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Getting results-based wellness right: The five rules of employee engagement

​No matter an employer’s goals for the company wellness program, without employee engagement, the program will fail.

Employee engagement is the holy grail of well-being, health, and productivity programs. Employers that have achieved real returns from wellness programs recognize the role of engagement—not just in health programs, but in the interconnected health, work, and personal factors we call life. Fortunately, employee engagement is easier than many employers think. Simply following these five rules of engagement will help maximize company performance.

Be Relevant

It’s elementary: Self-interest drives behavior. Said another way, human beings respond to what’s important to them. If you want employees to engage in any type of wellness (or well-being) program, “hit ‘em where they live.” The most successful programs speak to all of the interests and concerns of employees (I want to feel and look better, have more energy, meet new people, have fun), are clearly and obviously aligned with corporate goals (we want you to be healthier so you cost less to insure, we want to build a strong culture to reduce employee turnover), and are linked to incentives that are personally or financially meaningful to employees (put dollars in my wallet, save on my healthcare premium, give me days off).

Make It Social

In some ways social is a logical extension of relevant, as in: “I like to do the things my friends, family, and colleagues are doing.” Human beings are social animals (and no one wants to be singled out for behavior modification). Some recent groundbreaking research (see Connected by Christakis and Fowler) is demonstrating how things like obesity, alcohol consumption, and smoking travel through social networks. According to social learning theory, peers—those we like and respect—encourage behavior change by modeling and supporting it. Successful programs take a we’re-all-in-this-together approach with relevant health-enhancing activities (challenges) within a social network. An added benefit: Social programs extend beyond work to family and friends.

Stay Positive

Successful social movements are almost always hopeful and positive. Positive, well-being improvement-oriented approaches encourage rather than threaten, reward rather than punish. Looking at one’s strengths objectively can be a life-altering experience and can help reframe thinking away from what’s wrong toward what’s possible. When people feel good about themselves and what they’re doing right, they have the fortitude to tackle what isn’t working. And positivity is infectious. Make a list of five employees who have the biggest impact on your workforce (those who lead the most successful teams and the most profitable business units, and attract and retain the best talent), and note how positive these people are. It never occurs to you to think of them as health-cost drivers.

Integrate, Integrate, Integrate

Making things complicated is easy. Many employers just keep adding more point solutions until their multiplicity confounds and confuses. Ironically, making things hard for employees is easy, and making things easy is hard. Employers typically contract with multiple vendors to provide a variety of wellness, training, ergonomics, EAP, disease management, screening, vaccinations, and other services. Some are buried in the bottom drawer of your employees’ filing cabinets—paid for but unused. It’s your job to help employees navigate the various offerings. The only way to do this is to insist your vendors integrate—and seek those who are open, partner-friendly, integration-optimized, and, most importantly, obsessed with making what can be a complex user experience simple for your people.

Play It Safe

The new era of wellness—including results-based wellness—is uncharted ground for most companies. It is fraught with perceived risk—and some real risk too. Make sure you’ve covered all your bases regarding data integrity, safety, security, and regulatory compliance. Your incentive program needs a clear set of rules that are reasonable and fair. Getting these details right will inspire your employees’ confidence, earn their respect, and win their engagement. Clear communication at every juncture about what your approach is (and isn’t) reassures people. Perception can easily become reality when you are talking about privacy (and money).

Guest blogger Henry Albrecht is CEO of Limeade and one of three partners behind Limeade Greenline, a turnkey product that helps companies successfully launch and maintain a results-based wellness program that links financial savings and measurable health results.

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