The Top 5 Mixed Messages Your Worksite Wellness Program is Likely Delivering

Posted by: Sarah Engler
Date: October 20, 2015

Companies start employee health and wellness programs with great intentions. So why aren’t programs always as successful as we would like? We don’t always know, but it’s undeniable that organizational mixed messages regarding health and wellness can contribute.

This post describes the top 5 mixed messages your Worksite Wellness Program is likely delivering and what you can do to ensure the right message gets across.

My favorite philosophy for worksite wellness programs is to make the healthy choice easy and the unhealthy choice hard. It’s a great mantra to keep in mind when trying to avoid mixed messages that can undermine the success of your company’s worksite wellness programs.

Read on to learn how you can take the MIX out of the MESSAGE at your company:

#5 – TOBACCO

What your worksite wellness program is saying:

We provide programs to help you quit smoking. We want you to be tobacco free.  We’ll incentivize you to stop using tobacco. We care about your lungs.

What’s the message employees are receiving? 

Smokers get extra breaks. There are covered gazebos and heated patios just for smokers. Incentives are available to smokers to quit, but not to non-smokers for being smoke-free. Programs to help you quit take a lot of work and employees are not going to get the time to participate.  Everyone has to walk through smoke from smokers when entering and leaving the building.

Take the MIX out of the MESSAGE:

  • Make it fair – Make sure that employees that use tobacco do not get any more breaks than their non-smoking counterparts. Provide incentives that non-tobacco using employees qualify for. 
  • Make it harder to use tobacco at work– Limit where employees can smoke and move these areas away from your building and entrances. Keep smoking areas simple with just an ashtray – don’t promote smoking with covered or heated areas or dedicated seating for smokers. 
  • Make it easy and a priority – Bring cessation programs to employees, onsite and on-the-clock.

#4 – NUTRITION

What your worksite wellness program is saying:   

We want you to eat healthier. Here are a lot of handouts telling you how important it is!

What’s the message employees are receiving? 

We have donuts for breakfast, and pizza at meetings, and cheeseburgers in the cafeteria. There might be a healthy vending machine somewhere, but it’s hidden and even if you could find it, it costs $5 for a granola bar.

Take the MIX out of the MESSAGE:

  • Make it a habit – Have healthy options available whenever and wherever food is available to employees. Try fruit at breakfast, salad at lunch and a vegetarian option at any cafeteria meal. 
  • Make it easy – It’s easier to eat healthier when the health option is the cheaper one. Work with vendors to make sure healthy options are available and appropriately priced to engage employees in making the healthier choice! 

#3 – PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

What your worksite wellness program is saying:   

Here! Have a pedometer! We want you to walk more! Take the stairs! Go to the gym!

What’s the message employees are receiving?

Use instant messenger to talk to your colleagues who are down the hall. Walk with a friend, as long as one of you stays behind to provide coverage. Make sure you walk on your 15-minute lunch break.

Take the MIX out of the MESSAGE:  

  • Make it the norm – Get up and walk to a colleague’s desk. 
  • Support walking meetings.
  • Use the printer that’s a little further away.
  • Try and find that healthy vending machine!

#2 – STRESS MANAGEMENT

What your worksite wellness program is saying:

We offer EAP. We have a quiet room. There are nice couches!

What’s the message employees are receiving?

“We don’t have stress here.” Now do this, and this, and this. And everything’s a priority. And it all needs to be done yesterday. 60-hour work-weeks. Mandatory overtime. Read and respond to emails at night.

Take the MIX out of the MESSAGE:

  • Start the conversation – “Stress is a normal thing we all experience.” 
  • Set best practices – Learn to recognize stress and teach others how to. 
  • Lead by example – Using stress management resources shows others it’s okay to do the same! 
  • Limit emails at night.

#1 – WEIGHT MANAGEMENT

Weight management takes the top spot, because the mixed messages can be the hardest to see, and they really do showcase GREAT intentions.

What your worksite wellness program is saying:

We have a weight watchers program! We have biggest loser competitions! Set weight loss goals with a coach. Eat less and eat healthier and exercise more.

What’s the message employees are receiving?

So if I’m not overweight I don’t need to worry about eating healthier or exercising? No one wants me on their biggest loser team because I only need to lose five pounds. I only need to worry about my weight 10 weeks out of the year.

Take the MIX out of the MESSAGE:

  • Put the focus where it belongs – On weight MANAGEMENT.  Try “maintain don’t gain” competitions. 
  • Encourage healthy – Whether someone is working toward a healthier weight, or trying to keep the healthy weight they are currently at – they need support! 

Your Worksite Wellness Program doesn’t have to cause frustration and confusion. There are practical, unambiguous ways to get your message across while emphasizing what’s really important – the health and well-being of one of your organization’s most valuable assets – its employees.

Finally, keep up the good work! Actions, as well as good intentions, speak loudly – and your employees are listening!