Congratulations! You've implemented a workplace wellness plan set to benefit your employees and the company in a number of far reaching ways. But perhaps your employees seem disinterested or unengaged? Or maybe you haven't started your wellness program yet but you want to make sure that it gets off to the best possible start? (Learn more in 7 Steps for Implementing A Workplace Wellness Program).

In either case, there are steps to take that will help encourage engagement in your workplace wellness program. So whether you're still in the planning stages, or things are in full swing, use the following guidelines to ensure your team is on board for maximum participation and enjoyment.

1. Ask employees what they want

This seems like a simple concept but it's often neglected. It's easy to get caught up with an idea as an employer, an idea that perhaps you feel is brilliant and think that everyone will love. However, you're really just "guessing" unless you've asked your employees whether it's something that they want. Their ideas of what would bring value to their work life and personal health could be very different than your ideas.

Therefore, make sure to ask them! Carry out brainstorming sessions during meetings and conduct anonymous surveys to cover the things that an employee might not want to bring up in a group setting. Find out what employees want before the program is implemented, and at regular intervals while the program is running. That way, the program can be tailored and tweaked in line with their goals and challenges.

A few areas to cover:

  • The areas of employees' personal well-being where they experience the biggest challenges. For example, stress, sleep, tobacco cessation, exercise, relationships, financial wellbeing, nutrition, mindset or motivation.
  • What things would most help them take the next step towards better health and wellness. For example, healthier food choices on site, time to exercise during work hours (stretch and rest breaks), or a tobacco cessation program.
  • Their personal health and wellness goals. What do they really want to achieve and how can the company play a role in helping them to get there? (Learn more in Encouraging Employees to Achieve Healthy Eating and Fitness Goals in the Workplace).
  • What would make it fun and enjoyable for them? Are they interested in wellness challenges and would they prefer an individual or a team approach?

2. Provide options

No one likes to be forced into something they don't want to do, and wellness programs are no different. If an employee is forced to take part in a program they don't want to be involved in, participation and engagement will likely turn out to be key problem areas. On top of that, the program may end up being a waste of time, money and resources if no one participates well or engages with it.

Therefore, participation should be optional. Create the right wellness plan for your organization and listen to what your employees have to say. Employees will want to participate if you give them what they're after. One way to achieve this is by providing options so that they can choose what is in line with their goals and challenges. For example, they may be interested in a stress management program but not in a financial wellbeing seminar. Let them choose the things that are going to help them to get where they want to go.

As well as providing options, have flexibility in your workplace wellness program. Be willing to change direction as you go so that the program can best meet the needs of everyone involved.

3. Provide incentives

Ideally, the participants in your workplace wellness program will have intrinsic motivation. In the context of health and wellness, this would mean motivation that comes from within themselves and drives them to want to exercise, eat healthily and take care of themselves.

However the reality is that only a small percentage of your workplace wellness participants are likely to have this level of internal drive. They are the ones that will practice healthy behaviors irrespective of your program. Your program could still help them, but they don't really need it.

Incentives can be provided to offer extrinsic motivation for those who don't yet have intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation can develop over time, after the employee starts experiencing some of the profound benefits that come with living a healthier lifestyle.

In the meantime, what can you offer them that will help get them excited to participate and engage in your program? Financial and non-financial incentives can increase workplace wellness program participation. Some companies even implement penalties for non-participation, with mixed results.

Again, ask employees about what would help incentivize them. Discounted gym memberships? Financial rewards for reaching wellness targets? There are plenty of potential incentives to consider.

4. Effective marketing

The point will come when you will market your workplace wellness initiatives to your employees. If your marketing is effective, the program will sell itself. Effective copy and visuals are crucial and must compel an employee to either want to find out more, or be ready to take action. A few points to note for effective marketing:

  • Understand pain points. Pain is a strong emotional driver and will cause people to take action to change their lifestyle. What are the painful things employees want to avoid? Weight gain? A heart attack? Low energy levels? Weave some of this into your copy to help drive them towards change.
  • Understand the pleasure they are seeking. Pain points are about what the person wants to avoid. Pleasure is about what they want to achieve. What will get them excited to participate in your program? A new zest for life? A strong and healthy body?
  • Mention the features of your program but focus on the benefits. The benefits are what your employees will "buy". They'll let you sort out how it's all going to work as long as it helps them achieve the outcomes they desire

5. Assign a wellness committee

Finally, a wellness committee should be assigned to listen to employees and develop and adapt the program accordingly. A wellness committee can be created with existing staff members who are trusted and respected by fellow employees. Wellness committee members should already have a commitment to their own health and wellbeing, as well as a strong desire to help others with theirs.

The role of the wellness committee is to:

  • Evaluate the current wellness programs and services on offer in the workplace
  • Listen to employee needs, ideas and suggestions
  • Act as the communication link between employees and management
  • Assist in implementing and monitoring wellness initiatives
  • Help promote health, wellness and positivity in the workplace

Overall, a workplace wellness program that is designed and implemented with your employees in mind should form the basis for a program with active participation and engagement.