5 wellness engagement strategies that work

You’ve already done your data analysis and identified some health habits that need to be changed in your population. Now you are tasked with engaging them in wellness. How do you get individuals to engage in behavior change?

Although a client company might be ready to change the health of their workforce, change isn’t always quick. A health plan might want members to adopt a healthy lifestyle right away, but it takes time and effort.

Engagement is key to a successful wellness program. But how exactly do you get users engaged? The answer isn’t always clear cut.

The good news is that wellness engagement can be improved with a few steps. Here are five health engagement strategies that can help employers get their population interested and actively involved in healthy habits.

1. Know what employees are ready to change.
You’re ready to change the culture and make the population healthier. But how do you know if they are ready? And, perhaps more importantly, do you know what they are ready to change?

When it comes to behavior change, you can be sure that not everyone will be ready, especially not to change everything at once. One way to understand where individuals in your population stand is through change readiness assessment. If you want to know whether someone is ready to make a needed change, ask. An individual may or may not be ready to change one certain behavior, but will be willing to change another. But by identifying the stage of change they are in, you can target messaging to help move them through the change process by individual, personalized motivation.

By meeting people where they are rather than where you want them to be, you will improve wellness engagement in the long-term.
2. Start at the top.
According to Gallup research, employees who are supervised by highly engaged leadership teams are 39% more likely to be engaged themselves.

This is simple. If you want employees to adopt healthy habits at home and at work, get C-Suite execs and middle managers to lead by example. It all starts at the top. When leaders foster a culture of wellness and exemplify it, employees notice and are more likely to follow suit.

Have wellness plans for a geographic population? Work with local health departments and community leaders to increase neighborhood gardens or walkability, for example. Take a cue from the consumer model of behavior change. Identify the leaders in your population and work with early adopters — individuals who will quickly adopt and champion healthy habits.
3. Make it easy for individuals to say yes to change.
Getting the incentives right is a vital part of a successful wellness program. To do that, you need to figure out what motivates individuals to participate.

There are two ways to incentivize change: Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Effective wellness programs align change readiness to motivators of each individual.

When you use extrinsic motivation to get people to change, you’re offering them items such as cash rewards and gifts (though recent research shows that small amounts of money or gifts gets employees to do only what they would have done anyway. It takes larger amounts to get them to do more). Or, you are penalizing them monetarily when they fail to reach a certain standard. This is the “carrot and stick” model of motivation. Be careful though, because some extrinsic incentives might violate EEOC regulations.

Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, relies on internal factors unique to each person. These can be less tangible items, like “living a healthier, more vibrant lifestyle” or “avoiding heart disease.” One way to identify an individual’s motivation is by looking at how much enjoyment and satisfaction they have in an activity. Using a health risk assessment that asks individuals about their change readiness can also help you identify individuals who are self-motivated to change.

Nebraska Medicine used both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation strategies to boost wellness program engagement. For example, when employees said they were ready to exercise more, the healthcare system decided to eliminate the small fee employees were charged for accessing on-site fitness facilities. The result? They’ve had a 400% increase in fitness center use.
4. Support change.
New fitness habits and healthier behaviors can be difficult to maintain in the beginning. How can you support your population to adopt new behaviors faster and improve program engagement?

One way to make sure your workforce stays on track is to connect to existing programs such as employee assistance programs. Linking a wellness program to an EAP makes it easier for employees to deal with change and get support for physical and mental situations affecting their work.

Another way to help individuals stick with healthy habits is to empower them to track their own progress. Giving them access to mobile applications and web-based programs both engages them and lets them monitor their progress on the way to wellness.

Lastly, have conversations with individuals to make sure they are receiving the support and tools they need to reach their wellness goals. Identify roadblocks and brainstorm solutions by asking open-ended questions, affirming progress, listening reflectively, and summarizing the conversation. When individuals feel cared for and supported, they will find it easier to care about their health.
5. Take health to them.
According to a survey by Optum and the National Business Group on Health, having access to employer health and wellness programs is positively correlated with employee engagement. This study named several program categories that improved engagement, including:
  • Health risk assements
  • Wellness coaching
  • Telemedicine
  • Health biometric screenings
  • Gym membership discounts
  • On-site medical clinics
  • Fitness challenges

The results of this study found that 46% of employees at companies offering seven or more program categories such as these strongly agreed that they are proud to be a part of the company, compared with only 14% of employees whose employer offered no programs.

The message is clear: Taking health to employees leads to more engaged, loyal and healthy behaviors. The benefits of engagement are endless. But without the right approach, you’re unlikely to see them. It all starts with asking the right questions.