Wondering how to engage employees in wellness programs?
An engaging workplace wellness program can improve individual employee health and wellness, and shape a positive company culture that values wellbeing.
Wellness programs can look amazing on paper, but flop in execution. Your program needs to function in real life by providing value to employees. The most important part of implementing a wellness program is getting your employees to actively engage with it.
Clients often ask us how they can increase participation in their programs. It’s a great question, so we’ve rounded up some of our key ways to engage employees below!
What is employee engagement?
Think of engagement as active participation. Engaged employees are motivated to invest their time and energy on a wellness program.
Participation on its own can be passive. Consider employees who complete the bare minimum and go through the motions in order to get credit for participating. Chances are, they aren’t getting a lot of value out of the program.
Engagement, on the other hand, drives value. It makes employees want to return to and stick with the program. An engaged employee actively contributes to building a supportive community alongside their colleagues. They engage by choice and appreciate the value that your wellness program brings to their overall happiness and wellbeing.
In the context of wellness challenges, this may mean they check scores every day, or they cheer on fellow teammates. In the context of an educational resource, engagement could mean employees are asking questions or commenting on the wellness content you’ve shared.
Why does engagement matter?
Getting people to change their behavior or invest time in their health can be challenging. People are more likely to stick to a program if they find it fun, interesting, and relevant to their daily lives.
As the CDC states, workplace wellness programs “are only as effective as the proportion of employees who are truly engaged in the program.”* If you want to know how to engage employees in wellness programs, design a program they will actually want to participate in.
How to engage employees in wellness programs
We put together a list of 17 high-impact engagement strategies you can use when implementing a wellness program. You might find some of these are easier to use at your company than others, and some might drive engagement better than others. We suggest trying out as many of these as possible to experiment with what works best for your employees.
Learn how to engage employees in wellness programs with our ongoing engagement resources and strategies.
This list of strategies comes from our years of running workplace wellness challenges. We cover each of these ideas in more depth below.
17 ways to engage employees in corporate wellness programs
Design an engaging wellness program:
1 Understand your participants
2 Run an employee interest survey
3 Identify your company’s needs
4 Secure buy-in from company leadership
5 Set goals that are tied to company values
Break down the barriers for participation:
6 Keep your program visible and accessible
7 Make it easy to participate
8 Build an inclusive program for all
9 Make it fun!
Maintain engagement over time:
10 Host wellness challenges
11 Use technology to your advantage
12 Create a wellness channel
13 Form a wellness committee
14 Communicate strategically
15 Ensure managers are involved
16 Reward engagement
17 Measure your impact
Design an engaging wellness program
Start by building a program that is tailored to your employees’ health needs and company values.
1. UNDERSTAND YOUR PARTICIPANTS
First thing’s first: start with the people your program is serving. Begin by understanding your employee population, including their relationship with their health.
Your participants will likely have a diverse set of interests and wellness concerns they want to address. You have the challenge of designing an umbrella program for everyone. The better you understand the trends in your employee health needs, the more inclusive your approach can be.
Consider the following:
- Range of health: How engaged are most of your employees with their health and wellness to start with? What are your most active employees already doing? Where are your least engaged employees starting? You might have marathon runners, and you might have people who don't move much. Both of these groups of people should be able to engage in your program.
- Range of buy-in to programming: Understand that engagement will look different on different individuals. Some of your employees will be your wellness cheerleaders without any prompting. Others won’t participate in programming regardless of the benefits. Knowing this can help you set a realistic bar for engagement.
- Range of motivation: Some people might participate for prizes or rewards while others want community building. Others might join in for the sake of learning and educating themselves on their wellness. Strive for a balance of motivational strategies in your program.
- Range of trust: Different individuals will have varying levels of trust in their place of work and in healthcare programs. Build trust by asking for employees' input and by having people managers help share the goals of your program. Focus on building this trust over time as opposed to trying to get 100% engagement in your first initiative.
