Health and wellness programs are always a great idea, but not everyone at your office has the same physical capabilities. When you give everyone a Fitbit and offer a prize to the person who walks the most steps, you’re inadvertently discriminating against people who aren’t in good physical condition or who have physical disabilities. If the prize is significant or can be considered income, it might even violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.
So how do you implement a health and wellness program that everyone can participate in? Here are some ideas.
Think Improvement, Not Absolutes
Yes, walking 15,000 steps a day is a great goal, but Jane, who runs marathons for fun, can do that in her sleep, while Heidi, who doesn’t typically do much more than walk from her car to the office, won’t reach that goal for a long time. Instead, have your first week be a baseline, then give an award to the person who improves by the highest percentage. If Jane comes in at 15,000 a day, then she’ll have to up it to 16,500 to increase her walking by 10 percent. Heidi, who was doing 1,000 steps a day, can win something by adding 100 extra steps each day, which for her would be a meaningful achievement. Be sure that everyone is competing in good faith.
Make Everyone a Winner
The previous point isn’t to advocate a way of thinking where people get trophies just for showing up; instead, the idea is to institute a program that’s flexible enough for everyone who participates to come away a winner in their own way. After all, the goal is to have better fitness overall, not to reward the buff guy in marketing who will always work out more than everyone else.
With this in mind, allow people to set their own fitness goals, perhaps in conjunction with their doctors. After all, improvement is what you’re looking for. If they improve, that’s rewarding in and of itself.
Add Some Variety
A wellness program that rewards people for giving up smoking is a great idea, but because not everyone smokes, it leaves the nonsmokers in the dark. A company-sponsored volleyball tournament sounds fun, too — unless you’re the employee no one would ever want on their team because of a complete inability to get the ball over the net. And a jogging club is a classic wellness initiative, but what if you have knee problems?
How can you create something that works for everyone? It doesn’t necessarily have to be all about finding one program that fits the capabilities of your whole workforce. If you offer enough variety, everyone can choose something that works for them.
Keep It Light
Yes, you want to encourage heavy participation in your wellness programs, but that doesn’t mean they should be tied to such incentives as promotions or bonuses. It’s great to have a healthy staff and lower health care costs, but don’t relate those goals to the ones you have for your business. If you compartmentalize wellness initiatives, then it’s much easier to keep these healthy programs fun and separate from daily work. When your health and wellness programs cease being fun, it’s time to rethink them.
Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she interviewed and hired employees, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. Her writings have appeared in Inc. Magazine, CBS MoneyWatch, US News, Readers Digest and other publications. She focuses on helping businesses nurture great employees and helping employees enjoy great careers.