5 Steps to Workplace Wellness: Start with the people, ditch the incentives

Developing top-notch worksite wellness programming for your employees can be a challenge. Not only must you determine the appropriate programs for your business but you are also responsible for motivating employees to actually participate. What good is a “lunch and learn” if nobody shows up? As many of you most likely have discovered, simply slapping a flyer up in the break room doesn’t drive the participation or the motivation. But what does?

It all comes down to the individuals and their intrinsic motivation. When it comes to worksite wellness, the pursuit of wellbeing should be about people and how they function as individuals rather than a focus on smart trackers, pedometers or exercise programs. These are great tools to help us on our journey to a “better self,” but the process needs to go a little deeper. Through research, we have learned that an individual’s opportunity to thrive creates opportunities for others around them to do the same. A happy and healthy employee is more willing to share their own gifts of health and wellbeing with their co-workers. Over time, this trickle effect works its way through your teams and before you know it, you have a thriving culture of health. In the end, individual wellbeing has the greatest capacity to impact the entire workplace.

But how is that accomplished? Let’s take a look at five simple steps as to how you can facilitate motivation and behavior change on your teams.

 Step 1: Find your micro-influencers.

Someone that has worked hard to overcome a challenge wants to share their life-changing experiences and successes with their peers. They can’t wait to tell someone how they overcame a bad habit, lost weight or quit smoking. They want others to feel as good as they do…and they tell anybody and everybody that will listen. We call these people micro-influencers. For example, have you ever been around someone that tried a new diet and lost 10 or 20 lbs.? They want everyone to try that diet!

The micro-influencer is knowledgeable and passionate. They sit at the lunch table telling everyone about their new eating plan and post the news on every social media network they are on. Their peers, after sensing the passion and seeing the weight loss, are likely to want to be a part of this revolutionary eating program. Before you know it, half the department is on this plan. This is how a micro-influencer works – they create a culture movement. Corporate culture is created in just this manner…through a million micro-moments of influencing behavior between employees.

As a leader, you have the ability to act as a micro-influencer to help drive a culture that is geared toward wellbeing. You also have the ability to utilize micro-influencers within your departments to assist you in this process.  You probably already know who your top micro-influencers are. Seek them out. They are your champions. Get them to spread the word and inspire others.

 Step 2: Focus on the individual.

Again, change starts with the individual. To change behavior, an individual needs autonomy, relatedness, and competency. Autonomy involves making change that makes the “most sense for me.” Relatedness is having other people around that value the change you are wanting to make. Competency is having the knowledge it takes to make the change.

If your employees don’t feel that a particular wellness program doesn’t make the most sense for them (personally) to participate in, then you may never see them in your programs. Get to know what is important to them when it comes to their own health and wellness. A short survey may answer that question.

Do your teams possess a “relatedness” quality? Are they supportive when individuals want to make a change for the better? Training your teams to be that support system for others can provide that relatedness aspect.

Once you have determined what is important to the individuals, and a supportive environment is provided, your next step as a leader is to provide quality programming. This is where the competency comes in. Having it readily available and easily accessible for them is where the value is provided.

 Step 3: Ditch the incentives.

Do financial incentives work? It depends. Is your goal awareness and participation or long-lasting change and engagement?

How are your employees being motivated? Is it through intrinsic or external motivators? Do they have expectations that they will get a gift card every time they merely participate in a wellness incentive program? Research shows that incentives “coerce, seduce, and pressure” and programs with “highly controlled outcomes create diminished wellbeing and impaired physical health.” Essentially what it comes down to is that the incentives decrease one’s intrinsic motivation.

If you are offering incentives for program participation maybe it is time to re-evaluate that approach. Think instead along the lines of redirecting the incentive funds and offering programs such as health and wellness coaching, which allow individuals to focus on long-term behavior change that resonates from within while being held accountable with a coach.

Do wellness incentives ever work? There is a time and place for prizes and incentives, such as trying to get more people in the door for an event, to draw attention to something or getting a group to try something new.

 Step 4: Take away the shame.

We live in a society that equates poor health with laziness and physical fitness with accomplishment. Think about someone that has struggled with weight loss time after time and continues to fail. They most likely are not going to be in the office talking openly about their health or working out in the employee gym with their co-workers. Our culture has taught them to feel that they are unworthy and they don’t belong. Changing the culture and taking away the shame is a responsibility of the leaders and the teams that surround them (meaning everyone under the roof of your business).

According to author Brené Brown, the antidote to shame is connection. Here are some ways to create that connection with your teams and those around you:

·       Talk to people. Simple, right? For example, if you are launching a smoking cessation program, how about creating a personal connection with smokers during their smoke breaks? Stop and chat. Get to know them. When it comes time to launch the program, they just might be more likely to participate after that personal connection has been created.

·       Recruit others with similar experiences. If you are launching a healthy eating program, maybe someone in your department has already gone through the program and had a great experience. Ask them to recruit others by sharing their experiences. Relatedness is what breaks down the barriers to health.

·       Provide environments and opportunities that feel “safe.” To some, when it comes to their own personal wellness, the workplace isn’t always that safe place. But helping someone overcome a challenge in an environment outside the workplace might motivate them to come back to a peer at work and inspire them to make a change as well.

Step 5: Create a program that resonates with you.

If you’re not passionate about your wellness program, how do you expect your employees to be passionate? Stop and ask yourself what would the perfect wellness program look like if it were just for you? Once you have that picture, go ahead and implement that into your plan. There’s nothing better that having a program that you are proud and passionate about. Before you know it, you’ll be one of those micro-influencers. Creating a program that inspires you will allow you to lead with authenticity and passion, which will allow the influence to spread.

Most importantly, keep your programs simple and fun. It’s about sharing stories, influencing change and sharing our gifts. In the end, it’s about the people.

Let's not talk ROI

It's time to stop.  Stop focusing on the link between worksite wellness programming and insurance premiums.  We've spent the last 20-30 (or more) years trying to find the link.  Sure, there's that one study out there that shows for every $1 a company invests in wellness they get a $3 return.  That's a great study but is it really going to make an impact when you are trying to validate your proposed wellness program to your CFO during budget season?  I'll tell you what..it's not enough.  Maybe its time to look at how a great wellness program impacts tangible improvements?  Improvements such as employee engagement, retention rates, loyalty, creativity and innovation.  When managers are conducting their one on one meetings with employees are they seeing employees that are willing to go that extra mile, are their employees calling in sick all the time or are they showing up bright eyed and ready to tackle the day, or are their teams productive and bouncing creative ideas around during team meetings?  During those Gallop polls are company engagement scores going off the charts in the right direction?  These are the tangible items that result in increasing company profits.  It's about return on innovation not return on investment.  Company profits can be measured.  So, let's stop focusing on your wellness program as to how it relates to rising or falling insurance premiums. Instead, how about focusing on providing exceptional wellness programming that focuses on more movement throughout the day, better nutrition, creativity workshops, and programs that are inspired by what your teams want and need.  Base your foundation with the premise that employees want to feel like you care about them and the rest will come into place.