If your wellness program’s suffering from low participation rates, you may be scratching your head trying to figure out why. As it turns out, employers don’t always understand why employee engagement levels are low. When asked why they think employees opt out of fitness programs, employers say it’s because they don’t have enough time, find the program boring, have to pay an entry fee, don’t see the program as relevant or are too embarrassed to admit their health needs improvement.
But what’s the #1 reason employees give for not participating?
Employees don't think they need corporate wellness solutions; they think they can get healthy on their own.
Seventy percent of employees say they can make the changes they need to improve their health without their employer’s help. Employees who feel this way may already be participating in forms of exercise they enjoy that don’t fit into the structure of their companies’ corporate wellness programs. The solution is to choose a wellness program that allows employees freedom to choose the types of exercise they prefer, within certain limits. For example, an employee might have to complete a certain number of cardio workouts to receive an incentive, but she can choose whether to run, bike, swim, hike or do aerobics. With a flexible program, employees are still given the structure and motivation they need to become fitter, but are rewarded for their own efforts towards becoming healthier, and don’t feel locked into activities they don’t enjoy.
Another key reason employees don’t take join their company’s wellness programs?
Employees think they’re healthy enough already.
Fifty-three percent of employees say they’re healthy enough not to need a wellness program. Herein lies the problem with the one-size-fits-all wellness initiative. Fit employees may not be challenged by a program that merely asks them to walk a certain number of steps each day. Even so, they should be rewarded for the ways they’re already working to get fit, and encouraged to continue. A robust wellness program will incorporate engaging activities that challenge employees of all fitness levels.
But they may be “skinny fat,” or metabolically obese.
Also, some employees, especially younger ones, may confuse being thin with being healthy. We’ve all met people who stay skinny in spite of the fact that they never exercise and live on junk food. These folks are still putting their health at risk, even if they may not feel the effects for years down the road. One-quarter of normal weight adults are “skinny fat,” or metabolically obese: They have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or high blood sugar, conditions that predispose them to cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Plus, people of any weight who aren’t active put themselves at greater risk for injuries and musculoskeletal conditions like osteoporosis and arthritis (one doctor says thin people who don’t exercise have “osteoporotic fractures waiting to happen.”). Your wellness communications need to send the message that if you’re not eating well and not exercising, you’re not healthy, no matter how good you look in a bathing suit.
To boost participation, make sure your corporate wellness solutions work for all your employees.
Many wellness programs focus on high-health-risk employees, occasionally to the point where they’re no longer relevant to medium- or low-risk employees. It’s understandable why: high-risk employees also incur the highest health care costs. But fitter employees also deserve to be rewarded for their healthy habits, which, after all, also save the company money. Plus, programs that don’t offer everyone chances to earn incentives can seem unfair and hurt morale. And fitter employees can also serve as wellness role models for the less-fit, and can give them valuable support and advice.
Also, consider the possibility that your employees may not realize that they need a wellness program. They may have a rosier picture of their own health or motivation to get fit than is warranted. They may also not realize how much exercise they really need, how vigorously they should be exercising or that skinny doesn’t mean healthy. Providing them with the eye-opening facts about what true fitness really entails and your participation rates should rise.