Even as employees transition into a post-pandemic workplace, the effects of COVID-19 are still apparent, with presenteeism becoming the new normal. While the primary effects of presenteeism are lost productivity, the secondary effects include employees becoming less engaged with their own well-being. Organizations are challenged with mitigating the effects of presenteeism and helping their employees engage and stay engaged with their well-being by promoting their wellness programs.

Hybrid and remote work models have made offering wellness services to employees more complex, with the need to include virtual offerings to reach the remote work population. Regardless of whether the organization offers onsite, virtual, or a combination of services, optimizing wellness program engagement follows the same guiding principles.

In this article, we outline the wellness program’s goals, describe the types of employees the wellness program engages, and discuss how to optimize engagement around these categories of employees.

What is the Purpose of a Workplace Wellness Program?

There are many reasons why employee wellness programs benefit employers, boosting productivity and building company culture. While these goals build a solid foundation for developing a wellness program, it’s important to take an employee-focused view of the wellness program’s purpose when it comes to optimizing for engagement. The goals of an effective workplace wellness program are:
  • Providing employees with knowledge and practices to maintain their wellness
  • Helping employees foster and maintain healthy behaviors, independent of the organization-provided wellness resources
  • Connecting all employees to the wellness program
When an organization takes a broader view of the wellness program’s purpose, the solutions for increasing engagement start to fit into place with the wellness initiatives. Organizations that are too focused on the ROI tend to lose sight of the big picture and start to employ ineffectual tactics, attempting to increase employee engagement. As we will see in the next section, the goals outlined above will help develop an effective engagement strategy.

What are the Four Types of Employees a Wellness Program Needs to Engage?

Looking at the goals outlined above, it may not seem obvious how the objectives can help produce an effective engagement strategy. Isn’t the point of the wellness program universal adoption, after all?

This is true, however, every employee has a different relationship with wellness and the organization’s wellness program. Employees fall into one of four categories:

  • Healthy employees practicing wellness on their own
  • Employees that need some support and encouragement to begin
  • Employees that need to be motivated to practice wellness
  • Employees that refuse to participate in the organization’s wellness program

Before elaborating on each type of employee, consider that there are eight pillars of wellness: physical, social, emotional, occupational, financial, spiritual, intellectual, and environmental.

Every employee has a different relationship with each dimension of wellness. It is unlikely for employees to be well across all eight dimensions. Understanding which of the pillars the employee population needs support with is necessary for optimizing employee engagement. The communication strategy must connect the wellness program’s services with the needs of employees.

We wrote an article on the 5 Best Workplace Wellness Initiatives that satisfies multiple pillars simultaneously. The article can also help organizations understand the breadth of the wellness program, even if it is focused on a single wellness pillar, which can help organizations develop their wellness messaging to engage employees.

Healthy Employees Practicing Wellness on Their Own

The first group of employees are healthy individuals who maintain their wellness on their own. This group understands the benefits of maintaining their wellness and have recurring habits in place to foster it throughout the week. By their very nature, this group will likely have lower healthcare claims than the other groups and are less likely to be affected by absenteeism and presenteeism.

Even though this group prioritizes wellness, this does not mean the group will participate in the wellness program. These employees have already created their own wellness routines and are more inclined to use their own preferences. This can make them challenging customers to engage because they have specified expectations for wellness service quality.

What this group needs from a wellness program is seamless access to high quality services. Inviting this group to provide feedback on improving the wellness program can produce valuable insights and create wellness champions for the program.

Employees that Need Encouragement

Unlike the first group of actively healthy employees, this group of employees needs encouragement to recognize the benefits of wellness. They want to prioritize their well-being, but they haven’t yet found ways to make their well-being a priority.

Put another way, these employees need help incorporating wellness into their recurring habits. They already value wellness, they just haven’t yet transitioned from wanting to be well to needing to be well.

The barriers for this group are similar to the first group of employees who are looking for easy access to quality wellness services. Consider how the organization’s culture, policies, and programming make it easy for employees to participate in the wellness program.

Though shifting the culture, creating initiatives, and improving programming are not simple tasks, the organization does not have to spend additional resources changing the mindset of this group of employees to care about their own well-being. It’s only a matter of operations and procedures to free up employee time to take the first step.

Besides any direct ROI benefits the group contributes to improving their health, these employees are perfect for supplying employee feedback on the wellness program because their participation is so closely tied to the program experience and wellness culture of the organization.

Employees that Need Motivation

The distinction we want to make with employees needing encouragement vs. motivation is this: if the organization granted each group an hour every day to participate in the organization’s wellness program at any time during the workday without any negative consequences to their jobs, would the employees use the time to improve their wellness?

