Are You Making Your Employees Jump through Wellness Hoops?

When I say “wellness” what comes to mind? When I ask this question to employers, many times I get the answer of asking employees to do wellness “stuff” in order to get something….a prize, reward or premium contribution. That’s because many employers are doing just that…and here are some specific examples.

Incenting Jason, a 26 year old healthy employee, to watch 10 videos in order to gain a wellness premium.

Giving employees three options to complete an exercise program. One option was turning in 4 months (yes, 4 months) of their exercise log.

Offering employees a Word document with over 500 points worth of activities to achieve. This was outlined in a crazy long grid with 4 sections of activities that each had their own point limit.

These are examples of what I call wellness hoops. Asking your employees to do anything beyond two to three wellness activities a year is too much. Don’t forget…employees are at work to work. Asking them to complete wellness activities makes it feel like they have another boss giving them work to do. Takes the fun out of employee wellness, right?

We have good intentions as we start our journey into wellness programming. We tend to plan year to year instead of having a long term vision of what we ultimately want our wellness program to look like. This results in getting stuck in situations that may not make sense for you or your employees.

If you identify with any of the reasons below, you may be using them to justify making your employees jump through wellness hoops:

Making employees complete healthy activities will change their behaviors – this may be one of the biggest misnomers of activity-based wellness programs. Do we think that Jason (who’s a healthy guy) will get even healthier after sitting on his butt for the length of 10 videos? Sure, he’ll do it to get his reward but it will likely not make a difference in his health.

Let’s go with the theory that exposing employees to the right information will change their health behavior. This assumes humans are logical and rational beings who do what they should when they gain new knowledge. Enough said.

It’s another year, so we have to up the ante to earn the same reward – I literally just heard an employer saying this. We get into the “up the ante” mindset each year where we simply can’t keep things status quo. We like to progress people according to what we want them to do. This gets dangerous because where’s your end point?

Putting more time into tracking activities and employee complaints than doing your job – Once you start laying out guidelines, you are committing to tracking each activity an employee does or doesn’t do. With the tracking comes employee complaints.

It goes something like this “I swear, I completed that online seminar but it didn’t track my completion”. Then you have to figure out of there really is a glitch or if the employee is pulling a fast one on you. Either way, is that an effective use of your time?

Everyone has to have their input – If you are the one creating the program and you vet it through a few people, you’ll see your list of options grow and grow. I’m all for options but at some point you can lose the direction of your wellness program if everyone has their input. Also, too many options = employee confusion.

If we take the incentive away, no one will do the activities and participation will drop – This is actually correct. If you  just say forget it and start going in a different direction, your participation will drop…guaranteed. When your participation rates are high, it gives you the sense that participation means your employees are engaged. Participation is NOT engagement. I repeat…Participation is NOT engagement.

Taking the required activities with big incentives away will show you what wellness activities employees like and which ones they don’t. That’s a true engagement number. This requires creating unique wellness programming tailored to your employees interests.

So, how can you change course when you are in the thick of things?

1 – Take a step back. Take a good look at what you are currently accomplishing. Are you seeing good results? How much time are you spending on tracking and complaints? If you are not achieving anything but a falsely elevated participation number, then go to step 2.

2 – Find out what your employees think about your program. Not every employer cares about this aspect but your employees won’t engage (i.e. change health behaviors) if you don’t start focusing on what they need to be successful.

3 – Think through your longer term strategy. What are you trying to accomplish? Understanding what you want to achieve in three years can help you get out of that year to year planning mindset. You can and should tweak a strategy year to year but having the general goals in mind can help you if the activity planning gets out of hand.

4 – If you choose to drop the wellness hoops, communicate the “why” to your employees. Going in a different direction doesn’t mean you are giving up on wellness.  The different direction can still be wellness centered but focused more on creating programs your employees will actually enjoy without a large incentive.

Corporate wellness should be a way to engage employees and support them in making healthy choices. If you find your wellness program is a series of hoops to jump through I encourage you to take a step back and reconsider.