It’s a well-established fact: When employees make healthy choices, eat better, exercise more, and learn to reduce the stress in their lives, they engage more with their jobs. Absenteeism, presenteeism, and turnover go down, while productivity, creativity, and morale go up.
But as you probably know from your own life, reversing long standing habits is easier said than done. If you’ve become accustomed to grabbing fast food for comfort after an exhausting day of work, you may have trouble psyching yourself up for fresh produce. If you’re used to waking up to your Twitter feed, a 20-minute meditation may, at first, seem like a disappointing substitute.
That’s where an employee wellness program comes in. A good wellness program nudges your team toward healthy habits with a combination of fun challenges, community support, and education. But the best wellness program in the world won’t make much difference if your employees don’t use it.
Great leadership is about motivation. True change comes not when you force your employees to do the right thing (which is impossible anyway), but when you inspire them to want to do it.
The same principle applies to wellness. You can’t make your employees change their ways. But with the right motivational strategies, you can prod them in the right direction.
Here are a few tactics for motivating your employees to prioritize their health and make the most of your employee wellness program:
1. Learn About Your Employees’ Wellness Goals and Needs
One of the keys to designing an effective wellness program (meaning, one that your employees will actually use) is understanding where your employees are starting from. If most of your employees are sedentary, for example, it might not be a good idea to challenge them with triathlon training. A steps challenge may be more their speed.
Before launching your wellness program, poll your employees to find out more about their current fitness levels, their health routines, and their goals. A biometric screening event can be an excellent starting point. Biometric screening is also a useful tool for checking in periodically, seeing where your employees are at, and adjusting your program accordingly.
2. Emphasize the Challenge
Why do millions of people every year pay hundreds of dollars to enter marathons they have no hope of winning? After all, if you really want to run 26 miles, the sidewalk in front of your house is free.
The reason is that the challenge of running an “official” marathon is a goal that pulls participants through the training.
Exercising daily, or eating healthy, or getting more sleep can, on their own, seem like drudgery. But when these activities are focused on some sort of accomplishment, they take on a greater meaning.
In business, you know that when team members feel a sense of purpose in their work, they apply themselves more. The same is true in wellness, even if the reward is simply bragging rights (“I brought a healthy lunch from home 20 days in a row!”). There’s something so satisfying in setting out to surmount a challenge and succeeding.
3. Lead by Example
As the manager does, so do the employees. You can’t expect to inspire healthy behavior among your employees if you (and everyone else in management) don’t model healthy behavior yourself.
If you’re telling your employees it’s not only ok but encouraged to unplug after work, but are then issuing your own emails well into the evening, it’s likely very few will take your advice. No one wants to get caught offline when the boss comes calling.
On the other hand, if you’re the first to enroll in your company’s lunchtime yoga class, you may be surprised how quickly the class fills in your wake.
Get involved in your company’s wellness program and watch how your employees follow. Some programs even offer “manager-led” challenges, such as Head Chef, where you cook a meal for your team.
4. Offer Praise for Effort and Accomplishments
Sonia biked 100 miles this month. “Great job, Sonia!” Ted pledged to quit smoking. “We’re all pulling for you, Ted!”
Praise is one of the most potent motivational factors there is. People naturally crave validation from their managers and colleagues. Research says 50% of employees would switch jobs just for more recognition.
When it’s appropriate, praise your employees in public for their participation in your wellness programs, for the challenges they’ve achieved, and those they’ve set out to achieve. And don’t neglect to bring up wellness in your one-on-one meetings, as well. This tells your employees you value their health as much as their contributions to your company.
5. Make Wellness Accessible
If you were to ask your employees why they don’t participate more in your wellness program, a common response would likely be, “I simply don’t have enough time.”
Most of your employees have other things in their lives besides work. Many go straight from work during the day to childcare in the evening (and vice-versa in the morning). Others may have aging parents to care for. And yet others may have monster commutes that eat up their free time.
Wellness shouldn’t be a privilege of those who can stay after work for an aerobics class or those who can come in early for a book club.
Work with your team members to schedule events and group challenges that fit their schedules. Spread classes throughout the day, so everyone has a chance to join. And make it clear management fully supports taking a break for wellness.
You might even want to look into implementing a flexible scheduling policy. More and more companies are signing on to the idea that the traditional 9-to-5 isn’t right for everybody.
6. Keep It Coming
Wellness is not a one-and-done undertaking. It’s an ongoing commitment from you and your employees. However you choose to motivate your employees, don’t let your support waver. Wherever their wellness journeys take them, there will always be new challenges for your employees to conquer.
Another way to keep motivation going? Keep things fresh. People can quickly get bored with the same-old-same-old. Instead, develop and explore fun new challenges that your employees will find meaningful. A plain steps challenge might grow tedious after a while. Instead what if you tied it to something relevant to your employees, like hiking Everest or replicating Frodo and Sam’s journey to Mordor? Avoiding staleness in your wellness program (while still keeping fan favorites available, of course) is a great way to keep the fires of motivation burning.
Motivation is anything but straightforward, and what motivates each individual can be highly personal. But by knowing your employees well and then offering them full-throated support in their wellness journey, your organization stands a much greater chance of boosting employee motivation—and reaping the rewards.