2. RUN AN EMPLOYEE INTEREST SURVEY
If you can, survey your employees before you plan your program. This gives employees a chance to voice their opinions, questions, and concerns. It also helps you tailor your program to ensure higher engagement. We recommend making the survey anonymous, if possible, to get honest answers.
We ran a survey for our organization before designing our company wellness program! Below is a sample survey you could run based off the questions we asked. Adjust as needed for your organization.
SAMPLE CORPORATE WELLNESS PROGRAM SURVEY
- Do you want to participate in company-sponsored wellness programming? Why or why not?
- What are your current fitness/wellness goals?
Wellness Program Options:
- How would you most like to engage with you health and wellness? Check all that apply.
- Fitness challenges
- Habit tracking challenges
- Live classes (virtual)
- Live classes (in person)
- On demand classes
- Gym stipend
- Reimbursement for healthy activities (weight loss classes, smoking cessation, etc)
- What topics are you interested in learning more about? Check all that apply.
- Mental Health
- Stress & Burnout
- Habits & Goal Setting
- Financial Wellness
- Weight loss
- Smoking cessation
- Would you be more likely to participate in a company-sponsored wellness program if there was a prize involved?
- What types of prizes would you be interested in? Check all that apply.
- Gift cards
- Company swag
- Fitness gear (water bottles, jump ropes, resistance bands)
- Tech (earbuds/headphones, smart mugs, Bluetooth speakers, Kindles, fitness trackers)
- Charitable donations
- Other (fill in the blank)
3. IDENTIFY YOUR COMPANY’S NEEDS
Keep in mind that you will have to work within the constraints of your company when designing your corporate wellness program. After thinking through what individual employees bring to the table, reflect on what your company is like as a whole. Consider these questions:
- Is your company remote, hybrid, or in person? This can help you plan any in-person options or lean on virtual substitutions.
- How big is your company? Smaller companies might have more flexibility in planning and executing a wellness program. Larger companies might require more planning in advance to get approval from key decision makers.
- What industry is your company in? Your industry might impact the type of work your employees are doing. If your employees are sedentary (office workers, truck drivers, etc.), you might build a wellness program that focuses on fitness and movement. If your employees are on their feet all day (hospital staff, warehouse workers, etc.) you could focus more on self-care tips. Knowing your industry will allow you to tailor your programming.
- What is your company culture like? It’s important to gauge company culture before implementing a wellness program. Is the culture one where individuals work heads down, or is it collaborative? Is the culture more buttoned-up, or relaxed? Knowing these answers can help you plan ahead and identify where you might need to put in more effort.
4. SECURE BUY-IN FROM COMPANY LEADERSHIP
Make sure you get support for your program from company leadership. They should understand the goals of the program, how it will run, and why it will benefit your organization. As part of this, make a clear ask for their commitment to participate in the program.
As highly visible members of the organization, leadership can model participation and encourage others to join in. They influence company culture, and will have a big impact on the overarching culture of wellness once the program is off and running.
5. SET GOALS THAT ARE TIED TO COMPANY VALUES
When setting goals for your wellness program, consider your organization’s values. Account for your employees' interests, which you can gather via a survey like we discussed above. Share these goals directly with your employees and make sure they understand why you've chosen these goals. This is a sure way to build buy-in and engagement.
Consider these examples. If one of your company values is:
- Teamwork or collaboration, consider running team building exercises or department-based wellness challenges to encourage employees to work together and build relationships with their teammates.
- Continuous learning or curiosity, consider sharing themed wellness resources every month, or offer lunch and learns related to topics your employees are interested in.
- Giving back or community, consider offering volunteering opportunities hosted by your company, or run 5k fundraisers to donate to charities your employees care about.
Break down the barriers for participation
Next, get everyone participating in your program. Consider what might get in the way of your program's success, and try to avoid common pitfalls.
