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benefits magazine december 201820
WHY Employees
Dislike Wellness Programs
and How to Change Their Mind-Set
by | Debra Wein
Whether they’re concerned about privacy or simply believe that wellness programs are
no fun, some employees don’t embrace wellness programs. This article offers tips for
getting the less enthusiastic workers to join in.
Reproduced with permission from Benefits Magazine, Volume 55, No. 12,
December 2018, pages 20-25, published by the International Foundation of
Employee Benefit Plans (www.ifebp.org), Brookfield, Wis. All rights reserved.
Statements or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do
not necessarily represent the views or positions of the International Foundation,
its officers, directors or staff. No further transmission or electronic distribution
of this material is permitted.
december 2018 benefits magazine 21
benefits magazine december 201822
ou’ve heard the hype—Em-
ployee wellness programs can
save money, increase creativ-
ity, boost morale, and help
organizations retain and attract talent.
But you’ve also heard rumblings that
employees hate wellness programs.
How can both be accurate, and what
can your organization do to implement
a wellness program that employees will
rave about?
There are seven common reasons
employees dislike wellness programs,
but these issues are easy to avoid if you
are starting a program and easy to fix
if you already have one in place, when
you know what to look for. Before we
can discuss why employees are turned
off by run-of-the-mill wellness pro-
grams, you first need to make sure they
know about them.
It seems hard to believe; after all,
you spend so much time and energy
communicating your program. How-
ever, a Harvard Business Review survey
of 465 full-time employees from com-
panies that offer a wellness program
found that the No. 1 reason employees
did not participate was that they were
not aware their employer offered a well-
being program.1
What You Can Do
Start by branding the program. The
wellness initiative needs a name and
a logo so that it is easily recognizable.
Next, develop a communications strat-
egy to promote your brand and your
program. Determine what you will
communicate, how often you will com-
municate and how you will disseminate
your message. Develop information
that is clear and straightforward, con-
sistent and recognizable, and easily
accessible. Use multiple communica-
tions methods (e.g., e-mail, hard-copy
mailers, posters, a wellness portal, on-
site meetings) and targeted messages
to reach employees. In addition to let-
ting employees know what is available,
make sure they know where to access
program information and what they
need to do to participate. Most employ-
ees will not take the time to sift through
information to find what they need.
To reinforce the message, develop
a wellness committee made up of em-
ployees from all levels within the or-
ganization. The committee can help
communicate the program, drive par-
ticipation and motivate employees
while also providing a voice for their
colleagues’ ideas and concerns.
Now, let’s talk about how to engage
employees by avoiding their “dislikes.”
1.Employees Think They Don’t
Have Time to Participate
Between long work days and 24/7
connectivity with the office, as well as
family obligations, employees are busy.
According to a report from the Global
Corporate Challenge, 86% of employees
don’t participate in wellness initiatives
because they do not have the time.2 The
UnitedHealthcare 2018 Wellness Check
Up Survey also provides insight into the
employee mind-set. It found that 63%
of employees are unwilling to devote
more than an hour a day to improve
their health and well-being.3
What You Can Do
Change the format of wellness offer-
ings. Hour-long, weekly seminars no
longer work for many organizations.
Wellness programming can be effective
and participation rates can increase
when employees are offered shorter
programs and more flexibility. A one-
hour seminar can be broken down into
four 15-minute segments. The content
is still the same; the information is sim-
ply disseminated over time.
Offer programs that can be done any-
where—on site at an employee’s desk or
at a remote employee’s home office. Pro-
grams can be offered as recorded webi-
nars, providing flexibility for busy and
geographically dispersed employees.
Allow employees to log on at their con-
venience and complete programs rang-
ing in topic from nutrition and sleep to
stress reduction and fitness.
Provide employees with the time
to participate in wellness activities
and improve their well-being dur-
ing work hours. Offering employ-
ees company time to improve their
health will increase participation. It
also sends the message that your or-
ganization cares about the well-being
of its employees.
Make the program hands-on. In-
clude activities to add some excite-
ment and interaction—bingo, Jeopardy
games, fun giveaways (iTunes gift cards,
free lunch in the cafeteria, a coffee card
from the café, movie tickets, lottery
tickets and raffles for bigger giveaways),
make your own trail mix/yogurt parfait
. . . you get the picture.
