Unlocking workplace health through social media

Wikis, blogs, videos, webinars and tweets can connect, respond to employees

Employees of all generations are connected to their mobile devices and using social media — often before they get out of bed in the morning.

As employers search for the right strategies to reduce the costs associated with employee health, employees’ personal behaviours should be factored in for optimal success.

Almost 90 per cent of individuals aged 18 to 24 and 56 per cent of individuals aged 45 to 64 would engage in health activities or trust health information found via social media, according to Social Media Likes Health-Care, an April 2012 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) study that surveyed 1,060 adults in the United States.

Workplace health strategies that include social media can help organizations and employees take a more active, engaged role in managing health. Organizations with an intranet site or social collaboration environment have basic social media tools adaptable for workplace health.

The following social media tools are best suited for promoting a health strategy at work:

Polling: Polling is a quick way to gauge the pulse of an organization and its programs in between full employee surveys. Polls can uncover information such as which programs have been successful and which programs employees want to have.

Blogs: Written by a dedicated employee or team, or open to all employees, a blog is an effective channel for providing health information, links to resources and personal health or wellness success stories. The ability for employees to comment or ask questions makes blogs particularly helpful.

Twitter: Enterprise social media tools, such as Yammer, or Twitter are invaluable tools for providing quick health tips, promoting internal health events and allowing employees to ask questions and receive responses.

Wikis: Employers can build a health wiki as an information resource for all employees.

Facebook: An internal Facebook page can be used as a platform for a health social strategy. Polls, wikis and other information can be posted directly onto the page as can links to blogs, Twitter, videos and other resources.

Video and webinars: Fitness videos and cooking recipes are examples of videos that can be used in promoting health. Webinars can also be used but can include an interactive component, allowing employees to ask questions.

Podcasts: Podcasts can be effective at providing information in short clips.

Employers that effectively integrate information uncovered through social media can use it to connect with workers in more meaningful ways that provide value and increase trust.

Insights from social media also offer organizations instant feedback on the components of a health strategy that are effective, along with new ideas for innovation.

Employers that incorporate this information into their strategies will be better positioned to address concerns impacting employees’ well-being and provide a better return on investment.

But be warned — people want a response, fast. More than 75 per cent expect an answer within one day or less to requests via social media, while nearly one-half expect a response within a few hours, according to the PwC study.

And immediate responses to concerns can reduce presenteeism (the time an employee is present on the job but not focused), potentially increasing productivity.

Some organizations with health programs such as an integrated wellness strategy, an employee assistance program (EAP) or on-site fitness program do not track ROI. This can impact the ability to secure the budget for, and design of, an effective health strategy, especially if it includes social media.

Workplace health promotion should be an integrated, iterative approach that adopts the appropriate tools, processes and services to facilitate health at all levels.

“The workplace has a direct influence on the physical, psychological, financial and social well-being of employees,” says Keith Harding, president of FSEAP Toronto, citing data from its EAP and organizational wellness consulting programs.

“As such, employers have the capability to tangibly impact health and health-related costs within their own organization if the programming is delivered appropriately to address needs.”

Samantha Wharton is vice-president of marketing and business development at EAP provider FSEAP and Integrated Workplace Solutions (IWS), a division of FSEAP, in Toronto.

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