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Overcoming Participation Barriers in Workplace Wellness

Health and wellness programs demonstrably benefit both employees and their employers in a variety of tangible areas. Employee mental and physical health can be improved and medical costs reduced, while the employer experiences a corresponding improvement in workplace productivity and decreased absenteeism. In a recent instant poll on this website (not scientific, but still quite intriguing), respondents were asked to respond to the statement, “I regularly participate in health and wellness programs provided by my employer.” Almost half (49%) ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed,’ suggesting that they and their companies are already benefiting from health and wellness programs.


There remain 51% of individuals who do not regularly participate in health and wellness programs. There are several reasons they may not participate, including that their workplace does not have a program to become involved in. However, this finding that so many do not participate is not unusual. Average nonparticipation in workplace health and wellness programs is 60%. The big challenge is in how to motivate the remainder of workers to participate in these beneficial programs.

There are two steps to achieving high levels of participation. The first step is in choosing a comprehensive program to adopt. Comprehensive programs are desirable both because they improve participation, but also because they have a higher return on investment over time.

The next step is to create a culture in the workplace that honors healthy living and participation. So what are some techniques that can help?

  1. Get management involved, both verbally supporting the program and actively participating. The commitment of management is vital to the success of workplace health programs.
  2. Get a wide variety of employees involved in adoption and implementation of the health and wellness program. This increases employee ownership of the program, and thus increases employee motivation.
  3. Make sure that the program chosen appeals to the employees, and targets areas of health and wellness they are interested in. This goes back to the comprehensive program, allowing people who want to reduce stress, people who want to lose weight, and people who want to stop smoking to all find parts of the program that are appealing to them.
  4. Market the program to your employees (and yes, this includes getting some kind of catchy, fun name for the program).
  5. In choosing a program, focus on something that offers continual motivation. Try to find instructors who are enthused about their topic, and can share that enthusiasm.

Some programs offer financial benefits for participation, which can be a great way to incentivize initial involvement, but research suggests that over time this can backfire as the incentives need to constantly be increased to maintain interest in the program. Instead, it is important to focus on adopting a comprehensive health and wellness program that will be appealing to many, and then market it effectively.

The key to ensuring good participation in workplace health and wellness programs is planning ahead and working together to create a great atmosphere and a program everyone can be excited about.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dr. Rindee Ashcraft published on February 9, 2012 8:00 AM.

Resilience: How Can We Make Lemonade? was the previous entry in this blog.

Dan Heath to Keynote 2012 Workplace Awards is the next entry in this blog.

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