Eric Samaniego

One of the key challenges for wellness participation today is for employers to find ways to motivate behavior change. We hear far too often to “just do it.” Yet as anyone who has ever tried to lose weight, or start an exercise program knows, catchy phrases are rarely enough to get and keep healthy lifestyle efforts going.

The problem is that many of us have developed unhealthy habits over time that have become sources of comfort to cope with the stress of juggling jobs, families and children in a struggling economy, often with limited resources. For some employees, psychological issues may also be standing in the way.

Those are difficult issues for an employer to address. With an effective and comprehensive wellness programs, however, even these challenges can be overcome. 

Meaningful incentives

Incentives are an important tool to encourage change. To have any chance of success, though, incentives must have meaning — they must be perceived as having equal value to the effort that is being requested.

Currently, most wellness programs offer financial incentives, with the average amount ranging from $200 to $300 per person. How the employer chooses to provide the incentive varies, whether it’s via premium, deductible discounts or cash. What’s important is that employers make that decision based on corporate culture. There is no one size fits all when it comes to incentives. 

Culture must support change

Employers must also actively support healthy behavior. If employers offer behavior change programs but continue to serve doughnuts and pastries at meetings, or if healthier food is more expensive than the pizza or burger in the office cafeteria, it will be harder for employees to change.

Employees are also more likely to feel inspired if they see others engaging in wellness, especially the leaders of the company. If employees see their senior and middle managers eating salads instead of nachos in the company cafeteria, taking walks with other associates on the company grounds or working out in the gym, they realize that leaders are fully committed to efforts to improve the health of all employees.

People are also strongly encouraged by their colleagues and peers. The development of a strong network of wellness champions who work alongside employees can help to create a culture in which healthy behavior is the cultural norm.

Engagement efforts

Finding ways to encourage wellness participation is critical for employers today. Components of a successful program include, but are not limited to the following:

  • An employer who shows he or she truly cares about employee health and not just cost.
  • A program that promotes and encourages empowerment — so that when an employee has become open to change and is ready to take that first step, he or she is self-motivated and ready to do so.
  • A wide range of wellness programs that address a multitude of needs, issues and personal preferences.

By focusing on helping employees take the first step to change behavior and by looking at how successful employers achieve results, any organization can improve the health of its employees and that of their business.

Eric Samaniego is vice president of health promotions for Alere Health in Dallas. The company works with large employers and health plans nationwide. For more information, visit www.alere.com.

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