6. KEEP YOUR PROGRAM VISIBLE AND ACCESSIBLE
Out of sight, out of mind. Some wellness programs start off with lots of excitement and buzz, but get buried in the busyness of day-to-day life. This is especially true of programs that are difficult to access or navigate. What can you do to avoid this?
- Keep everyone updated: Share reminders about your program in places that your employees check often. These can be physical office spaces or virtual places like shared communication channels or portals.
- Give log in reminders: If you're using a wellness platform or app, remind employees to log in and check these venues frequently.
- Share eligibility information: Make sure everyone who is eligible to participate knows that the program is available to them and how to participate.
- Offer support/help: Designate a go-to individual or “help” email address that employees can reach out to if they have any questions or concerns. You want to make sure they know where to go for assistance. You could also share a help resource that answers FAQs. If you are using a platform to host your program, remind employees they can reach out to customer support as well.
7. MAKE IT EASY TO PARTICIPATE
Another common pitfall for corporate wellness programs is that they can be overly complicated or time-consuming to participate in. Avoid a confusing program with these steps:
- Have clear goals for your program: Limit yourself to 2 or 3 simple goals you can share with all employees. If you try to take on too much, your program will seem complicated and people might not want to participate.
- Limit what you are asking of people: Don’t add lots of work to your employees’ plates. Automate any parts of the program that you can. Try to make participating in the program as straightforward as possible.
- Plan in advance: Build an annual wellness calendar, or at least plan a few months in advance. This allows you to hype challenges, build cadence, and make sure nothing falls through the cracks. It also allows employees to plan ahead. Check out our Workplace Health and Wellness Calendar blog post for suggestions on creating an annual wellness calendar.
8. BUILD AN INCLUSIVE PROGRAM FOR ALL
It’s important to not leave anyone on the sidelines. Aim to implement an inclusive program that will accommodate a wide range of employee fitness levels, interests, and abilities. Here are some ideas for building an inclusive program:
- Think holistically: Wellness is more than fitness. Some employees might care more about their mental health, others about diet and nutrition, and others still about breaking unhealthy habits like smoking. Make your program well-rounded to honor various elements of wellness.
- Allow for personalized goals: Allow employees to set and measure their progress towards personal goals they have for themselves in your program. This is especially helpful when you’re running fitness challenges, as employees will have varying fitness levels. Goal customization ensures no one is intimidated by having to compete with high achievers.
- Accommodate various abilities: Ensure that everyone is able to join in. This could mean allowing employees to convert activities like wheelchair usage or swimming into steps when running a fitness challenge. It could mean offering classes on demand instead of live to accommodate busy schedules for anyone with care-taking responsibilities. Try to be flexible where you can.
9. MAKE IT FUN!
When your program is fun, people will want to participate! On the other hand, if your program is boring or too competitive, it will lose engagement rapidly. While the journey towards better health can be challenging, you want to try to make it enjoyable as well.
- Gamify your program: Running competitions and wellness challenges are a quick way to boost engagement and keep your program from getting stale over time.
- Personalize the program: Like we mentioned above, you can survey your employees to figure out what they are interested in. Then, try to build a program that answers those needs.
- Ask yourself if you are having fun! This is simple but telling. Are you yourself enjoying the program you’re participating in? If you’re having fun, chances are good that employees are as well. If it isn’t as fun as you’d hoped, ask yourself and others why. When you’re busy running a program, it can be easy to forget to pause and reflect. Build in chances for yourself to take the pulse on the program.
Maintain engagement over time
When focusing on employee engagement, you need to think long-term. Use a combination of these strategies to engage your employees year-round once your program is up and running.
10. HOST WELLNESS CHALLENGES
Wellness challenges and health-based events are an easy way to drive employee engagement and improve employee health. You can theme challenges around various topics, and include things like 5k races, step competitions, and habit tracking challenges. We suggest keeping your challenges between 1 week to 1 month to avoid challenge burnout.
