Engagement drives momentum for workplace wellness


RobynKnoxSPHRBy Robyn Knox | SPHR, vice president of human resources, Southern Weaving


Even though a comprehensive wellness program needs to have foundational elements such as annual health screenings or an on-site wellness clinic in which the return on investment can be easily calculated, these long-term strategies do not always result in true engagement for the majority of employees.

After all, what is fun and exciting about having your blood drawn or receiving an annual vaccine? If we truly believe in the business notion that engagement drives success, then we need to offer a variety of wellness-related activities and programs that interest employees. After all, not every program or initiative will appeal to everyone.

How do you know what type of wellness activities or programs will appeal to your workforce? The answer is easy: You ask.

There are great survey tools available for free, such as the needs and interests survey found at livewellgreenville.org. South Carolina DHEC also offers a free guide to developing worksite wellness programs that includes a similar survey. Many businesses already perform annual employee engagement or job satisfaction surveys, which may be expanded to include some specific health and wellness-related questions. A Wellness Committee is also a valuable source of information, but the members need to be truly representative of your workforce.

Wellness programs often focus on tobacco cessation, proper nutrition and weight management, physical fitness, and stress-reduction and mental health. Once you know what types of activities your employees are most interested in, you should be able to incorporate events and initiatives throughout the year that center on these topics. Try to incorporate fun whenever possible. This can be as simple as having someone lead a line-dancing activity during breaks or having a hula-hoop or jump rope competition between departments. Team sports can also be fun and enjoyable, and Greenville Rec offers several options throughout the year for company sports teams, such as flag football, kickball, and co-ed softball.

During our last survey at Southern Weaving, several employees asked for a company bowling league. We researched the health benefits of bowling three games a week and decided to give it a try. We increased from 12 employees participating in a summer league to having 24 sign up for a fall league. Not only are participants burning calories and improving their flexibility, bowling has proven to be a great stress reliever and a tremendous amount of fun for those participating. The excitement and enthusiasm have also spilled over into the workplace and built friendships across departments.

To fully engage a large percentage of the workforce, it is crucial to consider an effective incentive structure. To do this, you need to appeal to employees who are at different stages in their readiness to embrace health and wellness. For someone who is just beginning to contemplate a lifestyle change, there needs to be an opportunity for an immediate reward. This may be something as simple as receiving freebies and goodies at a health fair when picking up educational materials. For those who are ready to embrace change, you should consider incentives that encourage them to meet several milestones along their journey or an opportunity to get a fresh start midway through the program if they veer off track. For example, a 12-week weight loss program may provide recognition for reaching intermediate weight loss goals, such as losing 5, 10, or 15 percent of body weight.

It is important not to neglect those who are already committed and are on the path of a healthy lifestyle. They need longer-term goals and perhaps more challenging activities. These employees can serve as great role models for the rest of your organization, so even though they may be doing all of the right things without your encouragement, you still need their participation to help encourage others.

A few months ago, our wellness committee began planning a summer walking program. We had done this in the past, but struggled to maintain momentum. We realized that we had been designing our program around those employees who already had a strong self-motivation to be physically fit. It is a committee’s responsibility to encourage involvement from everyone, including those who have no desire to walk a half-mile during their morning break and in the heat of summer. Ultimately, the committee considered the various stages of readiness in developing the recognition and incentive structure for the program.

The 10-Mile Challenge included door prize drawings at each walk, pictures of the participants on the electronic bulletin boards that were updated regularly, a visual display board where each participant tracked their progress along their journey, an added stair-climbing opportunity midway through each walk for those needing more of a cardio challenge, T-shirts for meeting the 5-mile mark, and a chance to win a Fitbit for those completing the 10-mile challenge.

So far, we’ve walked over 600 miles during this initiative, and approximately 40 percent of employees have participated. Many of them have now completed the challenge, but still continue to participate in the walks. They are now asking if we can continue the walk at work program through the fall. That is true engagement.

If you don’t already have a wellness program in place at your business, I encourage you to get started as soon as possible. There are a number of resources and organizations available to help you. I highly recommend that you download a copy of the LiveWell Greenville At Work Toolkit to guide you through the process. Once you begin involving and engaging your workforce, you can quickly make strides in improving the overall health and well-being of your organization.

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