2.Employees Think the
Wellness Program Isn’t Fun
Not everyone enjoys health and fit-
ness. A quick look at the country’s obe-
sity rates—almost 40%4—is evidence
that a large percentage of Americans
are not focusing on their well-being.
The reason? Many think it’s not inter-
esting or fun. And let’s face it, taking
time out of a busy work day to go to a
biometric screening is not necessarily
wellness programs
december 2018 benefits magazine 23
What You Can Do
Find a way to make your program fun and exciting. Con-
duct a survey to find out what health topics or activities em-
ployees are interested in, and develop programs around the
most popular topics. Just because a topic is a need-to-have,
such as diabetes awareness or smoking cessation, doesn’t
mean these are the want-to-have programs employees will
make time for. Understanding your culture, employees’ in-
terests and their readiness to change will go a long way to
increasing the possibility that employees will appreciate and
enjoy the programs being offered. Add activities that are hard
to resist such as once-a-month chair massages, healthy cook-
ing demos or fruit smoothie Fridays. Other ideas include:
• Add a dose of fun to your yearly biometric screen-
ings by setting up a basketball hoop and inviting
employees to take a shot for better health. For each
basket made, add a dollar to a raffle that will be won
by one of the participants. B etter yet, make it a
50/50 raffle and donate half to the employee’s cho-
sen charity.
• Don’t simply tell employees to exercise three times a
week; invite them to be active at specific wellness
events or encourage them to post a selfie on a wellness
portal of them doing something physical.
• Host a quarterly wellness day. Invite local vendors to
the office to set up tables for employees to get informa-
tion on nutrition, yoga, meditation, healthy snacks and
more. Have a nurse available to provide blood pressure
• Set up a fun physical activity once a week during work
hours to get employees active. Host an employee field
day once a month during which employees can head to
a local park for FrisbeeTM, tennis, walking or soccer, or
start a company sports team. Or, if space allows, try
volleyball, games based around soccer or yoga, or a
bean bag toss in the parking lot or grassy area.
• Offer walking meetings and standing desks or provide
a game room with foosball and ping pong so that em-
ployees can take a break from sitting.
3.Employees Think the Program
Does Not Meet Their Needs
Your smoking-cessation program may be enjoying suc-
cess, but if only a small percentage of employees are smokers,
then participation in your wellness program will not be high.
And while your wellness challenge may get incredible results,
if the activities appeal only to weekend warriors, you are not
meeting the needs of most of your employees.
What You Can Do
Customize the program to meet individual employee
needs. A program that is personalized will deliver better en-
gagement and results. Every employee has different health
needs, different interests and different priorities. Motivat-
ing employees to make healthy changes is more effective
when the changes make sense to them. Likewise, programs
that are relevant to their needs are programs they’ll want to
sign up for. It’s important to engage employees where they
want support, whether it is physical, emotional or men-
tal. Provide options for employees in all stages of behavior
change, from those contemplating making changes to those
who are well on their way. Establish a connection with each
employee and provide support and guidance for his or her
wellness journey.
A wellness committee with active listeners can go a long
way to gathering feedback and providing cheerleading for
the wellness efforts. As an example, delivering a smoking-
cessation program to an organization with 20 smokers and
only three who are interested in quitting is not likely the best
use of your time and resources. On the other hand, setting
up a smoothie or breakfast burrito demo at 5:00 a.m., when
the truck drivers are running in to the lumberyard to pick up
their routes and can grab a quick taste and a recipe, is a way
to make wellness personalized, approachable and relevant.
learn more
To watch Debra Wein’s recorded webcast presentation
“Why Employees Dislike Wellness Programs and How to
Change Their Mind-Set,” visit www.ifebp.org/webcasts.
Health Benefits Conference & Expo (HBCE)
January 28-30, 2019, Clearwater Beach, Florida
Visit www.ifebp.org/hbce for more details.
From the Bookstore
A Closer Look: 2018 Workplace Wellness Trends
International Foundation. 2018.
