Why employees should participate in wellness programs — and how to avoid the wellness program plateau
By: Jennie Overton
There are many reasons why employees should participate in wellness programs. For one, wellness programs are designed to improve well-being and to boost job satisfaction. According to our research with Quantum Workplace, when employees feel they have higher well-being, they are more likely to be engaged in their work and to feel supported by their organization.
Sounds like a win-win for both employee and employer, right? So, why do employers struggle to get their employees to sign up, show up and keep going with well-being initiatives?
Why employees don’t participate in wellness programs
They think they don’t have the time. Employees face staggering workloads — there aren’t enough hours in the day to finish work, let alone make lifestyle changes to improve well-being. They are always “on,” so much so that 44 percent of those surveyed by Career Builder say thinking about work keeps them up at night.
The program doesn’t interest them. You may think you know what employees want, but each workplace is different. Employees are interested in varying initiatives and want wellness programs to address their unique needs.
They don’t think it’s a priority. Getting employees to buy-in to programs starts with leadership. Research from Gallup shows managers account for at least 70 percent of team variation on employee engagement. And engaged employees are 28 percent more likely to participate in a wellness program.
It looks too complicated. If it’s not simple, employees don’t want anything to do with it. They don’t want to learn new tech platforms or make major lifestyle changes at the drop of a hat.
With these wellness program participation challenges, you may be wondering what percentage of employees actually participate in wellness programs.
Wellness program participation rates
Most wellness program participation rates average less than 50 percent. With the majority having a 20-40 percent participation rate. However, some of the best wellness programs in the United States have seen participation rates at or above 75 percent.
How to get employees to participate in wellness programs
Motivating employees to participate in wellness initiatives isn’t a hopeless cause. You can overcome barriers in a few simple ways:
Offer incentives and don’t over-emphasize monetary rewards. Taking the first step to register for wellness initiatives is huge, so give employees a little something from the start — not just when they achieve program goals. Ask your employees what motivates them — relevant incentives change from person to person.
Make it a priority. Employees need to know that wellness is important. This means leadership needs to step up their game. Leaders should create an environment that truly supports wellness initiatives. They need to model behavior and set aside time for well-being activities like walking meetings, stress relief breaks and lunch-and-learn events.
Customer Spotlight: The State of Washington
The State of Washington improved program participation by leveraging leadership support. To highlight his confidence in the program and his own personal commitment to health and well-being, Governor Inslee launched his own program video. To demonstrate ongoing support for the SmartHealth program, Governor Inslee also holds the annual Governor’s Walk. Employees from across the state join a rally on the steps of the state Capitol in Olympia, Washington, and take a guided walk around the campus. Employees not located in the area are invited to virtually walk with the governor in their respective locations. In 2018, nearly 2,000 employees across the state participated in the Governor’s Walk, demonstrating the far-reaching importance of well-being.
Keep it going — create long term participation and engagement in your wellness program
When a new program launches, employees are excited and take steps toward their goals. But as the program goes on, interest wanes and participation drops. So, how do you sustain participation and employee motivation? How do you make it through that ever-dreaded wellness program plateau?
Track goals. Progress is motivating. Encourage employees to set and track their goals. And be sure to support them along the way with social activity to build community and keep everyone accountable.
Make it social. Activities are more fun and have a greater impact when done together. A study from Yale University found experiences people share with others are amplified and that people are more absorbed or engaged in these shared experiences.
Introduce game elements. Games are addicting. Whether it’s crushing candy, switching colors or completing quests as an avatar, games engage us and encourage us to reach the next level. In wellness programs, gamification elements can provide a clear set of rules and a framework for participation. They show employees exactly what they need to do to advance through the program.
Customer Spotlight: Kindred Healthcare, the largest post-acute care system in the U.S., worked with us to enhance its Healthy Steps Wellness program through gamification. The team engaged its 60,000 employees distributed across 2,300 sites through a company-wide team challenge called Move Across America. Employees walked nearly 100,000 miles while earning points and rewards for participating. Move Across America not only sparked friendly competition, the team challenge nearly doubled participation in the wellness program.
Bring it all together. Wellness initiatives shouldn’t be a separate program — they should integrate with other HR programs and initiatives. But 53 percent of companies we surveyed don’t use their wellness programs to boost participation in other initiatives, and they’re missing a huge opportunity.
Customer Spotlight: The State of Washington saved $2M by targeting oral health activities to employees with dental plans. They used their well-being program to drive essential benefits to the right people at the right time.
Measure often. Among the organizations that we surveyed, 73% measure the success of their wellness program by employee participation. Look at participation throughout the program, not just at the start.
Wellness programs benefit employees and employers, but only if employees are participating. When it’s easy, fun, convenient and rewarding, long-term employee participation in wellness programs is possible.
Additional well-being program participation resources
Free Download: 14 ways to drive well-being program participation
Get our top practices for how to increase employee participation in wellness programs using Limeade.
Despite the pandemic, Gallup reports a sharp drop in the percentage of employees who strongly agree that their employer cares about their overall wellbeing. Check out this guide on how to reduce employee attrition with a well-being program.