Quick Summary: Most wellness programs try to improve overall employee health by focusing on the individual, but it’s hard to get people to change their health habits. Steal a behavioral change concept and consider first changing the environment.
Altering the environment is like making water available to the proverbial horse. If there is no water, there is no choice, and the horse must stay thirsty. By changing the horse’s environment (putting in a trough) and leading the horse to it (promoting or publicizing the changes), you empower the horse to drink or not, as it chooses.
Consider how this applies to encouraging employees (who are obviously not horses, but you get the idea) to eat healthier (often an element in wellness communication), for example. You can expound on the benefits of reducing fat intake and choosing healthy snacks, but what’s in your company vending machine? A contradictory message? What do you serve at morning staff meetings or birthday celebrations?
If no healthy options exist, people making an effort to moderate their intake of extra calories have two discouraging choices: (1) disrupt their diet or (2) take a less-than-social step and refuse the offer of food. Both choices can lead to guilt.
Environmental change comes when fruit is offered along with cookies, and bottled water or juice is available along with soft drinks and coffee.
Cultural and personal change—the very thing you’re probably trying to elicit in your wellness communication—comes when the person who chooses fruit over cookies is supported in that choice. You can use such an opportunity to promote wellness through immediate positive reinforcement (“Good work, Jim—aren’t those apples delicious?”) instead of what they might hear otherwise (“Jim, I’ve never known you to refuse a cookie. Take another one.”).
Also, consider environmental obstacles to employees’ physical activity. Are lunch breaks long enough to enable workers to take a quick walk or fit in a short gym workout?
The point: Remove barriers to better health in the office. Otherwise, you risk playing the role of hypocrite in your wellness communication, which reduces your credibility.
•Investigate your company food policies (or develop some) and survey the offerings in your cafeteria and vending machines. Add healthy food options to common workplace areas such as the break room and conference room.
•Devise a poster that promotes small health changes—and the fact that your business encourages them.
•Keep your messages in the forefront of your employee communications.
|Sample Poster Message:
Instead of Kicking Back, Stretch Out!
If blocking out a half hour to exercise is tough, take 10 minutes today to take a walk!
5 minutes out, 5 minutes back can clear your body and clear your head.
Remember, all physical activity counts!
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