Visit www.ifebp.org/books.asp?7952E for more information.
wellness programs
benefits magazine december 201824
4. Employees Are Worried About Privacy
Many employees worry that participating in a wellness
program will allow their employer to access their medical
records. A survey from Willis Towers Watson found that
almost half of employees are reluctant to sign up for a well-
being program because they are wary of their employer hav-
ing access to their personal health information.5 This lack of
trust is understandable—Employees may worry that a medi-
cal condition will impact their jobs or their health benefits or
subject them to discrimination. It’s important for employers
to be both genuine and transparent when asking employees
to participate in programs that involve disclosure of their
health information. Most distrust in wellness programs
comes from poor work relationships and communication.
What You Can Do
Don’t dismiss employee privacy concerns. Make sure your
program provides transparency. Take the time to communi-
cate what data you will collect and how it will be used. Let
employees know that your program meets all state and fed-
eral regulations. If the program is being administered by a
third-party vendor, explain the vendor’s role and how it han-
dles confidential employee data, and keep it separate from
your business operations. A hands-off approach by human
resources can go a long way in sending the message that em-
ployee privacy is valued. Continue to message around safety
and privacy throughout the program.
5. Employees Don’t Know What They Need to Do
You’ve branded your wellness program and developed
a robust communications plan. You think your wellness
program requirements and incentives are as clear as day.
Employees may not agree with you. Some still may not un-
derstand why they should participate, and others may not
understand what they need to do. If the program has too
many steps and forms and is perceived as complicated, par-
ticipation rates will lag.
What You Can Do
Employees receive numerous competing messages ev-
ery day, so it’s important that the wellness program design
is simple and easy to understand. Employees should be
able to locate information quickly and sign up effortlessly.
Keep communications short and to the point. Consider us-
ing a wellness portal to house all information in one place;
this makes it easy for employees to access information on a
mobile app when they are on the go. If you need a 20-page
brochure explaining the elements of your program, it’s too
6.Employees Think They Will Be Judged
Employees often feel they will be judged if they take an
hour out of their day to attend a wellness seminar or a fitness
activity, and managers often fail to realize how their habits
influence their team. Managers lead by example and can in-
spire change within their company if they share the impor-
tance of well-being with their team.
What You Can Do
Get both C-level support for your program and man-
agement buy-in. It’s important that these individuals act as
healthy role models for your employees. Employees are more
likely to participate in wellness programs if they see that it’s
important to company executives. They are also more likely
to take time out of their day to participate in programs if they
see their manager engaging in wellness activities. Train man-
agers to tell their employees that it’s OK—and even encour-
aged—to take a break and do something for their well-being.
•Lack of awareness of wellness programs is a big hurdle for
getting employees to participate.
•To ensure employees have time to take part in wellness pro-
grams, employers should consider offering programs that are
short and flexible and allow employees to participate during
work hours.
•Understanding employees’ interests and adding engaging
elements to wellness programs such as giveaways and games
can help erase the perception that wellness programs aren’t
•Many employees are reluctant to participate in wellness
programs because of concerns about privacy and employer
access to medical records.
•C-level support and management buy-in boosts the percep-
tion that the employer cares about worker well-being and
increases the likelihood that employees will get involved with
a wellness program.
wellness programs
december 2018 benefits magazine 25
7.Employees Underestimate the
Value of Financial Rewards
and Incentives
You may have developed great fi-
nancial incentives for your program,
but employees aren’t aware of the value
of the incentives. Nearly two-thirds
(64%) of employees underestimate the
value of wellness program financial
rewards and incentives, which average
about $742 per employee per year.6 In
fact, 41% of employees surveyed es-
timated the average annual wellness
program financial reward at between
$0 and $300.7
What You Can Do
Communicate your wellness pro-
gram incentives in clear, concise lan-
guage, and make sure the dollar value
is front and center. Take the same steps
you did when raising awareness of the
program: Use different communication
methods including e-mail, social me-
dia, postcards, fliers and text messages.
Host on-site meetings and/or confer-
ence calls about wellness program in-
centives and discuss the dollar value of
participation. If you are using a well-
ness technology platform, make sure
wellness program incentives are easy to
find and easy for employees to track.
Of course, the best way to ensure en-
gagement is to customize the program
to meet the needs of your employees.
To personalize your program, consid-
er utilizing some assessment tools to
determine what employees want and
need from a program. Surveys, health
assessments, wellness champions and
engagement tools can provide valuable
information to help you determine the
best ways to get started in your wellness
program. To ensure your program is ef-
fective and meeting the needs of your
employees, be sure to evaluate each
aspect of your program, including pro-
gram satisfaction, e-mail open rates,
instructor ratings, behavior change and
health outcomes. Bottom line: Behav-
ior change is personal, so make your
program personal, as well.
