How to Motivate Employee Participation in Your Wellness Program

February 5 | 2018
By: Sara Saidi
wearable devices

Have you ever heard the quote, “If you take care of your people, they’ll take care of your business?” It’s great advice and goes beyond ensuring that they get a paycheck each month. Does your company show that they care about an employee’s total well-being? You should, especially considering that an employee’s physical and mental well-being can affect productivity and consequently cost the company money. One great way to show employees that you are invested in them, and to help them stay healthy, is through a wellness program.

Once you decide to start a wellness program, there are many things that must be considered, but one of the most important is figuring out how you are going to motivate employees to participate and invest in living a healthy lifestyle.

Let’s take a look at the psychology behind motivation. Behavior can be regulated externally (e.g., gift rewards and punishment) or intrinsically (e.g., internal goals). To motivate your staff, the goal should be to leverage both of these methods to help employees develop healthy behaviors that will last a lifetime so that it essentially becomes second nature to them. That lasting change will be felt throughout your organization for a long time to come. Those that haven’t already incorporated healthy behaviors into their lifestyle will need the extra push, and that’s where an organized wellness program comes in.

Here are different types of incentives that wellness programs typically use to give employees that extra push:

  • Financial (gift card or decreased premium)
  • Social recognition (awards)
  • Surprise incentives (every once in a while, surprise employees with an additional award – the element of fun will help keep employees motivated)

To really create a well-designed wellness program, we suggest incorporating these other tips.


If you want employees to be engaged and motivated, make the wellness program personalized so that it’s fair for all participants. Understand that not all employees are at the same level. It can often be easy to marginalize those who are already doing everything right. Try to find a way to recognize these employees as well. If employees can participate at their own fitness or readiness level, they will be more likely to participate.


At times, lack of participation cannot solely be attributed to an unwilling employee. It’s possible that employees are unaware of, or do not fully understand, the wellness program and the benefits of participation. To ensure a greater level of participation, make sure that you are properly communicating with your employees. According to a recent article in Plan Sponsor, Robert Kennedy, Health and Welfare practice leader with Fidelity’s Benefits Consulting business in Boston, says “incentives will get some employees engaged in the programs, but beyond that, communications play a strong role. Communications should set the context for employees—explaining why the employer is offering the programs and what it hopes to accomplish.” The article goes on to suggest, “frequent, short reminders about how to take advantage of incentives, using a variety of channels—emails, the employer’s intranet site or employee meetings. Short messages should contain a click-through for more detail for those employees who want it.”

Peer pressure

No one wants to be known as the only employee who doesn’t participate. Be careful not to call out any employee, but do get employees talking about the wellness program. In March, one of the ways in which our employees could obtain points toward a wellness credit (which decreased premium costs for those on the health plan) was to motivate other employees to participate. This works out great because most people want to demonstrate that they are a positive influence in the company and participating in activities with coworkers is a great way to do that.

Spread incentives out over time

To assist employees in developing a pattern of healthy behaviors, spread incentives out over time. This way they will be less likely to just take the money and run. Some employees will participate for the incentive, but over time the healthy behaviors will become habit. Some may even realize that they enjoy living a healthy lifestyle more than an unhealthy one as they experience the benefits of living well.

Keep in mind that a wellness program is not one size fits all and, while turnkey programs should be easy to implement, companies should carefully think about their culture and what they want to achieve. People are motivated by different things, so what works for one person in your company may not work for another and what works for your company may not work for other companies.

©Copyright 2018 by Sara Saidi, Marketing Coordinator at The Wilson Agency. A UBA Partner Firm.  Reproduction permitted with attribution to the author.

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