How to encourage employee participation in preventive health
When you invest in health benefits and preventive health programs, you’re investing in your employees. Giving employees the resources and tools they need to improve their health, both mental and physical, can reduce immediate and future health care costs and lead to a more productive workforce. However, these prevention efforts and work wellness programs aren’t always promoted effectively, and the employee engagement rate is often lower than expected.
There are several reasons why your employees may not be participating in your corporate wellness programs. Some of the most common reasons for low engagement include lack of incentives, not enough time or money, a shortage of trust in the employee/employer relationship, and lack of communication regarding employer benefits and insurance. Breaking down these barriers can encourage your team to participate and be more conscientious of their health.
Proper communication is key
Employers who offer benefits have a responsibility to effectively communicate those benefits to their employees. Many employees don’t understand the terms of their benefits packages, and the language used by insurance companies is vague at best. It’s important that employers help their employees understand commonly used insurance terms and find ways to make the language more transparent to employees.
Utilize your resources to reach all your employees with important benefit updates and announcements. One study prepared by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health states that strategic and targeted communications that effectively motivate employees to participate saw a 12.8 percent greater participation rate than less-thorough communication strategies. For larger companies, it may be difficult to reach every single employee via an email or a newsletter, so set up TVs in the break rooms and train managers to make announcements to employees. Increasing participation in your wellness programs can be as simple as raising awareness that these programs exist.
Empower your managers
Many employees may be aware of these programs but won’t know where to start. The first person they will go to for help is often their direct supervisor or manager. Empowered managers who build positive relationships with their team and leave open channels for communication are more likely to inspire their employees and drive them to action. Educate your managers on what preventive health programs are offered and train them to engage effectively with employees who express interest in these programs.
Create participation incentives
Participation incentives are a great way to encourage employee involvement. The impact of your incentive will depend on how the incentive is framed and perceived by employees. Effective incentives are voluntary and non-discriminatory. A few good examples of positive incentives are Health Savings Accounts with employer contributions, discounts on gym memberships, and discounts on insurance for participating in health screenings.
One word of caution: do NOT apply incentives punitively or on a “pass/fail” basis. Preventive health programs exist to encourage employees to be engaged with their own health and well-being. Avoid incentives that may be perceived as favoritism or discrimination. Instead, focus on a variety of programs and incentives that will be good for the group. Always get legal advice on incentives associated with corporate wellness program to be sure you are in compliance with the ACA.
Address program fatigue
Be mindful of your employee’s time and money. If your wellness programs are eating into their personal time, your employees are less likely to participate in them. Employees are human beings, with responsibilities, families, and hobbies with which they’d rather spend their time. Have corporate wellness programs and health screenings take place during work hours and give the employee a chance to participate while at work. This action alone can eliminate personal time as a barrier to participation.
There is a growing fear that the company will take sensitive employee health information and use that information against them. When it comes to preventive health, employees know their health data is being collected, but it may not be clear who is collecting the information or why. To develop a more trusting relationship with your employees, be transparent, prioritize discretion, and emphasize security.
Want to know if your efforts are successful? Look no further than your claims department. Claims information can help employers prioritize what needs to be offered in terms of benefits. It can also determine if the efforts you’re taking to increase employee engagement in preventive health is working. You won’t see a change right away, but when it comes time for benefit renewals, you’ll generally see a decrease in the number of preventable claims and amount claimed. You might also notice overall productivity increases and total absences are reduced.
The great thing about developing an effective preventive health program is that you don’t need to have a near-unlimited budget to make it work. By being patient and actively seeking ways to break down barriers to participation, you’ll eventually notice which programs are being utilized and valued. All-inclusive preventive health programs that are communicated effectively and rewarded based on participation will help your team become healthier, happier, and ultimately more valuable.