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7 Reasons Employees Dislike Wellness Programs and How to Change Their Mind



Whether they’re concerned about privacy or simply believe that wellness programs are no fun, some employees don’t like employee well-being programs. Here are seven ways to get less enthusiastic workers to join in and improve overall employee health.


Employee wellness programs can save money, increase creativity, boost morale and help organizations retain and attract talent – and in the age of COVID-19 it’s more important than ever to develop and maintain and healthy and resilient workforce. But you’ve also heard rumblings that some employees dislike wellness programs. How can both be accurate, and what can your organization do to implement a successful wellness program that employees will rave about?


There are seven common reasons employees dislike wellness programs, but these issues are easy to avoid if you are starting a program and easy to fix if you already have one in place. Before we can discuss why employees are turned off by run-of-the-mill wellness programs, you first need to make sure they know about them.


It seems hard to believe; after all, you spend so much time and energy communicating your program. However, a Harvard Business Review survey of 465 full-time employees from companies that offer a wellness program found that the No. 1 reason employees did not participate was that they were not aware their employer offered a well-being program.


What You Can Do


Start by branding your program. Your organization’s wellness initiative needs a name and a logo so it is easily recognizable. Next, develop a communications strategy to promote your brand and your program. Determine what you will you communicate, how often you will communicate and how you will disseminate your message. Develop information that is clear and straightforward, consistent and recognizable, and easily accessible. Use multiple communications methods (e.g., e-mail, hard-copy mailers, a wellness portal, virtual meetings) and targeted messages to reach employees. In addition to letting employees know what is available, make sure they know where to access program information and what they need to do to participate. Most employees will not take the time to sift through information to find what they need.


To reinforce the message, develop a wellness committee made up of employees from all levels within the organization. The committee can help communicate the program, drive participation and motivate employees while also providing a voice for their colleagues’ ideas and concerns.


Now, let’s talk about how to engage employees by avoiding their “dislikes.”


Employees Think They Don’t Have Time to Participate


Between long work days and 24/7 connectivity with the office, as well as family obligations – especially with many kids attending school remotely – employees are busier. According to a report from the Global Corporate Challenge, 86% of employees don’t participate in wellness initiatives because they do not have the time. The UnitedHealthcare 2018 Wellness Check Up Survey also provides insight into the employee mind-set. It found that 63% of employees are unwilling to devote more than an hour a day to improve their health and well-being.


What You Can Do


Change the format of wellness offerings. Hour-long, weekly webinars or 60-minute virtual events no longer work for many employees. Wellness programming can be effective and participation rates can increase when employees are offered shorter programs and more flexibility. A one-hour seminar can be broken down into four, 15-minute virtual segments or employees can access recorded content on a wellness technology portal. The content is still the same; the information is simply disseminated over time.


Offer programs that can be done anywhere—on-site at an employee’s desk, for those employees who are back in the office, or at home for those employees who are working remotely. Programs can be offered as recorded webinars, providing flexibility for busy and geographically dispersed employees. Allow employees to log on at their convenience and complete programs ranging from nutrition and sleep to stress reduction, fitness and financial health.


Provide employees with the time to participate in wellness activities and improve their well-being during work hours. Offering employees company time to improve their health will increase participation. It also sends a message that your organization values your employees and cares about their well-being.


Employees Think the Wellness Program Isn’t Fun


Not everyone enjoys health and fitness. A quick look at the country’s obesity rates – over 42% – is evidence that a large percentage of Americans are not focusing on their well-being. The reason? Many think it’s not interesting or fun. And let’s face it, taking time out of a busy workday to go to a biometric screening is not necessarily fun.


What You Can Do


Find a way to make your program fun and exciting. Conduct a survey to find out what health topics or activities employees are interested in and develop programs around the most popular topics. Just because a topic is a need-to-have, such as diabetes awareness or smoking cessation, doesn’t mean these are the want-to-have programs employees will make time for. Understanding your culture, employees’ interests and their readiness to change will go a long way to increasing the possibility that your employees will appreciate and enjoy the programs being offered. Add activities that are hard to resist such as virtual cooking demos, online social events and virtual fitness challenges.


Other ideas include:

  • Don’t simply tell employees to exercise three times a week; invite them to be active at a specific virtual wellness event or encourage them to post a selfie on a wellness portal of them doing something physical.

  • Host a virtual wellness day. Invite local vendors to provide information and brief presentations on nutrition, yoga, meditation, healthy snacks and more.

  • Invite employees to an online lunch n’ learn on a wellness topic that meets their interests; encourage them to take a break and bring their lunch and include some ice breakers to engage everyone at the start of the event.

  • Encourage virtual walking meetings when employees are "in meetings" or on calls that don’t require them to be in front of their computers.

  • Share wellness milestones and program results quarterly at a virtual wellness social hour; recognize employees who made significant achievements and give out prizes such as gift cards or an extra personal day.


Employees Think the Program Does Not Meet Their Needs


Your smoking-cessation program may be enjoying success, but if only a small percentage of employees are smokers then participation in your wellness program will not be high. And while your wellness challenge may get incredible results, if the activities appeal only to weekend warriors, you are not meeting the needs of most of your employees.


