There are many potential benefits to holding goal setting sessions with company employees as part of your company health and wellness programs. When conducted properly, staff will realize that the company values their health and well-being and they can become empowered to take the next steps towards their own personal goals. At the end of a session like this, participants should walk away feeling inspired and excited about moving towards a fitter and healthier version of themselves.

Outline the Purpose

First, explain what the goal setting session will entail and why you are doing it. Reassure your employees that their goals can remain confidential if they choose not to share them with others. This will help ensure that participants set honest goals that they really want for themselves. Following the goal setting session you can help your employees to take the next step towards common wellness goals such as eating healthier foods and exercising more regularly to combat a sedentary lifestyle. (Learn more in "Encouraging Employees to Achieve Healthy Eating and Fitness Goals in the Workplace".)

Teach Employees How to Set Realistic Goals

There are a number of principles to be considered as part of an effective goal setting strategy and as part of developing a wellness culture. Cover these with your team before asking them to set their goals. This will help ensure their goals are clear, concise, and meaningful once they actually write them down. (Learn more in "14 Ways to Create a Workplace Culture of Wellness".)

Principles of effective goal setting:

Make the goals SMART

There are different variations on the SMART acronym, but the most widely recognized criteria are:

  • Specific — Choose a clearly defined area for improvement
  • Measurable — Ensure progress and results can be measured
  • Achievable — Goals are set relative to the person's current benchmark and personal situation, as well as their drive to succeed
  • Relevant — The person's goal should be relevant to what they want to achieve and what they are willing to do
  • Time Bound — Place a time frame around achieving the goal

Remind employees of these principles before they set their goals and share some examples of health and wellness based SMART goals to trigger their thinking. If an employee sets a goal outside the possibility of being achievable due to a preexisting limiting injury or other reason, for example, it will derail the process for that employee. Adhering to the standards is vital. (Learn more in "The Importance of Determining an Employee's Pre-Existing Injuries".)

Goals must be important to the person writing them

Ask your employees to think about what they really want for themselves. It's possible they might initially think of something that really belongs to another person. For example, they may feel as though their husband or wife wants them to achieve something, so they list it as their goal but deep down it is not what they really want.

Similarly, they could find themselves with a health and wellness based goal that is actually a friend's goal. What happens in this case is that a friend says something like, "Hey, enter this really fun fitness challenge with me." The person agrees because it initially sounds like fun and they like hanging out with their friend. However it is not really their goal — their real goal is just to spend time with a friend. It's unlikely that they will have gone through the thought process or required planning to truly start achieving that stated fitness goal, and it can also negatively impact the friendship, morale, and productivity in the long run. Coupled with a potential lack of strong desire, they may not end up following through with the stated goal.

Encourage your employees to think of the things that they really want. It can help if you get them to imagine a picture of what life would look for them if they achieved optimal health and fitness. Would they be running marathons, or would they simply be playing with their kids without experiencing niggling aches and pains? They may even have a desire as simply as to just avoid lower back pain at work. Once they can picture their vision it will be easier for them to think of the health and wellness goals that will support that vision.

Goals must have a deeper meaning

Your employees should understand the deep seated reasons behind why they want to achieve their goals. It's likely they won't think about this when they first set their goals. Once they have written their goals, ask them why their goal is important to them. Then, ask them why a few more times. Soon enough they will understand the significance behind what they want to achieve. Understanding their emotional drivers will provide them with a greater chance of success.

Goals need to be written in positive language

There could be something negative driving the person's desire to achieve a goal. However, they should always specify what they want in positive language. This helps them focus on achieving what they want, rather than what they're trying to get away from. For example, "I don't want to be unfit anymore" is not as effective as "I will improve my fitness so that I don't huff and puff when I use the stairs."

Set Long Term, Medium Term, and Short Term Goals

While you are explaining the principles of effective goal setting to your employees it's likely they'll be thinking about what they want to achieve, so they'll be ready for the next part. Breaking down long term goals into shorter term steps is vitally important emotionally, to keep your employees motivated and working towards achieving the long term goals. Achieving smaller steps quickly reinforces the positive outcome of the goals and pushes them to continue working towards the long term goals.

  • Ask them to set between one and three long term goals (6-12 months) adhering to the principles above. Their goals could be aesthetic, strength or cardio fitness based, or perhaps simply lifestyle focused (such as smoking cessation or developing better sleep habits).
  • Advise them to break each of these goals down into a three month goal (medium term).
  • Next, break them down into four week goals (short term). Encourage them to note down the habits (at home and work) that will have changed and how they will feel at that point.
  • From there, encourage them to set weekly and daily habits in line with what they want to achieve.

Strategies for Goal Completion Success

Now that your employees have set their own health and wellness goals, it's time to help them take extra steps towards achieving them:

  • Encourage them to be accountable. Suggest, but don't force, the idea that sharing their goals with others will help them to stay accountable. Some employees might be happy to share their goals with other team members; others may simply want to tell a friend or family member. Some may be demotivated by having others watching to see if they are achieving goals. Each personality type must be respected.
  • Suggest some ways to help employees to keep their health and wellness goals at the top of their mind. Examples include creating a vision board of their goals, or writing their goals down regularly in a journal.
  • Set a check-in session to re-visit goals. This could be a monthly or quarterly session to determine what is going well, what isn't, whether goals need to be adjusted, and whether further support is needed.
  • Ask your employees what the company can do to help them achieve their health and wellness goals. Some of the suggestions they might come up with could include incentives, flexible working hours or a flextime policy, or having healthy snack options on hand. Be prepared to investigate options and implement suggestions to help them reach their goals.