What health message are you giving your employees this week? Are you hanging 5-a-Day posters in the break room? Offering healthy recipes as paycheck stuffers? Holding a fitness fair? Starting a weight-loss challenge?
How’s that working for you? Are you getting the response you hoped for?
Health communication is a vital piece of your workplace wellness strategy—but a scattershot approach is likely to be ineffective. According to a review conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and published in 2016 in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, successful wellness programs begin with a strong culture of health, and bolster it with a tailored communication strategy.
Tailor-Made for Communications
According to the Johns Hopkins researchers, an effective communication strategy should be:
- Tailored and targeted to your workforce. Identify the particular characteristics of your employee group, and make sure that your materials are designed specifically for them. If you are targeting professionals—for example, doctors and nurses—you might make sure that your recommendations are research-based, sourced from peer-reviewed publications. If most of your employees speak Spanish, make sure that you provide materials in Spanish as well as English.
- Multichanneled. How are you putting your message out there? Are you only using written materials, like posters and paycheck stuffers? How else could you put that information in front of employees? Do you have an intranet, social media- or mobile phone-based communications system used by employees? Does the program offer interpersonal contact—for example, do you have a nurse who provides blood pressure and cholesterol screenings, who could offer either group or individual health counseling in a face-to-face session? The more ways that employees see and hear a message, the more likely it is to have an impact on their behavior.
- Bidirectional. Communication is not one-way. Listen to workers, and act on their suggestions. Do they lack community-based options for exercise? Maybe you could provide a facility at work. Do they complain that healthy food choices are unappetizing? Brainstorm ways to make healthy choices more appealing, like providing recipes or even cooking demonstrations—or possibly, just by improving the quality of the food served in your cafeteria.
- Carefully timed. Offering workers strategies for avoiding holiday weight gain probably won’t do much good in March, and advice about sunscreen may not be very useful in January. If you’re really on top of things, you can time your information to coincide with local events—for example, you can remind employees on Friday about the Saturday farmer’s market, or offer information on upcoming 5K races and how to prepare and participate.
- Well-placed. Information should be placed as closely as possible to the location where it can be used. For example, you can put distance markers in your parking lot so that workers can see how far they are walking just to get into and out of the building—and perhaps, choose to walk a little farther. This is also the rationale behind laws requiring the visible disclosure of calorie content on vending machines and restaurant menus.