11. USE TECHNOLOGY TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
Apps like MoveSpring allow you to easily run wellness challenges and communicate directly with all participants. This can be especially helpful if you don’t have a lot of time to administer wellness challenges manually. Some key benefits of using a wellness platform include:
- Automated syncing: Platforms like MoveSpring will connect to a variety of fitness tracking devices and sync in activity data for users. This is easier for users and program admins. Users don’t have to manually send their data to admins, and admins don’t have to manually track each employee’s data.
- Higher participation: Employees are more likely to join in a program that is easy to use and has an engaging interface. Wellness platforms make the user experience simple and gamified.
- Reporting: A key part of running a program is being able to look at your results. Apps like MoveSpring will allow you to easily pull reports on user engagement, activity data, and change in activity levels over time.
12. CREATE A WELLNESS "CHANNEL"
Consider creating a shared virtual space dedicated to employee wellness. This could be on a communication platform such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. A channel like this allows you to share any important communications or updates related to your wellness program.
A wellness channel can also serve as a venue for organic conversations. It is a space for employees to chat with each other and build shared community around wellness. It provides a valuable opportunity for others to chime in with their own questions and tips. A shared channel that is focused on wellness can lead to organic and authentic engagement, year-round.
13. FORM A WELLNESS COMMITTEE
Invite members of your team or interested employees from across your organization to help run your wellness programming. Create a wellness committee to have extra hands on deck to ensure your programming runs smoothly year-round. The ideal wellness committee includes somewhere between 2-5 members. This gives you more perspectives without having too many cooks in the kitchen.
Members of a wellness committee can also help promote the program and answer employee questions.
14. COMMUNICATE STRATEGICALLY
Communication is a key tool to engage employees in your wellness program. You can communicate in a wellness channel like we describe above, or use email, a company portal, or a wellness platform, such as MoveSpring.
Here are some of our favorite ideas for communicating with your employees!
- Communicate with employees year-round: Communicate with your employees frequently and consistently to maintain interest in your wellness program. We recommend communicating at least once a month and up to once a week throughout the year. Here are our suggestions, as well as more templates you can use:
- Information about various wellness topics: Keep your employees engaged by sharing inspirational and fun wellness tips throughout the year. Check out our templates for general wellness engagement.
- Seasonal events and holidays: Share seasonal wellness information throughout the year. Check out our templates for events and holidays.
- Educational/informational campaigns: Announce any relevant company-specific wellness information. Examples include sign-ups for flu shots, reminders about taking PTO, and how to access insurance benefits.
- Communicate with employees during a wellness challenge or event: Aim to communicate with your employees at least once a week and up to once a day during a challenge. Here are our ideas:
- Important updates: Make sure that everyone knows how your event will run, and share updates throughout the event. Check out our templates for helpful announcements to post during a challenge.
- Fun and lighthearted banter and prompts to engage as a community: These communications can help employees build community with each other. Check out our chat ideas for inspiration.
- Stat callouts to recognize participation: These callouts will engage your more competitive employees. Check out our templates on stats to callout.
- Educational material related to your event: Focus on any resources relevant to the topic of your challenge or event. On MoveSpring, you can save time by using our content library. Access thousands of pieces of health and wellness content right from the MoveSpring Admin Center.
15. ENSURE MANAGERS ARE INVOLVED
Make sure managers are modeling engagement in your program and encouraging employees to participate.
Here are some ideas for how team leads can help foster engagement:
- Host a “beat the boss” day: Have employees compete to out-step their managers or company leaders.
- Ask managers to visibly interact with any content you share: They can “like” resources and comment on them to help start the conversation.
- Interview team leads about their favorite wellness tips: Share their advice with employees in a wellness channel or newsletter.
- Have managers build wellness checks into 1:1s: Managers can help keep wellness at the forefront of employees’ minds during check-ins. They can ask their team members how they are doing, and if they have any feedback about the program.
