You know that employee health is tied to bottom-line health — fewer missed days and lower health care expenses mean cost-efficiency at the end of the day. But you also know that health can be a sensitive subject.
So if you want to know how to promote a healthy workplace and keep costs in balance, it’s crucial to practice communication skills that cultivate trust, respect and good-will. These tips can help you make sure everyone feels connected to your healthy culture.
Be Sensitive to All Employee Struggles
Although it seems straightforward enough to encourage your employees to make healthier choices, doing so could touch on deeply personal issues, like weight and body image.
In light of this, it can be challenging to promote a healthy culture without causing some employees to feel shamed or alienated. Start from a place of sensitivity and empathy. Just because you have time to exercise or a big enough budget to buy healthy foods doesn’t mean your employees do, too. Put yourself in “listening mode” as you start to prepare a communications plan.
Developing Your Communication Plan
Start by finding out what matters to employees. Survey them to learn what their struggles are and what they want to know more about. Do they need help managing chronic conditions or advice around preventive care and wellness?
Some employees may want to provide their preferences anonymously, while others prefer face-to-face conversations, so conduct your information-gathering process with sensitivity and flexibility.
Ensure your plans include different ways of delivering information. Options include weekly emails with quick tips or a quarterly health seminar featuring a guest speaker. Whatever you do, establish consistency as soon as possible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that this is key for successful communication in the workplace.
Finally, identify employees who can help champion your cause. For example, maybe an employee would like to lead a smoking cessation group or a meditation workshop.
How to Promote a Healthy Workplace
While a high-level communications plan is key, ensuring that your employees feel understood and remain engaged may come down to smaller choices you make along the way. Here are some tips for framing your approach.
- Focus on the present: While past choices and behaviors may have contributed to your employees’ current health, focusing on what can’t be changed is a sure way to zap morale and alienate your audience. Instead, keep a positive focus on what changes employees would like to make going forward and how future goals are attainable with the right plan in place.
- Encourage small changes: Depending on their current level of wellness, employees may feel overwhelmed or pessimistic when asked to envision a healthier future. Without losing sight of the end goal, emphasize what manageable steps employees can start taking today, for example going on a 10-minute walk or substituting one soda with a glass of water. Help them develop actionable plans that proceed at their own pace.
- Put options over prohibitions: It can be disheartening to hear a list of all the foods and behaviors your employees should avoid — and overemphasizing stumbling blocks can make failure seem inevitable. Instead, focus on what employees can do, providing healthy and tasty alternative recipes, for example, or fun activities that will help them stay in shape.
- Include the bad with the good: Acknowledge some of the difficult realities of getting and staying healthy. Take some time to discuss the relevant emotional hurdles, financial challenges and, last but not least, long-term high stakes that relate to wellness.
- Make insurance benefits part of the conversation: Be sure your employees know what tools and resources are at their disposal. This shows them that bettering their health is an achievable, concrete pursuit. And reminding them of the investment you’ve made in them lets them know they have an advocate in you.
Strategic communication is a step in the right direction, but it won’t work unless you follow through on what’s being said. So walk the walk through vending machine choices, catering for lunch meetings and top-down management support. Follow up with your employees to understand what changes you can make to help them better achieve their goals.
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