5 ways to increase employee wellness program participation
If you’re struggling to engage employees around your organization’s wellness program, you’re not alone. While 85% of large employers offered a wellness program in 2015, only 60% of employees were aware of the program and 40% of those who were aware participated, according to a Gallup poll.

Wellness programs can be valuable to both organizations and its employees, but only when implemented correctly. They take time, personalization, education, consistent engagement, constant communication and measurement. The higher the participation, the better chance of improving overall health and preventative care compliance, which saves money for the organization and your employees for the long haul.

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Here are five ways to ensure higher employee wellness program participation with examples from Compass Professional Health Services and EnLink Midstream.
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1. Pick a program that fits the needs of your employees.
Wellness programs are not one-size-fits-all. To get the most engagement out of your wellness program, pick offerings that best suit the needs, interests and potential health risks of your employees.

For example, Compass Professional Health Services assisted EnLink Midstream, a rapidly growing integrated oil and gas company with 1,500 employees, to develop its wellness program. The first step toward taking a more active role in managing employee health was to understand EnLink employees’ common health risks. Middle-aged men, who had not been engaged in their health and had a high rate of heart disease, cancer, and hip and knee replacements, predominately make up EnLink’s aging workforce. With this insight, EnLink created a wellness program focused on preventative care, which encourages employees to monitor their health for early detection, leading to easier and less expensive treatment.
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2. Use gradual implementation to ease the transition for employees.
Results don’t happen overnight and neither does employee engagement. It’s important to take a progressive, “stair-step” approach and engage employees gradually to get them accustomed to the behavioral changes and new offerings. This isn’t always a matter of weeks or months — it can be years.

Compass helps EnLink employees become acclimated to the program’s requirements so they wouldn’t be overwhelmed. During the first year of the program, EnLink introduced Compass’ Price Transparency Solution to help employees evaluate cost and quality data to make better healthcare decisions. Additionally, EnLink requires all employees get annual physicals and connect with a Compass Health consultant. In the second year, EnLink added wellness requirements for spouses, as well as age- and gender-related cancer screenings, such as colonoscopies and mammograms. During the third year, EnLink launched its wellness program to increase compliance with preventive care. This transition was eased because employees were already familiar with the program and trusted their consultant when they needed help navigating the complexities of healthcare.
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3. Set personalized, attainable goals and measure them.
It’s important for both employers and employees to set concrete, measurable goals that are easy to track. Whether through employee enrollment numbers, annual physicals completed or participation in non-smoking, nutrition or weight-loss programs, tracking these results helps achieve progress between checkpoints.

See also: Wellness programs need personalization, employees say

Compass developed a strategy to accelerate EnLink participation and meet its goal of 75% engagement in the company’s wellness program. The key was using both a “carrot and a stick” incentive approach: EnLink increased the annual premium discount for compliant employees while also increasing the premium for non-compliant employees, which gave non-compliant employees motivation to be better healthcare consumers while also rewarding compliant employees for taking an active role in their own health.
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4. Keep communications consistent.
There can be a lot lost in the shuffle with large organizations. It’s important that your employees establish a relationship with a representative or consultant who they trust to assist them in making better health decisions.

EnLink rolled out its wellness program over time, allowing employees to build trust with their Health Pro consultant and contact her when they needed help navigating the complexities of healthcare. Utilization in transparency and health navigation solutions increased from 39% in 2013 to 61% in 2015. To date, the transparency solution has grown to 70%.
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5. Lead by example and create a culture of wellness.
For wellness programs to yield results, companies must create a culture of wellness. It’s important for employees to feel constant support and encouragement to make good health decisions and practice healthier living. A survey conducted by Optum reveals that while 60% of benefits professionals say it’s important to establish a culture of health in the workplace, only 20% say their organization has achieved one.

Healthier alternatives will influence better health decisions. In Optum’s survey, 62% of employers who made changes to their workplace focused on both creating a smoke-free campus and providing healthier food and beverage options in the vending machines. Bring in on-site health specialists who can drive change from within.

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Take a look at your organizations’ break rooms, vending machines and staff meeting meals. What are you offering, and how can you make it healthier? Beyond food, consider how you can encourage physical activity by implementing standing or treadmill desks, outdoor walking paths or bike-to-work policies. With larger budgets, leveraging on-site health specialists can help influence positive change.

By creating a wellness program focused on what your employees need and want most, your employees can take a more active, mindful approach to healthy living. If employees feel like they’re well taken care of and are saving money, they return the same respect and dedication to the organization.