be seen as a healthy, positive pursuit among the work population.

5. No fun!

Most wellness programs don’t have much fun-factor if all they offer are health assessments (yawn) and biometric screenings (yawn AND ouch!). Programs that offer basic “most-steps-wins” contests can yield quick diversionary boosts in the anti-boredom category, but they’re short-term and therefore not likely to inspire long-term health habits and sustainable behavior change.

Designing (and continuously re-designing) a wellness program that employees WANT to take part in – now THAT’s the secret to success (and complete employee awareness). And it’s essentially the result of adding up all of the previously mentioned elements.

Look at it from the employee’s perspective – what kind of program would YOU want to join: one that your peers participate in, fosters healthy competition and cooperation, and is constantly communicating to you how awesome it is? Or a program that’s lifeless, uninspiring, and completely lacking in personality (the way so many programs out there are)? We think the answer’s pretty easy.

So, we ask you: how are your employees using YOUR wellness program? What makes your program visible and inviting (or why is it falling off-the-radar)? Share your story with us – we’d love to hear it!

Eric Seal

Flippant Writer Extraordinaire