What You Can Do


Customize your program to meet individual employee needs. A program that is personalized will deliver better engagement and results. Every employee has different health needs, different interests and different priorities. Motivating employees to make healthy changes is more effective when the changes make sense to them. Likewise, programs that are relevant to their needs are programs they’ll want to sign up for. It’s important to engage employees where they want support, whether it is physical, emotional or mental. Provide options for employees in all stages of behavior change, from those contemplating making changes to those who are well on their way. Establish a connection with each employee and provide support and guidance for his or her wellness journey.


A wellness committee with active listeners can go a long way to gathering feedback and providing cheerleading for the wellness efforts. As an example, delivering a smoking cessation program to an organization with 20 smokers and only three who are interested in quitting is not likely the best use of your time and resources. On the other hand, setting up an outdoor, socially distanced breakfast burrito demo at 5 a.m. when the truck drivers are running in to the lumber yard to pick up their routes and can grab a quick taste and a recipe is a way to make wellness personalized, approachable and relevant.


Employees Are Worried About Privacy


Many employees worry that participating in a corporate wellness program will allow their employer to access their medical records. This lack of trust is understandable –employees may worry that a medical condition will impact their jobs or their health benefits or subject them to discrimination. It’s important for employers to be both genuine and transparent when asking employees to participate in programs that involve disclosure of their health information. Most distrust in wellness programs comes from poor work relationships and communication.


What You Can Do


Don’t dismiss employee privacy concerns. Make sure your program provides transparency. Take the time to communicate what data you will collect and how it will be used. Let employees know that your program meets all state and federal regulations. If the program is being administered by a third-party vendor, explain the vendor’s role and how it handles confidential employee data and keeps it separate from your business operations. A hands-off approach by human resources can go a long way in sending the message that employee privacy is valued. Continue to message around safety and privacy throughout the program.


Employees Don’t Know What They Need to Do


You’ve branded your wellness program and developed a robust communications plan. You think your wellness program requirements and incentives are as clear as day. Employees may not agree with you. Some still may not understand why they should participate, and others may not understand what they need to do. If the program has too many steps and forms and is perceived as complicated, participation rates will lag.


What You Can Do


Employees receive numerous competing messages every day, so it’s important that your wellness program design is simple and easy to understand. Employees should be able to locate information quickly and sign up effortlessly. Keep communications short and to the point. Consider using a wellness portal to house all information in one place; this makes it easy for employees to access information on a mobile app when they are on the go. If you need a 20-page brochure explaining the elements of your program, it’s too complex!


Employees Think They Will Be Judged by Their Manager for Taking Time Out of the Workday to Participate


Employees often feel they will be judged if they take an hour out of their day to attend a virtual wellness seminar or a fitness activity, and managers often fail to realize how their habits influence their team. Managers lead by example and can inspire change within their company if they share the importance of well-being with their team.


What You Can Do


Get both C-level support for your program and management buy-in. It’s important that these individuals act as healthy role models for your employees. Employees are more likely to participate in wellness programs if they know it’s important to company executives. They are also more likely to take time out of their day to participate in programs if they know their manager is engaging in wellness activities. Train managers to tell their employees that it’s okay – and even encouraged – to take a break and do something for their well-being.


Employees Underestimate the Value of Financial Rewards and Incentives


You may have developed great financial incentives for your program, but employees aren’t aware of the value of the incentives. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of employees underestimate the value of wellness program financial rewards and incentives, which average about $742 per employee per year. In fact, 41% of employees surveyed estimated the average annual wellness program financial reward between $0 and $300.


What You Can Do


Communicate your wellness program incentives in clear, concise language and make sure the dollar value is front and center. Take the same steps you did when raising awareness of the program: Use different communication methods including e-mail, social media, post cards and text messages. Host virtual meetings and/or conference calls about wellness program incentives and discuss the dollar value of participation. If you are using a wellness technology platform, make sure wellness program incentives are easy to find and easy for employees to track.


Of course, the best way to ensure engagement is to customize the program to meet the needs of your employees. To personalize your program, consider utilizing some assessment tools to determine what employees want and need from a program. Surveys, health assessments, wellness champions and engagement tools can provide valuable information to help you determine the best ways to get started in your wellness program. To ensure your program is effective and meeting the needs of your employees, evaluate each aspect of your program, including program satisfaction, email open rates, instructor ratings, behavior change and health outcomes. Bottom line, behavior change is personal so make your program personal as well.


Wellness Workdays develops successful, engaging wellness programs for employers across the country. Contact us to learn more and find out how we can help your organization develop a program that your employees will enjoy.


A version of this article previously appeared in Benefits Magazine in December 2018.


#EmployeeHealth #FinancialIncentives #EmployeePrivacy #DataPrivacy #EmployeeEngagement

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Wellness Workdays is a Certified WBE (Woman-Owned Business Enterprise) as well as a DBE (Disadvantaged Business Enterprise) and registered with the SDO (Supplier Diversity Office) since 2011.