Trying to engage employees to your corporate wellness programs can often be a difficult endeavor.  “If you build it they will come” certainly does not always apply to attendance and participation in company wellness activities.  More and more companies throughout America and beyond are starting employee wellness initiatives.  This, however, does not mean most companies don’t struggle in getting their employees to whole-heartedly accept those programs and participate.

One of the most basic corporate wellness strategies is to educate your employees about all kinds of health, fitness and wellness topics.  Knowledge is power, right?  So we figure we can force them to sit in a conference room to learn about weight-loss.  It will automatically help everyone loose 10 pounds.  Unfortunately, true education does not really work that way.  Think of how best you learn.  Maybe you have to hear it multiple times.  You have to try what is being taught.  You have to read it, write it, see it, touch it.  It is more than just sitting and listening.

At Aevitas, we offer educational seminars as one of our corporate wellness services.  After presenting to several company and organization employees we have identified some tips to help you plan and present wellness education to better engage employees and heighten their learning.  By improving the level of education you bring to your employees, you can increase the chance they will gain knowledge and be moved to improve their health.

1. Customize Topics –  be specific to your company’s needs and don’t just have “lunch-and-learns” on the same things everyone else does.  Do you know what topics your employees want to learn about?  If not, you need to find that our first!  Use of corporate wellness data you gathered (read more here about wellness data) can go a long way in helping you identify specific topics.  Do not just settle for a generic presentation.  Make sure it covers what is important to your employees.

Last year I was approached by a local software company to help with some education.  The wellness manager had indicated she would like a presentation that touched on ways to help office employees get out of their chairs more often.  I agreed to met at her office several months prior to the presentation.  As we discussed the situation it became clear that one of the real issues was employees frequently requesting standing desks.  We decided upon a presentation that touched on prolonged sitting, standing and why standing desks are not the best solution.  The presentation was customized to their needs.

2. Use Professionals – Between Google and You Tube anyone can become an “expert” on about almost any topic in under 5 min.  As easy as it could be to find some information and make your own employee education I would caution against it.  A major downfall of easy access to information is that most people are also very cynical now.  We have all done it.   A friend, family member or co-worker is suddenly an expert on The Great American Eclipse, how to cure all your problems with apple cider vinegar and can critique all new movies just released.  They don’t give sources or references.  They just talk like they know everything.  Well, you know better.  You nod your head and smile but secretly hope they drop their cellphone in the toilet during their next research opportunity.

We are all so used to people knowing everything we assume most people don’t really know anything.  This is where getting professional help pays off!  Find professionals that have really studied research and have personal experience in relation to the topic you want presented.  Don’t just use Google.  This does not mean you have to search out professional public speakers or big name Gurus.  You don’t need a trainer from The Biggest Loser to come speak about weight loss.  However, you should search out a professional that has plenty of experience in helping people maintain a healthy weight.

Look in places you never thought of before.  Most of the professionals are not going to have a title of “wellness consultant”.  I recommend searching for real pros: physical therapists, psychologists, social workers, dietitians, doctors, ergonomists, certified financial planners, etc.  Most (if not all) of the professionals are licensed or certified, have insurance and have had extensive training.  They will know the research, trends and myths.  Much of what is found on the first page or two of Google is headlines and hype.  It may not have been researched or tested.  This information changes too often and is not helpful overall.

3. Request A Meeting – Request to speak or meet with the one doing the presentation weeks before.  I don’t give my clients an option here.  It is part of what I offer.  I certainly have a handful of presentations ready to go at any moment, but as we learned in suggestion #1 that generic presentation may not be what is right for your company.  If they are out of state or will have to travel several hours, at least arrange a phone call.

It is important to meet to go over the topic, give your perspective and expectations.  Especially if you have any special requests like handouts, visual aids or participation examples.  It can be helpful to give them a tour and let them see the work environment.  This also gives you chance to feel out their personality.  You can ask about what format they like to present.  Find out if they have needs or questions as well.  Make sure you get their contact information and be sure to keep the lines of communication open.  This can go a long way in helping to get the best presentation for your employees.

4. Advertise and Bribe – I know that this should be a given, but I will certainly bring it up.  You have to give the employees plenty of notice and keep reminding them.  Build up hype and get people talking about the upcoming presentation.  Place notices on billboards, maybe send a few simple emails.  Give a teaser on the topic.  Enough said, right.

Even from our early childhood we all learned that bribery works.  I highly recommend giving some type of incentive to those attending the presentation.  Most of them are stepping away from projects, clients, potential sales and more.  You need to find ways to make it appear to be worth their effort.  One of the most common tactics is to provide a meal.  This can get expensive if you are feeding a large group.  I have seen some other options you might want to try:

– prize drawings – one place I presented at did a prize drawing during a 10 min break.  The prizes were not that expensive.  A couple of movie tickets and a couple of Amazon gift cards.  The employees went nuts though!
– snack bar – instead of a full meal, I have seen a variety of small snacks.  Most were perishable so the employees could get some at the beginning and then take some back to their work space after.
– wellness points – for those companies using point systems be sure to offer points for attendance to any educational meetings
– shwag – I have seen companies give out company shwag like tee-shirts, water bottles and more to those that come to educational meetings.  More than likely, those items were just sitting in a closet collecting dust.  Who doesn’t like a free tee-shirt?
– time benefits – allow those that attend the option to leave a bit early or come in a bit late the next day.  They can cut a bit of stress by missing rush hour and might be able to have dinner or breakfast with their kids for once.

5. Multiple Dates – it may add to the expense, but if you are trying to reach many employees it may pay off in the long run to have more than one presentation.  It could be two times back to back or on different days.  This will depend on the structure of your company.  If you have a lot of shift workers over a large time frame it may just too hard to get people to come in when they are not scheduled to work.

I was asked by a major sales company to present about running.  They had a group that were all trying to participate in a local half marathon as part of a wellness program.  Several of them were new to running for distance but the company did not want people to get hurt.  The hard part was they had two major shifts because of sales over different time zones.  We decided it would be best to do two presentations.  One week I presented in the morning.  The next week I came back and presented in the afternoon.  It worked very well.

6. Q & A – this may also seem elementary, but be sure to allow time for questions at the end of the presentation.  Be sure to discuss this with the presenter when you meet with them.  Give them an expectation of presentation time and Q & A time.  Also, don’t be afraid to hold them to it.

When I present I encourage questions through the presentation, however there are always questions at the end.  I make sure to identify someone as my “time police”.  It is usually the wellness manager/coordinator who had set up the presentation to begin with.  It is easier than you may think to loose track of time.  I always appreciate it when I get the five minute warning nod.  Typically, I aim for 45 min of presentation and 15 min of Q and A.

7. Follow Up and Give Referrals – Once the presentation is done, follow up with employees after a few days to see if they have lingering questions.  Try to find stories of employees that put into practice what was taught.  Highlight the presentation in company newsletters or emails.  Keep the topic fresh in their minds.

Refer employees back to the professional if they have questions as well.  This is another thing to discuss in your meetings early on with the presenter.  Would they allow access to an email or other form of communication to employees?  Other options or even discounts?  It is important that the presenter give a quality presentation and not just a commercial to drum up business; if you are paying them of course.  However, most professionals  are also stepping out of their clinic, practice or business to come to yours.  There is a good chance they are losing productivity to come give a presentation, so when appropriate, refer employees back to them.

Employee education can be very successful when done correctly.  I hope that you consider these tips before your next lunch-and-learn.  Don’t be afraid to leave questions in the comments below.  We would be happy to help with your corporate wellness education needs.  If you are in need of a professional we would be honored if you considered us.  Thanks.