Six tips for engaging employees in their health

Canadians spend up to nine hours a day at work. Much of that time is sedentary – sitting at desks, behind the wheel or on a production line. The rest of our waking hours are used to care for kids/elders, housework, socializing or commuting. This leaves little time to create healthy habits.

With so much time spent sitting or standing still, implementing health programs in the workplace has become a vital piece of the healthy lifestyle puzzle. It also makes good business sense. Organizations with workplace wellness programs have strong employee morale and satisfaction, which translates into greater productivity and happier customers.

Read: Communication and customization key to health and wellness programs

Workplace wellness falls into two main approaches:

1. Organizational health initiatives that focus on the work environment by changing or improving leadership style, management practices, how work is organized, employee autonomy and control, and social support. This means introducing policies, practices and programs that support employee lifestyle changes, which in turn reduces health risks and improves employees’ performance in all areas of life.

2. A strategy that combines personal wellness with organizational health initiatives. This approach uses data and employee input to design customized workplace wellness programs. The resulting initiatives target both health risks and employee interests. Within this context, organizations can address any number of specific health risks, health conditions or disorders, and diseases over time.

Read: The growing costs of treating chronic illnesses

Employees are most likely in either the pre-contemplation or contemplation stage when it comes to their health. Pre-contemplation is when the employee is engaging in unhealthy, or risky, lifestyle behaviours and is either unaware of the need to make a change or is not yet ready or prepared to make the effort. Employees in the contemplation stage are aware of the need to make a change, but lack the motivation to get started or simply don’t know how to change their current lifestyle.

Employees will attempt to modify health behaviours given the right incentive, tools and coaching. The challenge for employers is to inspire and engage those employees who want to make a behaviour change with the appropriate supports and programs that lead to sustainable health.

Read: 5 steps to promoting nutrition in the workplace

Tips to engage employees in their health at work:

  1. Create a culture of health through passionate, persistent and persuasive leadership.
  2. Learn more about your employee population through some form of needs assessment. This will help determine the scope, content and approach of your wellness initiatives.
  3. Give employees the chance to gather personalized health and lifestyle information so they will actively pursue behaviour change. Hosting onsite biometric screening clinics and providing access to health coaching (onsite or by phone) are two examples of personalized wellness programming.
  4. Ensure programs are accessible, affordable and inclusive.
  5. Establish effective, appropriate communication. “Build it and they will come” won’t work if employees don’t know what you’ve built and why.
  6. Never forget the pleasure principle in wellness initiatives. Folks always make time for fun! That’s why corporate health challenges have high participation rates.

Don’t forget to evaluate your programs regularly to ensure you make continuous improvements and are able to meet the changing needs of your employees.

Read: Extend your wellness program outside the workplace