Wellness Programs: Too Many Bucks, Not Enough Bang?

You devote a ton of time, effort and money to programs that are supposed to keep employees healthy and engaged. Where are all those amazing results? Find out why most initiatives fail -- and how to get more bang for your wellness buck:

Wellness Fail: Gamification

A few years ago, "gamification" became all the rage. Employers have attempted to gamify everything from training and development to wellness. Gamification only works if the setup is truly a game, if it is truly a challenge, and if it is truly interesting to the people involved.

Running, for example, isn't everyone's idea of a great way to work out. Conversely, advanced runners on your team won't be inspired by a walking challenge. Games must be personalized, and there needs to be enough variety to speak to the interest level -- and current fitness level -- of team members.

Turn it around:
If you've invested a lot of money in a gamification program, you can inspire participation by incorporating social aspects. Set up teams, encourage friendly competition and award points for people who complete individual challenges with a partner. Finally, focus on changing long-term habits. Build challenges off of one another and increase points and awards with each step up.

Wellness Fail: Bad Incentives

If you want your team to invest in their health, you have to invest in the right incentives. Cash is often an excellent motivator. In fact, when a program does not offer cash incentives, less than half of employees even complete the initial assessment phase. However, a $100 bonus for completing assessments only raises participation to 59 percent. After those people collect their cash, the majority stop participating altogether.

Turn it around:
Throwing more money at a wellness program won't get people to participate and only adds to red ink. Instead of focusing on monetary incentives, focus on recognition. Make a big deal out of the people who participate by recognizing them in meetings and in company newsletters. Offer certificates, trophies, wellness-related rewards (kayaking trips, gift certificates to a gym or yoga studio, etc.), or even offer additional time off to those who actively participate.

Wellness Fail: Assess and Exit

Lots of wellness programs focus on annual health screenings and call it a day. Just because someone knows their BMI and cholesterol levels are too high and they consume too much alcohol, doesn't mean they'll be motivated to make any changes.

Turn it around:
If you want people to do anything about their health, you have to motivate them to change. Screenings and assessments provide a baseline, but that's all. Incorporate improvements into your incentive and rewards programs. Make sure to reward progress over time. Every quarter, loudly and proudly recognize people who are improving and offer annual rewards for people who improve the most over time.

Wellness Fail: You're Impatient

It can take a minimum of three years to see any recognizable cost savings from a wellness program. If you think your healthcare costs are going to go down after one year, you're going to be disappointed. Expecting your team to drastically improve their health over the course of one year or even two years is an unrealistic goal.

Turn it around:
Rather than doing wellness for the sake of cost savings, do wellness for wellness's sake. Really invest in the success of your team and develop a plan that motivates them. And instead of watching your healthcare bills, pay attention to long-term trends in metrics like sick time, engagement, productivity and morale.

Wellness Fail: You're Sending Mixed Messages

What types of foods are in your vending machines? How often do you order pizza for the office? How often does the team go out for a group happy hour? Does leadership participate in the wellness program? If you say the organization is committed to employee health and wellness, actions speak louder than words.

Turn it around:
Talk to your vendors about stocking your machines with healthy snacks. Trade out soda for bottled flat water or sparkling water. Instead of spearheading group happy hours at a bar, schedule a group yoga and wine event or a spinning and suds (beer) event at a local fitness studio. Yes, alcohol is bad, but it's a decent motivator to get people to exercise first.

Finally, let employees see leaders actively participating in the wellness program. They will be more likely to trust the program and participate if leaders have clearly bought into the program themselves.

By focusing on creating a sustainable, engaging program, you will begin to see more participation and ultimately, the results you've been looking for.