Wellness in Motion: Motivating Employees to Change Behaviors and Achieve Real Results

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By Sherry Ward, Vice President of Corporate Services, Maritz

Faced with a challenging economy and ever-rising health care costs, companies are keenly aware that workplace wellness is also good for business. With more than 70% of health care claims currently being attributed to lifestyle factors that are preventable, workplace wellness has quickly emerged as a top priority.

Despite the fact that more than 90% of large companies offer some type of wellness benefit, low participation and lackluster results are common. The challenge of company wellness programs is motivating employees to take ownership of their health—and providing the tools and support employees need to succeed.

Maritz—a sales and marketing services company, which helps companies achieve their full potential through understanding, enabling, and motivating employees, channel partners and customers—has formed a unique team of cross-functional experts to formulate a progressive health approach to wellness programs. This approach is focused on four key aspects of health: prevention, physical activity, mental well-being, and nutrition. In addition to helping clients implement this unique approach, Maritz has embraced it internally to successfully motivate its own employees to achieve better wellness results.

Prevention

With prevention, there are a variety of common precautions workplaces may promote such as avoiding smoking, wearing seat belts, and getting enough sleep. However, prevention also includes talking to your doctor regularly and following the screening recommendations of your health plan—something employees will often skip because of busy schedules.

At Maritz, an onsite physician comes in twice a week to treat minor medical issues, run tests, do blood work, and even prescribe medications. Maritz also hosts an annual health and benefits fair, reaching 600 to 900 employees annually. The fair provides numerous screenings including cholesterol, osteoporosis, and blood pressure. Each fall, more than 500 shots are given during the annual flu shot clinic. These preventative programs have greatly enhanced productivity for the company.

To augment its other prevention efforts, Maritz offers a wellness incentive program with CIGNA called "Healthy Frontiers," which is available to all health plan participants. Participants can earn 150 points (a value of $150) for completing health risk assessments, preventative screenings and classes, joining gyms or fitness classes, and completing any of six healthy living programs.

Physical Activity

Beyond prevention, physical activity represents one of the most effective means of long-term weight loss and health. Unfortunately, today’s traditional office environment doesn’t require a lot of getting up and moving around. Finding creative ways to promote physical activity during the day can help improve workplace morale, employee satisfaction, and overall productivity.

In 2011, Maritz opened a 1,800-sqaure-foot wellness space with treadmills, free weights, an elliptical machine, and space for seven fitness classes. Off campus, the company negotiates discounts with fitness centers in the area so employees can get fit with their families.

Recently, Maritz implemented a wellness research study to test the power of incentives, choice, and social interaction on behaviors related to walking. As part of the study, 500 employees were issued pedometers with the goal of walking at least 10,000 steps a day. Many began using one-on-one meeting times with their supervisors as “walking meetings” to ensure they hit their walking goal. More employees took advantage of using the stairs. To continue the momentum, Maritz will often hand out bottles of water, raffle prizes, and giveaways at random times of the day to reinforce this positive behavior.

Mental Well-Being

Being physically active makes you happier, and being happier makes it easier for you to be fit. Essentially, it is reciprocal. So even if individuals are not ready to commit to moving more, they can start improving their health by increasing their happiness. As part of one of Maritz’ wellness initiatives, employees were asked to complete positive attitude journaling. People who were rewarded for journaling completed their tasks 25% more often. Additionally, 50% of participants in the program reported having a more positive mindset.

Likewise, social support has been shown to significantly impact wellness behavior, too. In Maritz’ wellness study, participants who were asked to walk with others reported an increase in their average daily steps over those who didn’t. Thus, incorporating aspects of mental well-being and support can significantly impact your wellness programs for the better.

Nutrition

With obesity on the rise, nutrition is an aspect of a progressive health approach that is receiving a great deal of attention nationwide. Luckily, simple changes in your workplace can create big benefits for employees.

For example, Maritz worked with its cafeteria vendor to remove value meal options that encouraged soda purchases and instead constructed a “water station” with naturally flavored waters. They continued small changes by discounting the salad bar and implementing a promotion for fresh fruit and bottled water. After 10 fruit/water purchases, employees can get one item free.

To help employees make better snacking choices, Maritz partnered with a local farmer’s market to have fresh fruits and vegetables delivered weekly as a healthy snack alternative. Self-serve snacks received a makeover as well. All vending machines within Maritz now have healthy options marked in the left hand area of each machine, with healthy choices taking up 25% of the machine offerings.

Motivating Factors

Creating convenient healthy alternatives is an important component to any wellness program, but convenience alone won’t guarantee that your employees will take advantage of the available resources. According to Maritz’ wellness study, when rewards, social support, and choice were used as part of a wellness program, one in three participants lost weight, one in two reported more energy, and 60% reported some other health benefit.

At Maritz, wellness solutions are based on a deeper understanding of people and what makes them tick. By developing a broader wellness view that focuses not on a population of employees, but on people as individuals, you can extend the concept of wellness in the workplace without being intrusive. By leveraging organizational and social support to help people take ownership of their health lives, wellness programs offer constructive solutions before problems begin. 

[Editor's note: This article is part of The Role of Business in Health and Wellness Innovation report.]

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