"Being visible" best way to boost participation

As an employee, wouldn't you like the chance to anonymously report what you really think of occupational health programs? This is one way Sandra Cinque, RN, BA, COHN-S/CM, FAAOHN, nurse clinical coordinator for health, safety & performance services at GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare in Parsippany, NJ, promotes participation in the company's Health Risk Questionnaires (HRQs).

"I try to advertise HRQs as an anonymous way to tell me what you think of my programs," she says. "Not everybody is going to come to me and tell me 'I really want to learn more about allergies.'"

HRQ participants are also given a $100 check. "That may sound like a big incentive, but even for $100, not everybody has time to do it," she says.

Since health screenings are done onsite, the employee's cholesterol level, blood pressure, and body mass index are automatically added to the HRQ results, says Cinque, so employees don't have to fill in this information.

Last year, the Parsippany location was trying to achieve the platinum level of the American Heart Association's Smart, Fit, Friendly Company program, she says , and chose the criteria which requires a site to increase something already done by 50% of employees by an additional 10%. HRQ participation was already at 50% of the site's 430 employees, and Cinque succeeded in increasing this to almost 70%. Here are five of the steps she took:

1. Asked senior management to send out a letter asking employees to complete the HRQ.

Physical activity is encouraged from the top down, she says. "When you see the senior vice president put on sneakers and go to the gym during lunch, or the head of medical affairs constantly walking around the building, that sends a clear message," she says.

2. Left notes on individuals' desks.

"Instead of just putting in the employee's mailbox, I did a 'desk drop off,'" she says. Along with notes, she left a piece of fruit with messages such as "Don't monkey around—Do your HRQ," with a banana, and "Orange you glad you did your HRQ?"

"I got the fruit from the cafeteria at cost, so I was promoting both the HRQ and healthy snacking," says Cinque.

3. Made it easy to complete.

Employees can do the HRQs from their own PC or laptop computers. Other occupational health nurses at manufacturing sites offered the option of completing the HRQ on paper or on loaner laptops which were placed in cafeterias, she adds.

4. Assured workers the results were private.

"It's hard to get people to participate when so many are worried about privacy," she says, noting that she explained to workers that only aggregate data are used—not individual's names or other information.

5. Thanked participants.

"People really like a pat on the back," says Cinque. "After they completed their HRQ, I made sure to say, 'Thank you. That really helped me so much!'"

The key to increasing participation, is to "just be visible. Do constant reminders in person, and with e-mail and voicemail. If you keep trying, eventually they are going to end up doing it," she says.