The Social Component of Health and Wellness Programs

Wellness program engagement has a strong social component

Learn why social engagement is key for health programs, including those that encourage weight loss and smoking cessation.

Corporate wellness programs can improve workers’ well-being and boost on-the-job performance while reducing lost workdays and the cost of health care premiums. But for these programs to work, employees need to buy in and participate. Indeed; lack of engagement is the biggest obstacle to changing behavior for 77 percent of organizations with wellness programs according to Towers-Watson’s 2013/2014 Staying@Work Survey Report.1

What’s the secret to encouraging employees to actively participate in corporate wellness programs? Social engagement — specifically, the social and emotional support that comes from group participation. Support groups have proven key for health programs that encourage weight loss, diabetes lifestyle management and smoking cessation, as well as initiatives for stress reduction and financial wellness. And when offered as part of a multi-channel approach that includes in-person meetings, online tools and mobile apps, a wellness program can become a lifeline for those employees who need to get on track to a healthier life.

The social component of health and wellness programs

Employees may initially like the idea of getting help to overcome obesity, quit smoking, boost activity or improve their fitness, but they may not want to share these struggles with their employer. A recent Humana/Economist Intelligence Unit study found a majority of employees are prepared to share personal information given the right privacy guarantees. Proactive, transparent communications that inform employees how health and participation data will be used, protected, and what the employer can and cannot see is the key to overcoming employees’ reluctance to share their personal information.

Once onboard, group coaching sessions can tap into the social needs of people managing a disease or facing lifestyle well-being challenges. Coaching provides strategies for how to change behaviors combined with guidance to help change those behaviors and replace them with healthier ones. Support from both coaches and peers offer motivation, celebrate progress, and can help participants overcome setbacks and obstacles.

A multi-channel approach for wellness programs

A wellness program can make the most of social team participation by recognizing that employees learn and relate in different ways. Many programs offer online chats or discussion groups where members share success stories and frustrations, while e-mail advice and wellness texts provide a daily dose of motivation.

Integrated web-based tools and smartphone apps that allow users to track nutrition and exercise, or act as digital coaches to support weight loss or smoking cessation goals, can help monitor and reinforce healthy habits.

A multi-channel approach recognizes that changing behaviors is hard work. By pairing face-to-face activities with online and phone-based elements, it allows employees to engage in the manners most effective for them.

A healthy dose of competition

Friendly competition can help bring out the best. Online games and apps allow individuals to compete against others in fitness-related challenges. Enabling participants see how they compare against others on the leaderboard offers both encouragement – and reward – for their progress.

Companies can become partners in health with an employer-sponsored step challenge. Co-workers can compete individually or as a team to see who can get the most steps in their day, week, or month. Employers can provide extra motivation by offering movie tickets or gift cards to top steppers.

Running a Healthy Business

Simple changes in workplace policy can have a big impact when it comes to establishing a culture of wellness. To help inspire activity, for example, companies can encourage workers to take the stairs or promote a lunch hour walking club. Adding healthy snacks to company vending machines could encourage employees eat healthier while spurring new breakroom discussion.

Ultimately, running a healthy business means helping to empower employees make lasting, noticeable change in their health and well-being. Employers can facilitate wellness program participation by offering organization-wide education sessions aimed at addressing common health problems. Social media and mobile wellness apps can also help to educate, inspire and start conversations around wellness topics.

Learn more about running a healthy business in “Six common mistakes employers make with wellness programs.”

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