Why don't employees use wellness and fitness programs?

We have a large number of wellness programs at our organization. However, we’ve found uptake has been low. Or people will get started and then taper off.

We’ve tried all the usual things - gym memberships, yoga in the office, meditation rooms. Are we just trying the wrong things, or is there a better way to get employees engaged?

It can be quite difficult to get uptake on these kinds of programs. People tend to be pretty specific about the kinds of activities they like, exercises they want to do, etc. I would consider three different things:

1-- Expand your definition of wellness (and maybe tie that into your mission or one of your values). I think of wellbeing pretty broadly. It could be social, emotional, physical, or mental. It could also be financial. You could vary the programs you do based on an expanded view of what wellbeing is. You could include nutrition, cooking, physical activity, financial wellbeing, etc. And you can tie it into what your company does. For example, if your company is a financial company, maybe your programs should include consultations with financial advisors or student loan debt helpers.

2-- Chat to your people about what is of interest to them and try to get them involved. I often find that programs take off more if it comes from native interests that people have and I respond to the groundswell or feedback I get, as opposed to if I launch it alone based on what I think people will find useful.

3-- Develop a quarterly focus. Create a focus for each quarter and then tie what you offer to that. In this way you can provide bit of variety in what you offer and get people excited about each quarter’s focus. You might decide that one quarter is focused on physical health and then you could bring someone in to talk about nutrition, have an exercise class, or bring in a chair massage. It gives people something fresh to participate in and provides more options overall. Some people just won’t be interested in certain focuses, so if you change them up, you can likely get more people involved over time.

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Another thought is around the culture of the company - it’s incredible to create a wellness program to help your team members, but are your senior leaders actively participating too?

I once read about a company who had built a gym for their team members, sent out all the great emails to say go use the gym, we made it for you, use your lunch break for it, etc etc etc, but the senior leaders themselves were never seen there and would schedule meetings during the time. If the culture in the leadership of the company is not seen to get onboard with the efforts being put into the wellness program you may struggle with the up take from your other team members.

Good luck!

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We give a wellness allowance which they can claim for yoga, gym, counseling needs, mindfulness coaching or anything else that can be termed under over spiritual, mental and physical well being of the employee.

We have a wellbeing channel on slack and often keep the conversations on this topic alive and this has encouraged other staff to engage in some or the other activity.

One of our checkin topics is self care and managers encourage the team members to think about it more, check on overall being and encourage to use this allowance if they haven’t been using.

It’s been going on pretty well.

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Our colleague-organised wellness events are often over-subscribed. Perhaps because it’s led by colleagues and they seek input from others about the type of activities they’d like to see, then quickly adapt the programme. Massage (in the office) is the most popular - we have it every 2 weeks and all places go within 30 mins. 5-a-side football does really well as it gives a sense of competition to teams, and our yoga and fitness classes in the local gyms sell out, too.

In my experience, creating a sense of scarcity/‘limited spaces or budget’ energises and engages people far more than the ‘on-tap’ approach.

Maybe you should send out a pulse survey to your employees to understand their interest and why they may/may not be using the programs? You then might be able to tailor the programs to better suit your population.

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Great question to throw out there @jon, seems to have served its purpose as there are plenty of great answers so far!

However, something worth considering before answering a question like this would be where the question is coming from? I’ve learned that it’s best to understand a problem before trying to fix it, and so things like employee engagement and wellness programs might be treating symptoms rather than the cause.

So I would ask, what’s the intended purpose of these programs? Why are they necessary? Who do they really serve? After answering those, I think you’d find all the answers above even more helpful.

I also really like the idea of a wellness allowance, which puts the power in the hands of the people to use as they wish, whether it be gym memberships / classes, new running shoes, massages, physiotherapy or a psychologist. It helps broaden the term of ‘wellness’ and means that the definition isn’t specified by the company, but by the individual.

Then you can do things in the organisation to back it up, such as running company sponsored classes / events every now and then, have a wellness channel on Slack and so on.