Employees value wellness programs, but few participate in them. Understanding why they don’t participate can offer valuable insight for employers and benefit advisers hoping to increase engagement.

Seventy percent of employees say wellness is valuable, but just 9% take full advantage of the programs offered by their company, according to new research from GuideSpark, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based HR software company.

The most common reasons for lack of participation cited by employees include being too busy, the program doesn’t fit with their lifestyle and not being fully aware of what programs are offered, GuideSpark found in a survey of 350 people working at companies with at least 1,000 employees.

Using this knowledge benefit advisers and their employer clients can better design wellness programs to increase employee participation.

The type of programs important to employees surveyed, include stress management, physical fitness, financial wellness, weight management, nutrition, sleep management and tobacco/alcohol cessation.

Yet 30% of employees surveyed say they either don’t have a wellness program or don’t know if their employer offers one, says Linda Itskovitz, GuideSpark’s vice president of marketing. A majority, 58%, say they have little to no understanding of what corporate wellness means, she says.

Proper communication is vital to increasing participation, Itskovitz says. Disseminating information via multiple channels is the best way to reach all employees, she says. “People digest information in different ways.”

Advisers must take the same approach when helping clients design a plan, she says. “Different people have different goals,” she says. Some want to get in shape, others focus on eating healthy, and a wellness program needs to have something for everyone, she says.

Before implementing a plan, employers should think about what goals they want to achieve and who the audience is, says Itskovitz, and a plan must fit a diverse workforce. Plans don’t have to be expensive, she adds, but they must be meaningful.

How to increase participation

The study found that 63% of employees say they would participate in wellness programs if they were better suited to their lifestyle. Forty-eight percent say they’d participate if they weren’t working so hard, 45% want more incentives, 25% need a better understanding of what’s offered and 25% would join if their friends participated.

Making the program more social helps get younger employees involved, says Itskovitz, and having management involved also helps increase participation. But the survey found that employers aren’t doing enough when it comes to wellness.

  • 46% wish their company provided better wellness benefits
  • 38% wish their company would educate them more on all the wellness benefits they provide
  • 36% say their company doesn’t do enough to drive a culture of wellness
  • 30% say their manager doesn’t support balancing work with staying fit

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