Why Some Employees Avoid Wellness Programs and What to Do

This might just be the number one question I’m asked as we plan wellness programs for our clients. Why do some employees avoid wellness programs and how do we get the people who really need it to participate? While it’s not a simple answer, we’ve found specific things really help. Let me preface with the fact that I believe deep down everyone wants to live their healthiest life, but there are certain barriers that get in the way of this. Today I’ll dive into some of these barriers along with solutions.

Why Some Employees Avoid Wellness Programs

Barrier 1: The Fear of Failing

When it comes to health, many people simply don’t believe in their own ability to change, and more importantly, they fear they won’t succeed. They’ve potentially tried something in the past that didn’t help them, and that feeling of not accomplishing their goal lingers.

We really like to speak to an organization at the start of working together on a wellness program to address this, because it is important. A few key messages and exercises we deliver include redefining what failure means and encouraging learning over perfection. Let me explain with an example.

Clare told us she didn’t want to participate in our wellness challenge because she already knew she didn’t have time for the daily exercise. For Clare, if she wasn’t going to do it every day, it would feel like a failure. We explained two things to her: it’s not an all or nothing program and that there is so much more to be gained than just the movement part of it. What if failure was defined instead for Clare as not doing any aspects of the challenge? We invited Clare to focus on learning and progress over perfection.

By having this conversation early on, we were able to get Clare on board and participate. Guess what? Clare exercised a lot more than she thought she would because of encouragement and accountability from her team and in the feedback survey she said she’d participate again!

employees engaging in a wellness program

Barrier 2: Skeptical of Something About the Program

A lack of time to commit, a program not speaking to them, or a worry that the program might be too intense are all possible worries of participants. 

With respect to a lack of time, the program you run truly can’t require too much time because it will deter participation. This can be addressed in the marketing of the program. The participant also has to feel that a program is a company priority, which is done in part by leadership at the company and by ensuring that the program you’re offering is addressing what people are struggling with the most. (I spoke about this in my last newsletter and the importance of surveying employees to understand what they need help with.)

Specific to a program feeling too intense, this does come down to the program and it’s one of the reasons we have different levels of our wellness challenge and different lunch and learn topics. You must meet someone where they’re at. Since wellness is not usually an employee’s number one priority at work (their job is), what you teach and motivate someone to do must be simple enough while also having obvious results -- things like drinking more water (more energy) or making sleep a priority (less stress and more productivity) as examples. 

Barrier 3: Employees May Want Privacy

In our wellness challenge, which is a team-based online competition, there is a leaderboard with names and scores. In some instances, we’ve had requests that people join with an alias name so that their colleagues don’t see their participant levels. This is a simple fix for privacy issues. 

Other Considerations for Wellness Program Engagement

There’s No One Size Fits All Approach

While not a barrier, it’s worth mentioning that your employee’s needs will be diverse. This is why the best programs are not a ‘one and done’ event. Wellness needs to run continuously with different formats of delivering information and various ways of motivating people to participate. When we plan a year of wellness with a client, we ensure there’s a combination of topics, delivery formats and even 1:1 coaching offerings.

Understanding Someone’s Why

Lastly, having someone understand their own “why” for their health is critical. This can be too personal for an HR professional to do but can be done in a similar format to the conversation about fear I mentioned above and is something we like to facilitate with clients. Sometimes inaction is not an option and people are reminded of this when they reflect on their reasons for wanting to feel healthy.

Final Thoughts

We always recommend you survey those who did not participate in the wellness program, because there could be something quick and easy that can be updated in the program that would better increase participation.

Don’t forget that when given the proper support, people truly do want to live their healthiest and best life. If you’re interested in running a wellness program in your office, please contact us here, and we’ll put together an engaging, results-driven program for your teams.

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