High Stakes

Communication Must-Haves for Successful Employer Wellness Programs

Most of us can agree that employer wellness programs are a good idea from a recruiting, cultural and benefit perspective…if employees actually use them. After building a stellar wellness program, complete with monetary rewards, benefits and prizes, how do we communicate effectively to get employees to actually participate over the long haul?

As an avid runner, I’ve always taken advantage of participating in employer wellness programs, which has informed the decade that I’ve spent actually creating wellness programs – including the operational and communication strategies that moved them forward. Here’s my list of must-haves:

  1. Leadership buy-in. First of all, you need your leadership on your side. Not just as communicators – as cheerleaders, organizers and actual participants. Leaders must talk the talk, and also walk the walk.
  1. Establish a beginning and an end. Then start again. In my experience, the most successful wellness programs actually have a start date and an end date. This is a great incentive for employees to set personal goals, but also lends to great communication opportunities to keep the program alive through reminders and countdowns to an end date.
  1. Identify internal champions. While leadership buy-in is important, even more important is Joe Smith, everyday employee, who wakes up and decides to run a 10K this year. Identify employees from all walks of life to serve as internal champions – to motivate employees, organize a Race for the Cure team, initiate a 3 p.m. walk around the building and to be your eyes and ears.
  1. Create a “healthy living” culture. Let employees know that it is OK to take a walk break, substitute fruit for cupcakes at birthday celebrations and encourage standing brainstorming sessions. This starts at the top. When leaders communicate that wellness activities are not only OK, but encouraged, other employees will follow.
  1. Incentives at all levels. If your wellness program is based on a point system, make sure it includes all levels of physical activities. Not everyone is into Zumba or high-intensity workouts. Celebrate all fitness levels and align incentive programs.
  1. Easily accessible. Don’t overcomplicate the program, and keep in mind the previous point. Make sure your program includes all fitness levels and is simple – don’t overthink it. Communication is key here. Keep emails to bullets, don’t try to communicate every aspect of the program every time, and use your champions to help disseminate information. If you don’t make it easy for an employee to participate, they won’t.
  1. Honor code. Many wellness programs give points and prizes for fitness activities, annual physicals and more. Give your employees the benefit of the doubt and allow them to submit these activities without proof. Sure, communicate all the great online tools out there like MyFitnessPal and MapMyRun, but don’t make it hard on employees to participate.
  1. Games, themes, teams and organized events. To keep the program alive in employees’ minds, organize fun games to get people moving on a Wednesday afternoon, organize a team for a local 5K, or have a healthy potluck – and don’t forget to incentivize. Everyone loves a free T-shirt.
  1. Diversify your content. Don’t only communicate activities and incentives. Post recipes and articles, trends in athletic gear, wearables and online resources. Feature employees who have reached a goal and ask employees to submit content and ideas.

As communicators, you should be actively involved in employer wellness programs. Follow the steps above and have fun!


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