- Host a “Join Me” series: Have leaders select classes they would like to participate in, such as fitness classes, meditation classes, or nutritious cooking classes. Then, have them invite employees to join them by signing up for the class.
- Ask managers to share reminders: This is simple but impactful! Managers can remind their teams about how to participate in your program or about any upcoming events. This communicates that they see the value in their teams engaging in the program.
16. REWARD ENGAGEMENT
Prizes and recognition can help incentive participation in your program. Employees are more likely to join in if you reward them for their effort.
Consider how you can reward engagement as opposed to just rewarding your top performers. Rewarding participation and engagement over performance will encourage those who have lower activity levels but are putting in their best effort. It will also discourage dishonesty and cheating.
Give out prizes or recognition for participants who reach their wellness goals consistently and who drive community chat and support. Check out our prize ideas for any budget for some reward suggestions!
17. MEASURE YOUR IMPACT
To keep engagement high for the long-term, you’ll need to know both what’s working and what isn’t. Measure the success of your program so you can make changes as you go to make the program even more effective.
Here are a few tools we recommend using to measure the success of your wellness program:
Surveys: Surveys are a chance for employees to let you know what parts of the program they find engaging. You can ask questions after individual events, quarterly, or at the end of the year. Asking people to rate things offers you quantitative data to analyze. Leave room for fill in the blank answers to collect more open-ended insights. Here are a variety of sample questions you could ask at the end of a quarter:
Rate your thoughts on the following statement:
I found the wellness program this quarter to be engaging. 1: strongly disagree 2: disagree 3: neutral 4: agree 5: strongly agree
Rank the wellness program offerings from this quarter from most engaging to least engaging (offer a list of all offerings for employees to rank)
What did you find most engaging? Why?
What did you find least engaging? Why?
On a scale of 1 to 4, how much progress did you make toward your personal health goals this quarter? 1: no progress 2: some progress 3: a lot of progress 4: have achieved/consistently achieve health goals
Did the wellness program help you reach your personal health goals? Why or why not?
What are we missing? What could we do differently?
This is not an exhaustive list but can serve as a jumping off point for your own survey. Check out this resource from the CDC for more information about different types of survey questions to help you design a survey that works best for your program and your employees.
Data: Look at any data you’re able to gather. Some helpful stats to consider are:
- How many people are participating in your program? Is the number going up or down over time?
- Are the participant numbers different for different types of initiatives? Which events are seeing higher participation? What is getting lower participation?
- If you’re measuring activity data (such as step totals or active minutes moved over the course of an event), are the numbers changing?
Self-reported measurable health outcomes: Depending on the goals of your program, ask employees to report their outcomes. For example, they might report they lost weight, stayed more hydrated, or ate more vegetables daily. If employees share that they’ve seen a positive change in their wellness journey or experience, this is a great indicator of success for your program.
Our final advice? Stay flexible.
Our suggestions will prepare you to lead and deliver an exceptional wellness program with high levels of engagement. But you should still have the option to pivot as needed.
Don't stick to a program that isn't working just because you have it on the calendar. Ask for feedback often, and respond to what you are hearing to ensure your program fits the needs of your employees.
Chances are good that people will talk about a program that they find engaging, so keep an ear to the ground. And make sure you engage in your program, too. If you truly want to learn how to engage employees in wellness programs, join in alongside your participants!
Looking to jump-start your wellness program?
MoveSpring is a health and wellness platform with fun, easy-to-use activity challenges for companies and organizations. Promote holistic wellness, boost culture, and educate your employees on key health topics through the use of our platform. With MoveSpring, we'll stand side-by-side with you to create an engaging wellness program as you cheer on your employees every step of the way.
Contact us to learn more about what our platform can offer to your organization. We'd love to chat more about how MoveSpring can make a positive impact on your employees' health and wellness.
From all of us at MoveSpring, happy stepping! 👟