So you introduced a wellness benefit and are disappointed with the results. Maybe our coaches and counselors can help: we asked them to tell us why employee wellness programs fail. Here’s what they said:

1. Insufficient senior buy-in. Let’s face it. Organizational priorities are set by the person in the corner office. If an organization’s CEO/president gets behind an initiative and champions it, it has greater chance of success. When a management team is visibly committed to a value and a goal, they shape the behavior of others. If you truly want to shape your organization’s culture to one of health and wellness, set the priority and fund it. Talk the talk and walk the walk, or as the great Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see.”

2. Employees don’t engage. Unlike the famous “If you build it, they will come” quote in Field of Dreams, simply building a wellness program does not mean employees will embrace it. A new benefit needs to be explained and promoted repeatedly through a robust wellness communication program. Many times, people may be aware there is a wellness program, but not be aware of the many available benefits. While a wellness program may have immediate appeal for a segment of the work population, for others interest may be opportunistic. Health is a dynamic concept: today’s healthy person could suddenly gain 20 pounds; be ready to kick the nicotine habit; could approach a 40th birthday with a desire to get fit; or could learn they have a health condition with dietary restriction. Take a message from advertisers: Creative, frequent messaging in a variety of media can keep awareness high and attract people when the moment is right.

3. Too activities-based. Your goal should be to build a culture of health & wellness in your organization. While pedometer challenges, “biggest loser” contests and team sports can be fun, you should aim for a multi-faceted sustainable program that focuses on building a program to raise health awareness and give employees a broad range of tools to help them attain their own personal health goals. Activities and challenges may be one component, but coaching, webinars, health information, stress reduction, mental health programs, substance abuse counseling, smoking cessation and health risk assessments are all important, too.

4. Too much stick, not enough carrot. Wellness incentives are great and can be a powerful tool to really bolster engagement. Incentives can run the gamut from recognition or merchandise to cash or reduced health care premiums. Generally, positive incentives go over better than disincentives, which might be perceived as punitive or discriminatory. If you offer incentives, make sure that criteria are inclusive enough that they would not inadvertently discriminate against anyone, per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Learn more about incentives in our Employee Wellness Knowledge Center.

5. One-size fits all. Some people are joiners and like group activities; others are more private; some people like the help and guidance of coaches, mentors and peers; others like to have the tools, but to go at their own pace. Make sure your program has a wide variety of choices in tools and activities to meet the many appetites and preferences of your work population.  And again, options are important to to ensure that your wellness program complies with the ADA.

6. Not enough employee input in program. Do you have a wellness advisory committee to offer feedback for goal setting and to help plan and promote activities? Participation fosters a sense of ownership and helps to motivate employees to achieve personal and company-wide objectives. Employees should be encouraged to share ideas that foster wellness, safety, and health for themselves and others. While a top down commitment is essential, a peer-to-peer approach such as a Health & Wellness committee can be a powerful adjunct.

7. Privacy concerns. Employees value their privacy and many are reluctant to share personal information with their employer for fear that it might affect their job security. This is particularly true when it comes to health or medical information. Many employees have fears that if their employer knows they have a health condition, it might affect their health benefits or be a basis of discrimination. While they may like the idea of taking a health risk assessment, they may worry about providing private health information through an employer. Emphasizing privacy and being clear about what data is and isn’t collected and how it is used can go a long way to allaying such fears.

8. Limited accessibility. Can your employees access your wellness program schedules, tools and activities via a wellness portal and a wellness apps? Are activities only available during off-work hours, or are some activities available on work premises, or during work time, break time, lunch time or pre- and post-work hours?

9. Narrow goals. While a common reason many employers turn to wellness programs is to reduce healthcare costs, this is a long-term not a short-term goal. If that is an organization’s only metric, it can feel like no progress is being made early on. There are many other advantages to a wellness program – enriching benefits to attract/retain employees; enhancing employee morale; improving overall employee health & wellness; reducing absenteeism and presenteeism; and reducing employee stress.


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