How to motivate staff to improve their own health

Advice and top tips

How to motivate staff to improve their own health

As worker wellbeing has moved up the business agenda, companies have started to shift their focus to prevention, rather than cure.

With growing recognition that non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cardiovascular disease, mental illness, cancer, respiratory disease, and Type 2 diabetes, will significantly affect current and future generations of workers, emphasis is now on proactive, rather than reactive, healthcare.

Businesses are acutely aware of the importance of this approach, with 65% of companies saying that identifying and actively managing health risks and chronic conditions was a key priority over the coming years (Benefits Trends Survey).

A number of techniques and methods that can be deployed to promote preventative health but integral to its success is employees’ commitment to making positive behavioural changes and trust being established between employer and employee.

Here, we look at how companies can overcome challenges and motivate staff to improve their own health.

Human-centric health

Human-centric health leverages the precepts of behavioural economics to drive prevention and better treatment of NCDs, which now represent a significant burden on productivity and worker wellbeing.

But in order for this concept to work, individuals must take affirmative control of their own wellbeing, rather than being passive recipients of care.

Behavioural economics teaches us that humans don’t always make the best decisions.  They often fail to adopt healthy behaviours, despite understanding the importance of their personal health.

In other words, they are optimistic about the future, so they don’t always take precautions to forestall future hazards.

Employers can help influence positive behavioural changes by creating an environment that makes it easier for employees to make healthier decisions.

Technology can assist in this task by offering easy access to the critical health-related knowledge needed to shape lifestyle choices, removing the traditional barriers to help.

There is a growing trend towards online coaching around health and wellbeing, which offers employees the opportunity to access guidance and training at their convenience – and in private.

Wearables supports preventative health as they place emphasis on leading healthier lives now, in preparation for the future.  It can also be used to tap into the competitive nature of employees, encouraging participation through gamification.

The data resulting from such technology can subsequently help companies make smarter decisions pertaining to benefits provision and for establishing a wider picture of employee health.

Mental health

Managing mental health is top of the health agenda for many companies, with stress the number one health-related issue faced by UK employers today.

One major issue when it comes to managing mental health is the scepticism that still exists around it in the workplace.

Despite 42% of workers admitting that they suffered from stress or mental health problems, 20% of employees harbour scepticism towards people who take time off due to mental health issues, according to Willis Towers Watson Health and Benefits Barometer.

Furthermore, nearly one-fifth (19%) of employees don’t believe stress is a genuine mental health issue and the same number believe a colleague who has previously suffered from mental health issues would be less able to fulfil their job role properly.

This makes it difficult for employees to be honest and seek help when they are struggling emotionally or mentally, significantly limiting the opportunities for early intervention.

Raising awareness of mental health by regularly adding the topic to the agenda in one-to-ones and team meetings can encourage conversations, enhance greater understanding amongst colleagues, help to build internal support networks and increase resilience.

Bringing the topic out in the open breaks down barriers and removes any fears that may exist inhibiting staff from admitting that a problem exists and from asking for assistance.

Employers are taking the step of training some staff as mental health first-aiders, who can be taught to spot signs of colleagues struggling and how intervene when a problem is observed.  This can be supported by self-guided resilience training, such as meditation training, which gives employees the tools they need to cope with everyday stresses and worries.

Building trust

One of the challenges to engagement is mistrust.

Fifty-eight per cent of Willis Towers Watson’s Global Benefits Attitudes Survey (GBAS) respondents said they don’t want their employer to have access to their personal health information, and just 21% of employees said employers should send personalised messages relating to their health.

Data is important for identifying health risks and consistent messaging is important for keeping motivation levels up but companies should be transparent and respectful of boundaries.

Employees should be reassured that their health-related data will remain private and secure and offer access to apps that send relevant, tailored messages to encourage a healthy lifestyle, without any direct involvement from the employer.

Technology should be treated as a tool to empower and educate employees on how to manage their own health – this will be what ultimately leads to behavioural modifications and the adoption of healthy behaviours.

Worryingly, there is a growing expectation from employees that they rewarded for living healthy lives – and some companies are reacting to this.

GBAS found that 34% of workers said they would only participate in a health initiative if there was a financial incentive, such as a prize or reward, up from 26% two years previously.

Perhaps in an attempt to reach resistant workers, 33% of organisations said they would encourage healthy behaviours, such as smoking cessation, weight management or increasing exercise levels, through direct financial incentives, up from 12% two years previously.

It is understandable that companies – particularly those who are frustrated at a lack of engagement – are tempted to offer financial incentives to their employees. But taking care of health and worker wellbeing should be a shared priority of both employee and employer, not seen as additional workload that workers should be compensated for.

The issue seems to stem from a lack of culture of health and wellbeing and irrelevance of wellbeing strategies.

According to GBAS, just over one quarter (28%) of workers said their managers actively supported the health and wellbeing of the employees they managed and just 27% said their employer provided good tools and resources to help them manage their own health.

If employees feel that their health and wellbeing is not a priority for the company, and that initiatives do not suit their needs, they will be less inclined to actively lead healthier lives themselves and be more reticent to allow their employer to get involved in this area of their lives.

Companies must review their health and wellbeing strategies, incorporating employee feedback, to ensure they are relevant and engaging for their unique employee population, as well as get manager buy-in.

The key is gaining employees’ attention and keeping them motivated – without the need for a gold-plated dangling carrot.

Having an effective strategy, that taps into the issues that really matter to employees, is the best – and organic – way of gaining and maintaining engagement.