Group discussing wellness Barriers to wellness program success for smaller and mid-size companies include lack of personnel to deal with a wellness initiative and lack of organization structure to launch and manage a program. (Photo: Shutterstock)

If plan sponsors know anything, it’s that it can be difficult to entice plan members or employees into certain elements of a benefits plan.

Take “wellness,” for example. According to a report from the Interdisciplinary Center for Healthy Workplaces at the University of California, Berkeley and TransAmerica Center for Health Studies, there are challenges to building strong participation for wellness programs even though employees want to improve their health. The keys for employers to know is that the programs must meet employee needs, programs are convenient and do not result in negative consequences.

One of the biggest barriers to participation is leadership. Without leadership, according to the report, “many aspects of the work and work environment are likely to work against employees having the time and opportunity to improve their health.”

Related: Most employers failing to create a ‘culture of health’

Other barriers, especially for smaller and mid-size companies include lack of personnel to deal with a wellness initiative, lack of energy to participate in wellness programs due to worker burnout, lack of organization structure to launch and manage a program, and a general motivation within employees to engage in such a program. This can vary depending on the demographics of the employee. While younger workers feel healthy and have no need for wellness initiatives, older workers might be more interested.

The question becomes, what strategy will work for employers to engage employees in a proper workplace wellness strategy?

The report breaks any potential program into eight types:

  1. Education – This is generally sought after by employees outside of work in the form of classes, lectures, podcasts etc.
  2. Social Community Building by the Employee – This is a grassroots initiative created by employees that creates more social relationships at work and thus a better work environment.
  3. Social Community Building by the Employer – A member of the organization takes ownership of social community and arranges events and other engagement initiatives.
  4. Preventative Care Program (Lite) – Employers can get their health insurance providers to perform health assessments and preventative screenings.
  5. Healthy Habit Development (Lite) – Organization-led programs in the workplace that encourage healthier eating, more activity, tracking personal mental and physical health, and enjoying restoration.
  6. Healthy Habit Development (Enhanced) – Building on the previous program, this would enhance leadership in physical activity such as building an in-house gym, healthier meals in the cafeteria, outdoor space, more natural light etc.
  7. Preventative Care Program (Enhanced) – This would partner healthcare providers and leadership in an effort to reduce illness and disease in the workplace.
  8. Disease Management – In this case leadership would make investments in in-house medical clinics and occupational health programs in order to serve sick workers, or those that have been injured and need assistance.

Overall, managers and leaders play an extremely important role in whichever program is adopted in their workplace. Buy-in at the top will usually trickle down with managers and their staffs participating in the programs. Says the report, “A manager who is not on board with wellness initiates can undo what the organization has committed to doing. Therefore, managers must be held accountable for executing the initiatives set by leadership regardless of their personal preferences or beliefs.”