Get word out about program via workers

They're a no-cost marketing approach

It's hard to imagine how even a single employee at Finch Paper in Glen Falls, NY, could have missed the fact that a health fair was being held onsite in a huge tent, with 25 local vendors and the company's wellness team present.

"We advertised the heck out of it," says occupational health manager Susan L. Zarzycki, RN,COHN,CM.

Flyers were sent to the home of every worker, videotapes were played in many buildings, and an insert was placed in the weekly newsletter. In addition, the massive tent was clearly visible on the day of the event.

Still, an employee confessed, after the fact, that he had no idea the event had been held. "I said, 'We did everything in our power to advertise it!' and he told me 'I don't read any of that garbage!'" In response, she asked the man to attend the next wellness team meeting to offer his suggestions for getting the word out about future events.

Another employee continually asked to attend a CPR/First Aid class that was offered only to supervisors. He was told this would be possible, under the condition that he got at least nine other people to sign up.

"If you are willing to get people interested, I'll do the class," she told him, leaving it up to him to figure out the best time and day for the group.

Active participation by leadership can catch the eyes of workers who are on the fence about participating. "Seeing a senior leader at a yoga class or taking the stairs to a meeting can move a program forward," says Beth Lundholm, MS, LP, manager of health risk management at Minnesota Management and Budget in St. Paul.

Avoid extremes

Marathon runners and diehard vegans may not be the best possible choices to act as wellness champions. "These employees certainly are passionate about their own personal healthy lifestyle choices, and are great role models," says Dawn Weddle, manager of global health and wellness services at Navistar in Warrenville, IL. "But they may be viewed by other employees as too extreme."

Ideally, your wellness champions should represent all core departments, shifts, demographics and levels, both front line employees and executives.

"It's okay to have a few couch potatoes on the team," she says. "They will bring a different perspective, and can provide insight into how to attract the non-participants." She recommends:

• Asking senior leadership to appoint wellness champions.

This approach will ensure wellness activities are given priority in the organization, especially if "champion" duties are written into the employee's job description.

• Getting the word out with frequent and timely communications through a variety of channels.

"Employee champions know best what communications will get the attention of their peers," she says. Workers may pay attention to flyers posted on bathroom stall doors and near the time clocks, but overlook online newsletters or e-mail blasts.

• Encouraging peer-to-peer interaction and competition.

Want to create a "buzz" in the cafeteria, hallways, and near the water cooler? This happens when "champions" talk to their coworkers, and those individuals talk to their coworkers, and so on.

"Setting up challenges and rewarding departments or groups for their efforts not only builds camaraderie in the office, it also boosts participation," she says..

• Giving incentives.

These don't have to be large or expensive--if you can't afford to give a costly electronic device, offer someone a simple trophy.

• Letting workers know a program won't be held without a certain number of participants.

"This can encourage employees to recruit others to participate, with the understanding programs may be discontinued if the minimum numbers are not reached," she says.

Sources

For more information on increasing participation in wellness programs, contact:

• Beth Lundholm, MS, LP, Manager, Health Risk Management, Minnesota Management and Budget, St. Paul. Phone: (651) 259-3731. E-mail: Beth.Lundholm@state.mn.us.

• Dawn Weddle, Manager, Global Health and Wellness Services, Navistar, Warrenville, IL. Phone: (630) 753-3127. E-mail: dawn.weddle@navistar.com.

• Susan L. Zarzycki, RN,COHN,CM, Occupational Health Manager, Finch Paper, Glen Falls, NY. Phone: (518) 793-2541 ext. 5389. Fax: (518) 793-1872. E-mail: susan.zarzycki@finchpaper.com.