In my four years of experience in corporate nutrition, I’ve learnt how essential engagement is to the success of an employee wellbeing programme. Speaking to HR and occupational health professionals, one of the first questions they ask me is this: ‘How do we know our employees will attend your workshop? / implement the advice? / not drop out of the programme?
This is something I’ve given a lot of thought to. We are very fortunate that, through our team of associates working around the UK, we’ve tested different approaches. We’ve been able to see first hand what really works in practice and what doesn’t work.
Seeing your employee wellbeing as a long term strategy
When you plan your employee wellbeing programme across 12 months, this allows you to communicate your key activities to employees a long time in advance and to create anticipation. Diaries fill up quickly and having an event in the diary three months in advance allows employees to plan to be in the office if they can. We like to pin our activities to national and global health campaigns. This way we benefit from the publicity already generated by the media. On a different note, a strategic commitment to wellbeing beyond just rhetoric helps employees feel more committed too. Having the buy-in from senior management and a budget set aside for a programme shows you mean business.
Drip feed healthy ideas into your organization
Changing lifestyle habits isn’t always an easy thing in the context of work. It is a process that takes time and people are all at different stage of readiness. Being blasted with too much information at once can be overwhelming. It can backfire in that people lose interest, or worse reject it altogether. Far better to allow people to take away one or two nuggets a month they can really put into practice. Allow those who are not ready to embrace your employee wellbeing programme to observe from the sidelines. They can jump in when they are truly inspired. Eventually your organisation’s culture will shift. Peer influence is an incredible asset in a corporate environment. I loved hearing the feedback from one of the team leaders at a company we ran a three month challenge with. The week after the challenge ended, one of their suppliers presented them with a huge tray of doughnuts as a treat. Not one was touched!
Research your employees’ wellbeing requirements
One of the keys to engaging your employees is making them feel cared for and listened to. Your work environments will call for a specific approach and topics of interest. We carry out comprehensive audits with the employer first. This helps us to understand what the priorities are at that level. Are we looking to boost morale and motivation or curb sickness absence? What are the key age groups and cultures within the organization? We then work with the employer to carry out a nutrition and wellbeing survey to help us understand people’s key concerns. We get to grasp the barriers they struggle with, for example shift workers on a production line having to fit meal times into extreme time limited breaks. We also gauge their interest in participating in an employee wellbeing programme.
No-one wants to be preached to – especially not by their employer. Keeping things light can make wellbeing acceptable to a wider proportion of your employees. Introducing an element of competition (e.g. challenges, quizzes), creates a whole new motivation for people to participate. Some may in fact decide to take part because they want to win or just feel part of something. They may really enjoy the opportunity to connect with colleagues on a topic other than work. Some of our most productive sessions are the ones where we simply guide the discussion. Employees share their challenges and suggest solutions for one another.
Keep your employee wellbeing programme fresh and exciting
With so many TV programmes and blogs about health nowadays, most people are fairly well informed. Offering information they’ve heard before won’t cut it. I’ve observed a shift even in the past couple of years. Connecting the dots between blood sugar levels and the afternoon dip might have been eye opening in 2014. Now it’s something many people are familiar with. It doesn’t mean everyone’s perfectly managing their blood sugar levels though, far from it. So our emphasis is on coaching our participants in specific behaviour change. Putting the spotlight on nutrition also gives us an eye opening angle on topics such as mental health or sleep.
Introduce accountability and measurement
For some people, seeing quantified results can be extremely powerful. Coupled with regular contact with a coach to create accountability, it can lead to truly impressive results. We have clients where we’ve been running body composition testing clinics for three years and the same employees have been coming back since the beginning. A simple one minute test that provides a metabolic age (among other metrics) is enough to encourage them for another three months. We ask them how they’re getting on, coach them to find solution to the things they’ve been struggling with, and congratulate them on great results.
In reality everyone’s motivation for participating in employee wellbeing programmes is slightly different. And so is everyone’s learning style. By providing a blend of different approaches, without being forceful, your programme is more likely to engage larger numbers of employees for longer. Get it right, add the effects of peer influence on top and your wellbeing programme will become an integral part of your corporate culture.
As the CIPD Wellbeing Report (January 2016) advises, “an effective employee wellbeing programme should be at the core of how an organisation fulfils its mission and carries out its operations and not consist of one-off initiatives. It’s about changing the way business is done.” (CIPD, January 2016)