The former would, but the latter needing motivation will not. Whatever the reason, this unmotivated group is content within their set habits.

Dedicating resources to marketing, tailored communications, incentives, and leadership support can all help influence this group to take the first step and engage with the wellness program.

Employees that Refuse to Participate

This final group is a tough group to reach. They are making a conscious decision not to engage with the wellness program. Ironically, they may be the group that needs the wellness program the most, needing multiple pillars to support them. However, this group will require the most resources to convert. The upside to this is that they make great success stories when they do become champions of the wellness program.

While an organization may choose not to dedicate many resources to engaging this group, their perspective is invaluable. Consider gathering this group’s feedback specifically to discover ways how the organization can further improve the wellness program, and what it needs to undertake to foster a culture of wellness.

Using Incentives to Improve Wellness Engagement

One of the fastest ways to boost employee engagement with the wellness program is to provide incentives such as reduced healthcare premiums, prizes, and even recognition. What’s important to remember about incentives is that incentives provide extrinsic motivation vs. intrinsic motivation. Incentives are helpful in getting employees engaged in the short-term, so intrinsic motivators, the benefits of employee well-being, can drive employees to create lasting behavior change. If an organization leverages incentives, it must ensure it does not emphasize the incentives as the main reason for participating in the wellness program. When incentives crowd out the intrinsic benefits of wellness, there can be unintended consequences to the organization’s wellness culture. The employees may view their relationship with the wellness program as transactional and not incorporate lasting wellness habits into their way of life. Two mindset shifts happen when employees view the wellness program as transactional:
  • Employees will want a “fair” exchange for their effort
  • Employees begin to question the motivations behind the wellness program
Once the employee mindset makes these two shifts, the organization has to contend with the increased effort required to provide effort-worthy incentives and work harder to build employee trust in the wellness program. We’ve written an article on the best wellness incentives and how to avoid the transactional relationship trap that organizations risk when implementing wellness incentives into their wellness programs.

Improving the Wellness Program Experience for Better Engagement

One of the best ways an organization can encourage employees to engage with the wellness program is by improving the employee experience. When talking about improving the wellness program experience, there is a tendency to focus on the programming, but not the experiences that lead up to it. There are four key areas that can improve the wellness program experience:
  • Policies – are the necessary policies in place that allow employees to participate in the wellness activities during work hours?
  • Culture – does the organization have a wellness-positive culture that encourages employees to make use of the wellness programs without fear of punishment?
  • Availability – are wellness services available when employees are available?
  • Service Delivery – do the wellness services encourage interactivity, collaboration, dialogue, and personal improvement?
When an organization evaluates the wellness program experience across these four dimensions, the organization can improve employee engagement. In fact, when an organization can identify effective program strengths, the organization can develop compelling communications around those strengths to drive engagement.

Creating Engaging Marketing to Boost Engagement

Everyone knows the borrowed quote, turned business axiom, from Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” However, everyone now knows that building alone doesn’t get people to use a service. Taken one step further, it’s not enough to announce a wellness program exists and expect employees to embrace all initiatives. An organization must communicate the benefits of the wellness program while also encouraging employees to participate. This is a crucial step to implementing corporate wellness programs. Marketing the wellness program has two ways it goes beyond a service announcement:
  • Marketing invites employees to go on a journey towards life change with clear outcomes
  • Marketing builds trust between the employees and the organization
To help an organization encourage, motivate, and build employee trust, the marketing should focus on the messaging. The three ingredients for successful messaging are:
  • Helping employees connect the benefits of the program with their personal well-being goals
  • Ensuring the messaging is employee-focused and elevates their wellness journey
  • Convey the ease of signing up and participating in the wellness program
  • Reinforcing the wellness program’s mission and connecting it to the broader mission of the organization
The message must call employees to act no matter what medium the organization decides to distribute its marketing on. Copywriters refer to this style of messaging as direct-response copywriting, and all organizations should frame their wellness program engagement communications this way.

Implementing Wellness Program Engagement Strategies

Working with a reputable wellness vendor can help an organization optimize wellness engagement. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations have had to explore remote and hybrid work models to maintain business operations. This has directly affected the operations of wellness programs, especially when organizations decide to continue their remote and hybrid work models. Strive has helped countless organizations implement wellness engagement strategies and offers clients engaging wellness programming. Organization’s trust Strive to help them build a wellness culture, provide programming that’s easily accessible to employees, and deliver memorable wellness experiences that employees want to repeat week after week. Part of our ongoing effort to build a memorable wellness program experience is providing clients with monthly engagement data. Strive also creates engaging and strategic marketing materials to promote the wellness program so our clients can focus on the broader wellness program strategies and goals.
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