Wellness tips for motivating apathetic employees

People know they shouldn’t be smoking, just as they know they need to move their bodies more, eat real food and save for retirement. But a lack of care for total health may be preventing change around these habits.

Do people truly believe something out there — science, celebrity miracle programs or some higher power — will suddenly save them before any real negative effects take place? Whatever the reasons that North Americans are moving (or in some cases, not moving) along this dangerous path to chronic health conditions and lifelong medications, it’s not doing anyone any favours.

Read: Employers underestimate prevalence of chronic disease

So how can employers tell if apathy is to blame for employees’ stagnant behaviour? It’s highly unlikely they’ll simply wear a shirt with “I just don’t care” emblazoned across the front, but there are some equally telling signs to watch for:

  • They attend the education sessions but don’t seem to absorb the material. For instance, they sign up and even appear to listen to a lunch and learn about heart health, but then they head outside for a cigarette.
  • Their participation has strings attached. For instance, they’ll join group activities and challenges, but only when an incentive is offered; once the reward is received, they’re back to their usual way of doing things.
  • They don’t really have a reason for their behaviour, but they also don’t seem to need one. For instance, when asked why they’re still smoking or eating fast food or drinking alcohol, they’ll respond with a shrug or a mumbled excuse.

The trouble with apathetic behaviour — with regards to financial, physical or mental health — is that change requires conviction one way or the other. Lack of conviction leads to inaction, and this can be as detrimental and even as dangerous as some behaviours, such as smoking, excessive alcohol or drug use. It isn’t a hopeless situation for an employer, but organizations have their work cut out for them. One of the greatest challenges to engagement is getting someone to care about a chosen cause when they haven’t made the connection to their own best interest.

Read: Do employers have a legal duty to address the health effects of sitting at work?

But, as they say, the greatest challenges bring the greatest rewards. Employers can find a way to connect the dots for their apathetic employees, which will hopefully result in positive changes in their behaviour. Here are some tips:

  • Create customized communications using real-life case studies to help employees identify themselves within certain health risk categories and demonstrate how their actions negatively affect their health, both in the short and the long term. In these communications, employers should include the potential rewards for behaviour changes by showcasing the end results of case studies, but be mindful of case study selection, choosing a mixture of positive and negative endings to keep the overall message optimistic.
  • Provide a health risk assessment platform that includes confidential, personal reporting of high risk health issues, as well as the areas in which employees aren’t currently at risk. As well, personalize planning and coaching to help employees surmount the ever-daunting next steps.
  • Just ask them. Employers should be reaching out to employees — through confidential surveys or simple emails — to ask what would help them permanently and genuinely change their behaviours to  healthier ones.

Providing employees with the benefit of the doubt, along with relevant information and resources to help their life-changing decisions, can help transform work into a place that puts apathy on the path to good health.