by Dean Witherspoon   Dean's profile on LinkedIn  

Unlike machinery, people need context for why they’re asked to do things, even if it’s in their best interest for health. If management simply imposes a policy of health benefits tied to participation in HRAs and targeted interventions, there may be short-term compliance. But there’s a good chance the population will never embrace this model or see it as a positive aspect of employment. More likely, it will be perceived as restrictive, even meddlesome, and be unsustainable over the long term.

What to Do?

Whether your program is new or you’ve been around for a while, the basics are the same. To achieve compliance as well as have positive impact on your culture — the only path to sustainability — you need a model that raises awareness, educates, inspires action, and supports long-term change.

  • Awareness. Awareness-raising tools range from health portals, emails, online surveys/contests, interactive games, and blogs to old school newsletters, posters, fliers, and department presentations. A general awareness of health throughout the organization is the basis of a good program… the foundation for your other efforts.

  • Education. These are the initiatives that separate your program from infomercials. Whether in the classroom, through online interactive learning and phone coaching, or by old-fashioned face-to-face counseling, solid and credible education opportunities give your program substance.

  • Inspiration. Knowing isn’t enough. Good health is achieved through doing. The objective is to get your population moving in the right direction long enough to personally experience the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Good habits need to become part of who they are, not something that will require external motivation forever. Incentive campaigns, group/team programs, friendly competitions, and health recognition awards are all types of inspiration that can be part of the mix.

  • Support. Sustaining health requires organization support. This means everything from vacation, overtime, and sick leave policies to healthy cafeteria foods, supervisors trained in wellness basics and ergonomically sound workstations. Management, unions, HR, health promotion, and individual workers all play a role in creating a supportive environment.

These 4 elements of a well-run health promotion program are needed simply because health improvement doesn’t occur in a straight line. Each individual’s readiness to make a behavior change is unique in terms of timing and motivation — whether they’re at risk or not. Achieving the right balance of these basics provides the context for everyone at any stage of readiness, and is the way to long-term program success.

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