Is wellness data too dismal to share? Don't be so sure

Even "bad" numbers can help you

Imagine showing higher-ups statistics indicating that thousands of dollars were spent on a weight loss program you implemented recently, but unfortunately, none of the participants actually lost any pounds. Or would you be eager to spread the news that only two employees attended a diabetes lunch-and-learn?

Unfortunately, data don't always tell the story you'd hope for. "Poor attendance at a wellness program is not uncommon, even when you do everything imaginable to publicize the event," says Eileen Lukes, PhD, RN, COHN-S, CCM, FAAOHN, a Mesa, AZ-based member of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses' board of directors. "Or, few employees may participate in a physical activity challenge."

Since these "disasters" are all too common, Lukes says that occupational health managers need to "learn the art of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear, and emphasize the positive." Use these approaches:

• Even if participation is poor, always ask participants to evaluate the program.

This way, you can tell others that 95% of the participants said that they learned something new, or 87% said they are committed to eating more fruits and vegetables in their daily diet, says Lukes.

• Remember that even a single participant counts.

If even one person gets their blood pressure under control or quits smoking, there's a pay-off in reduced health care costs. "The professional literature is full of information about the cost of poor lifestyle choices," says Lukes. "So for every single success, even if it's just three people, a cost-benefit can be calculated."

• Don't give up just because participation is less than expected.

"This should not be the signal for nurses to give up their health promotion efforts," says Lukes. "Rather, they should analyze why employees didn't come." Address those reasons when developing your next event or program.

• Ask for incentives if you think it would help participation.

Research clearly shows that employees respond to incentives, so use this to your advantage. "Poor participation in a health screening provides ammunition to seek greater executive support in the future," says Lukes.

• Ask managers to participate.

Market wellness events to upper management. "If management does not participate, they provide a subtle message to employees that the program is not worth attending," says Lukes. "Enlist them to serve as role models and champion important health promotion efforts."


Want to maximize results? Ask what employees want

After a disappointing turnout at a wellness event, the saying "we threw a party and no one came" may come to mind. As for why employees didn't attend, you'll never know unless you ask.

You may learn that an employee might hate the idea of sitting and listening to a lecture on diabetes prevention. They might love the idea of spending their lunch hour finding out how to make a low-cost healthy dinner for that night, however. On the other hand, they might be very interested in attending the lecture, but must attend during evening hours because they always work through lunch.

Jodi Prohofsky, PhD, LMFT, senior vice president of health management operations at Bloomfield, CT-based Cigna, says to keep it simple when you are surveying employees. Use three or four questions that are targeted carefully to what you want to know.

"The most efficient way to do this is online," says Prohofsky. "To generate a 'wow' reaction among employees, responses can be published in real time. Right after the employee clicks on the 'submit' button, the computer can respond with the survey results up to that point."

Get specifics

"Involving employees is key to building physical activity participation rates," says Susan A. Randolph, MSN, RN, COHN-S, FAAOHN, clinical assistant professor of the Occupational Health Nursing Program at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She recommends keeping surveys short so they are no longer than ten minutes to complete. Ask for comments and ideas in one open-ended question at the end, and be clear that answers are confidential.

Randolph suggests providing a list of programs or activities for employees to indicate their level of interest. "These can be ranked 1 to 5 in order of interest, or just checkboxes to indicate the programs they'd be interested in attending," she says.

Your list might include exercise, weight management, walking club, smoking cessation, nutrition or cooking class, sleep disorders, spiritual wellness, stress reduction, medical self-care, elder care issues, parenting tips, back care, heart disease prevention, and defensive driving.

Be careful that the choices you list are realistic, however, "If you're including a list of possible programs or environmental changes, see that your workplace has the facilities and resources to offer them," says Randolph. She also suggests:

• Ask workers questions that let you assess key characteristics such as age, sex, social relationships, family responsibilities and current physical exercise participation.

• Once you learn what workers want, then implement changes that fit with their needs and working conditions. For example, workers may not wish to do activities that make them sweat, because they do not want to shower at work, or shower facilities may not be available.

• Find out when employees would be willing to attend: While at work, during breaks, during lunch hours, or after work. "The more specific, the better. This data will be extremely important in planning programs," says Randolph.


For more information about the occupational health role in compliance, contact:

• Susan A. Randolph, MSN, RN, COHN-S, FAAOHN, Clinical Assistant Professor, Occupational Health Nursing Program, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Phone: (919) 966-0979. Fax: (919) 966-8999. E-mail: