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Guest view: Health and wellness communications can be engaging

A strong wellness program can be a differentiator for recruitment, reduce the cost of health care benefits and help build a team atmosphere based around healthy choices. However, communicating the benefits and program elements of a wellness initiative can be hard to navigate. Human resources and corporate leadership need to walk a fine line – avoiding sounding paternal, moralistic or even too personal while empowering employees and spurring participation.

How a company communicates can make a big difference. It can boost enrollment in the wellness strategy and create more engagement among employees. Those who are engaged at work will go the extra mile and demonstrate increased productivity, which shows up in a company’s profitability, turnover numbers, safety incidents and quality.

Communication is key for an employee health and wellness program and for a business overall. Looking to a professional communicator for ideas and best practices will help streamline communications surrounding such a program and lead to more engaged, healthier employees.

What can you do?

  • See things from the employees’ perspective. How will the wellness program components benefit them? Why should they care? Does it affect their work life or home life? Zero in on key factors affecting employees and highlight the benefits of healthy choices.
  • Avoid communicating to staff as if they are marketing targets. Trust them and communicate with them as if they are “one of us,” instead of “one of them.” Use “we” and communicate from a team perspective, rather than a top-down standpoint.
  • Talk about the rewards – not only for their personal lives, but rewards of the program. What’s in it for them can be a powerful motivator to expand participation. That participation, in turn, can build a team atmosphere and lead to higher engagement.
  • Consider health and wellness ambassadors. Peer-to-peer communication is powerful and partnering with passionate team members to communicate can remove the paternalistic factor.
  • Connect the dots for employees to the bigger corporate picture. Participation in wellness programs has the potential to decrease company health benefit costs overall, which in turn could make a difference in employees’ premium or out-of-pocket health care costs.
  • Remove jargon, whether health care or HR wording that might not be easily understood. Remember, when jargon is used, it may mean the employees are unlikely to understand the message.
  • Avoid populating emails or messages with large amounts of information. People digest details in small chunks, so consider an ongoing campaign to share bits and pieces of information, or a web page to view the full information when employees are interested and have time.
  • Have a sense of humor when communicating. Loosening up a formal approach can go a long way to creating engagement with the communication and getting on board with the program.
  • Make it a two-way conversation. Ask employees what program components they’d like to see. Find out what might motivate them to participate. Ask for ideas on communicating the details to staff.
  • Use social channels to help spread the word. Whether its an internal social tool such as Slack or Yammer or a closed group on Facebook or LinkedIn, encourage employees to share pictures of their healthy choices and/or program participation. Build a little competition between company segments and offer content meant to engage the group – ask questions, post a quiz or host a ‘meet this goal’ challenge.
  • Bring creative ideas to the effort. Consider interesting program elements to up the ante of interest and participation. Think about bringing in a local chef to offer a cooking class, having a local farm stand bring in their fresh produce regularly or bring in a gardening expert to offer a hands-on workshop for growing vegetables or herbs. At GRIT, team members in the wellness program are walking miles (via a step tracker) to earn a free airplane ticket to anywhere in the world. The more creative and out-of-the-box the program, when paired with easy ways to participate, the more people will want to take part.
  • Stay diverse with your communications focus. If there is a large subset of staff who bike to work, that’s great, but if that’s all communications are about, the company risks losing support from other parts of the employee base. The same goes for any topic: if it’s strictly about one thing, the business might lose the interest of its whole audience.

Internal communications centered around health and wellness can make or break program participation. Get together with HR, leadership and a few employees to brainstorm the best ways to get the message out.

Julie Lando is the owner and president of GRIT Marketing Group, a marketing and communications firm with offices in York and Lancaster.

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