Technology drives wellness programs

Intranet, email and voicemail reach employees wherever they are working

When it comes to driving participation in wellness programs, traditional strategies that target those in the office with a one-hour lunch-and-learn session just won’t cut it anymore.

Between work and family demands, people have a lot on their plates, and offering programs at flexible times when employees can participate makes good business sense.

Employees are working flexible schedules and off-site, so wellness support needs to extend beyond the workplace. Technology allows this, from the assessment and program promotion stages through to delivery and participant retention.

Lunch-and-learns have expanded into education sessions that are available online or on-site and include online health challenges and lifestyle modification programs that meet the specific health-risk needs of employees.

For example, at Sun Life Financial, workers are encouraged to take action through fun and engaging online competitions, as they track healthy habits such as physical activity, water consumption or fruit and vegetable intake. Employees are able to incorporate healthy lifestyle habits into their everyday life whether at work or at home, and can track their progress online any time and anywhere. Programs are being increasingly enhanced to accommodate mobile devices, such as BlackBerrys and iPhones, so participants can access programs on the go.

Using social media to get wellness word out

With the rise and success of Facebook, instant messaging and Twitter, workplace wellness programs have begun to incorporate social networking opportunities. It’s commonplace to suggest a great recipe to colleagues on a chat board, or upload before and after pictures following a successful program, such as a lunchtime walking group, to motivate others. There are also more health coaches to provide support to employees and address questions promptly and confidentially via email or discussion forums.

One key workplace group who is very engaged with this approach is generation Y or employees born between 1982 and 1994. This demographic is not only highly competent when it comes to all things technological but requires technology to be engaged. Great multi-taskers, this generation is used to emailing, instant messaging and surfing the net simultaneously.

With generation Y’s love of technology and its expectation for comprehensive employer-sponsored wellness programs, it makes good business sense to offer appealing programs to this demographic, especially when many of them seem to be participating in less physical activity compared to baby boomers.

Technology as promotional tool

Posters, postcards and pay stuffers have long been a staple of wellness program promotion strategies. But with fewer employees physically in offices and pay stubs becoming obsolete, more innovative promotional avenues are needed to achieve desired program visibility, participation rates and participant retention.

Armed with the knowledge that visible leadership support for any wellness strategy is essential for success, some organizational leaders are blogging to profile their own personal wellness journey. Others are using widespread voicemail to deliver encouraging messages to employees and remind them of where they can find more information.

Middle-level management also plays a key role in program visibility and participation rates. Thirty-minute webinars can be used to present background information on why a company is implementing an employee health strategy and educate managers on how they can encourage team members to get involved.

Webinars can also be delivered by managers to their teams, as a means of providing background and step-by-step instructions on how to take advantage of wellness programs and resources.

Healthy Workplace Month

For employers that are not yet at the stage of comprehensive program implementation, there are simple ways to promote healthy living during Healthy Workplace Month in October. Use existing communication avenues such as the intranet, an online newsletter or organization-wide email to post weekly tips around one of the Healthy Workplace Month themes, which include being positive in the workplace, being positive with friends and family, being positive about work-life harmony and being positive about the community.

Healthy Workplace Month is a great time to take an organization’s wellness program to the next level and consider including initiatives such as health-risk assessments, screening clinics, education sessions, online health challenges and lifestyle modification programs.

10 tips for health and wellness programs

Here are 10 tips for employers at any stage of a health and wellness program:

• Offer online programs that are convenient and accessible to all employees.

• Ensure management and organizational leaders support wellness programs and communicate this to employees.

• Use basic tools, such as online newsletters, organization-wide email or your corporate intranet to post weekly tips.

• Have a leader leave an organization-wide voicemail with a weekly health tip or an encouraging message.

• Profile employees’ healthy living testimonials on the intranet.

• Offer educational webinars on the themes that relate to Healthy Workplace Month, or present background information on the company’s wellness programs.

• Run an online health challenge to facilitate behaviour change among employees, including those who work from head office, satellite offices or remote areas.

• Incorporate social networking into your wellness programs and promotional strategies.

• Adopt digital programs that can accommodate mobile devices so participants have access on the go.

• Have organizational leaders create a blog to profile their own wellness journeys through the organization’s wellness programs.

Is it time to call it quits on posters and on-site education sessions? No, not if these programs are successful for your organization. The key is to balance more traditional approaches with digital communications and online programming to achieve heightened employee engagement, enhanced participation rates and a more pronounced impact on the bottom line.

Erin Dick is manager of health and productivity solutions at Sun Life Financial in Toronto. Sarah Cook is manager of communications at Buffett & Company Worksite Wellness in Whitby, Ont. Erin can be reached at (416) 408-8933 or [email protected].

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