1. Harvard Business Review, “Why People
Do—and Don’t—Participate in Wellness Pro-
g r a m s ,”O c t o b e r1 0 ,2 0 1 6 ,h t t p s : / / h b r
. o r g / 2 0 1 6 / 1 0 / w h y – p e o p l e – d o – a n d – d o n t
2. 2013 Global Workplace Health and Well-
ness Repor t, https://gccmarketing.blob.core
. w i n d o w s . n e t / s i t e c o n t e n t / 2 0 1 3 _ G l o b a l
3. UnitedHealthcare 2018 Wellness Check Up
S u r v e y,h t t p s : / / n e w s r o o m . u h c . c o m / n e w s
-rele as es/study–employe es-wit h-access-to
4. “Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and
Youth: United States, 2015–2016,” NCHS Data
Brief No. 288, October 2017, www.cdc.gov/nchs
5. Staying@WorkTM report: Employee Health
and Business Success, Willis Towers Watson,
March 2016, www.willistowerswatson.com/en
/ i n s i g h t s / 2 0 1 6 / 0 3 / s t a y i n g a t w o r k – r e p o r t
6. National Business Group on Health,
eighth annual Health and Well-Being Survey,
April 11, 2017, www.businessgrouphealth.org
7. UnitedHealthcare Wellness Check Up
Study 2018.
Debra Wein, M.S., CWPD, LDN, RDN, is chief executive
officer and founder of Wellness Workdays. A nationally
recognized expert on health and wellness, she speaks
regularly on worksite wellness topics. Wein designs
corporate wellness programs for organizations across the
country, including New Balance, EMD Serono, BJ’s Wholesale Club,
Putnam Investments and Brown University. She holds undergraduate
and graduate degrees from Cornell and Columbia Universities.

wellness programs
benefits magazine december 20186
The #MeToo and Time’s Up
movements have sparked a cultural
shift in the workplace and increased
awareness of the problem of sexual
misconduct and harassment. Employee
benefit funds must be sure to protect
fund employees from harassment and
to protect the fund as an entity from
liability, write attorneys Lisa M. Gomez
and Melissa S. Woods. They describe
steps funds should take, including
adopting an antiharassment policy
and conducting training. Gomez is a
partner with Cohen, Weiss and Simon
LLP, and Woods is of counsel at the
Wellness programs are touted as ways
to boost morale and help organizations
recruit and retain talent, all while
improving employee health. Yet some
employees are turned off by such
programs and may not participate.
Debra Wein, M.S., CWPD, LDN, RDN,
chief executive officer of Wellness
Workdays, describes seven common
reasons employees dislike wellness
programs and offers strategies for addressing
those complaints. Wellness Workdays is a
Hingham, Massachusetts–based provider of
worksite wellness programs.
Health plan sponsors looking to
reduce health care expenses without
shifting more costs to plan participants
may find ways to reduce spending
through data analytics, suggest
Marilyn Schlein Kramer and Bryan
Curran. They present six ways data
can be used to create cost-saving
strategies. Kramer is senior vice
president of customer experience
for HDMS, a health care analytics
company, and Curran is a director
with the customer experience group at
Dealing with a litigation is challenging
on its own, but it can become
especially complicated if the legal
action involves a benefit claim from
several years ago. Setting a limitations
period can help employee benefit
plans avoid some of those challenges,
suggests attorney Osvaldo (Oz)
Vazquez. Vazquez, an associate at Steptoe
& Johnson LLP, describes the benefits of
setting a limitations period and provides an
overview of the legal framework for such
Incorporating mindfulness into an
employee benefits program may
help lessen the negative impacts of
stress on employees, contends Lisa R.
Schmidt, CEBS, CBC, CN, CYT, SEP.
Schmidt describes the concepts and
biology behind mindfulness and offers
ideas for science-based mindfulness
interventions. She is the founder and lead
consultant of Mindful Benefits.
contributorsin this issue
pg 14
pg 14
pg 20
pg 26
pg 26
pg 38
pg 32
Reproduced with permission of copyright owner. Further reproduction
prohibited without permission.

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