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The Science of Wellness Programs

Running a good wellness program is more challenging than a lot of people appreciate.  It’s not just about blasting health messages and doing a bunch of activities.  It’s about inspiringscience employees to change their behavior in a way that impacts their overall health outcomes.  It’s one part psychology, one part mathematician, one part public relations, and a whole bunch of other ingredients that HR and benefits professionals across the country are trying to figure out.

One part psychologist

Wellness programs can’t force people to make changes they don’t want to make, they can only help facilitate it.  How do you inspire and motivate people to act?  Finding the answer to this question for your employee population is challenging, and of course will vary from individual to individual.

One innovative approach to try to get at the psychology behind wellness is the use of social wellness tools.  These use group motivation and accountability to spark action (whether it be weight loss, increased activity, or some other goal).  While this isn’t a fit for everyone, this is one option of many to consider.

One part mathematician

Incentives are important to successful wellness programs. You have to strike the perfect balance between the carrots and the sticks and capture the formula that will inspire people to act [balanced with the ROI of the intended actions].  This is different for every culture and employee population. 

There are many “carrots” to consider for participation in a wellness program: employer contributions to a health savings account, the opportunity to participate in something fun and interesting, recognition internally for successes.  “Sticks” can include things like higher premium contributions for those who don’t participate in a wellness program or who engage in unhealthy behaviors (like smoking).  The right combination of these varies greatly from company to company.

One part public relations

“If you build it, they will come” is not an axiom that applies to wellness programs.

Communicating a wellness program and its goals can be half the battle.  The way a program is presented can make or break whether or not employees will want to take part.  Mess this up and employees will reject the program as too burdensome or “Big Brother” and opt out of participating.

What’s your secret ingredient?

We could go on and on about what goes into the wellness recipe, but we want to know – what’s your secret ingredient?  What is the most important component in making your program successful?


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Topics: Construction Transportation Manufacturing HR / Employee Benefits