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."