Engaging employees Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2007
Employers are increasingly concerned about finding ways to improve employee productivity while reducing the number of sick days and health insurance claims.

Smart Business spoke with Michael Taylor, executive director of marketing and communications for UPMC Health Plan, about how to generate employee interest in wellness programs.

Why should an employer consider implementing a wellness program?

With the continued rise of medical costs, it is estimated that one-half or more of employer earnings will go toward the care of employees. Developing creative health promotion activities that encourage people to manage their weight, quit tobacco or get more exercise will help contain costs and keep your employees healthy over time. Research shows that healthy employees get sick less often, miss fewer days of work, and have fewer workers’ compensation claims. Morale and productivity will improve, too.

How can you get your employees interested in a wellness program?

Distributing a health interest survey is an important first step. Will employees participate in a lunchtime yoga class or is a midday walk more appropriate? Are they looking for healthier food in the cafeteria or would a large-scale health screening event be more valuable? Their answers will help guide you.

Distributing a health risk assessment will also help you gather important data about employees’ health. This confidential questionnaire will identify possible health risks and provide an action plan to offer steps to improve their health. It also a tool by which the success of the program is measured.

Whatever programs you choose, securing support from senior management sends the message that your company really cares about employees’ health. You’ll need their support when it comes to funding new programs, allowing time off to exercise at lunch, or offering incentives. Participants will feel mentally and physically better about themselves, which improves morale and makes a better work environment for everyone. And the company will benefit from having healthier employees, so everybody wins.

How do you get the message out?

Generating buzz takes a communications strategy, successful tactics and a commitment from leadership. Nothing beats repetition. Consider e-mail blasts, fliers, posters, and giveaways to pique your employees’ interest. You may also want to develop a standard design template and color palette to strengthen the branding of your program. Also:

  • Add healthy snacks in your vending machines or feature lean meals in your cafeteria. Promote them regularly.

  • Design fun, attention-grabbing signs around that encourage your employees to take the stairs rather than the elevator. Rotate the signs.

  • Offer regularly scheduled lunchtime lectures on wellness. Distribute postcards around the office to act as reminders and appoint internal champions to drum up participation.

  • Promote attendance at exercise classes offered on-site before and after work.

  • Include articles or recipes in employee newsletters that promote healthy activity and healthy eating.

Sending the message that you care about your employees’ well-being will help reinforce their healthy behavior.

How can you get your employees to be excited about wellness programs?

Creating a wellness committee to support your new programs is critical to transforming your company’s culture. A wellness committee can help empower your staff to be more active and adopt positive behaviors that support a lifelong commitment to a healthy lifestyle.

Recruit the fit and those challenged to live a healthy lifestyle, smokers and non-smokers, and a range of professionals such as human resources managers, employee health representatives and marketing experts. The more diverse your core group is, the more likely you are to create enthusiasm in all parts of your workplace and the easier it will be to spread the message about the program. A wellness committee also can help you get a handle on how these programs are being accepted by the employees, gather information about what programs work, and determine what kind of incentives would be most popular.

Are incentives really necessary?

Rewarding participants is critical to engaging them long-term. Let’s say you establish a ‘weight race’ among employees. You could reward the winning team with a day off or provide discounts to local merchants, or even free plane tickets. As you might imagine, the incentives you provide can spread excitement about your program and motivate more people to be involved.

MICHAEL TAYLOR is executive director of marketing and communications for UPMC Health Plan in Pittsburgh. Reach him at (412) 454-7534 or taylorm2@upmc.edu.