How to motivate employees to participate in wellness programs
By: Jennie Overton
The success of your wellness program starts with employees actually using and engaging in the program. A Gallup survey revealed that although 87% of employees have access to mental and emotional well-being offerings, only 23% of employees use them. (This also applies to financial and physical well-being offerings.) While there are many reasons why employees should participate in wellness programs — it’s not always easy to sustain participation and engagement for the long run. But when you know how to motivate employees to participate in wellness programs, the benefits are substantial.
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. Employee engagement can also have a lasting impact, with Gallup research stating that engaged teams experience 81% lower absenteeism than their less-engaged peers, 41% fewer quality defects and 43% lower turnover. 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 40% of professionals lose sleep over work.
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 their wellness program 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% of team variation on employee engagement. And engaged employees are 28% more likely to participate in a wellness program.
It looks too complicated. If it’s not simple, employees likely won’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. For example, Limeade customer Groz-Beckert modernized its internal communication, making it simpler and more effective. Employees received regular updates from managers with personalized information channels, and within the first three months, over 65% of employees registered and 90% use the app every week.
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%. With the majority having a 20-40% participation rate. However, some of the best wellness programs in the United States have seen participation rates at or above 75%.
How to motivate 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 wellness incentives change from person to person.
Give employees a choice. When employees can pick and choose which activities they want to participate in, it makes the program relevant and interesting to them. And as a bonus, science shows that when people have a choice, they feel more motivated to complete tasks.
Make it relevant. No one wants to do the same workout routine over and over again or attend a lunch-and-learn on a topic that isn’t relevant to them. Keep employees interested in your wellness program by regularly switching up challenges. Ask employees what types of programs and activities interest them and what they hope to achieve.
Keep employees connected. Effective wellness programs don’t just exist in the office. To sustain long-term participation in the program, wellness programs needs to become a real part of employees’ lifestyles. Leverage multiple touch points in well-being and benefits communication to reach employees in their preferred methods and communicate with all employees. That way, employees can check and update their progress, see which initiatives they’re participating in and stay involved outside of work.
Make it a priority. Employees need to know that wellness is important. This means leadership needs to step up their game and promote wellness at work. 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. Limeade customer Enterprise used multi-level communications to create a community across more than 9,500 locations worldwide. Managers leveraged local news channels to recognize employees, promote local events and celebrate team success — resulting in 45% active users in the first two months.
Strategies to increase 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. Designated Well-being Champions are a great way to promote your wellness program and drive awareness and interest among employees on a regular basis. Champions act as cheerleaders for you program and can ultimately help motivate employees to participate in wellness programs.
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.
Bring it all together. Wellness initiatives shouldn’t be a separate program — they should integrate with other HR programs and initiatives. But 53% of companies we surveyed don’t use their wellness programs to boost participation in other initiatives, and they’re missing a huge opportunity.
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.
Free well-being program participation resources
Check out these 3 additional resources to help you create a well-being program that keeps your employees coming back.