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Want a healthy company? Build a healthy workforce.

Individual health and health care costs are substantially influenced by lifestyle choices. Influence a person's choices (i.e., behaviors) and you can influence his or her health. Influence the choices made by a group and you can influence the overall health of the group. This is exciting for business owners on several fronts.

First, healthy employees are more productive. Second, healthy employees cost less. Third, quality of health is closely linked to quality of life. Help your employees improve their health and you've really done something of value for them and their loved ones. Fourth, employees who feel cared for will respond with loyalty

Every company should install a wellness program. For guidance on where to start, we looked to the Wellness Councils of America (WELCOA). They provided a Special Report by Mercer Health & Benefits titled "Rewards for Healthy Lifestyles," which outlined the essential dements of an effective behavior change program:

1. Awareness: Individuals must recognize that behavior changes would provide benefits and/or help them avoid unpleasant consequences.

2. Commitment: Once an individual is aware of the need to change, the individual must make a commitment to change. That is, turn "should do" into "must do."

3. Skill-Building: Once a commitment is made, Skill-Building is necessary to develop and sustain the new behavior. Individuals must gain the knowledge, hence the skills and self-efficacy needed to act on and meet their commitment.

4. Maintenance: Individuals learn to face and deal with obstacles they may encounter, and to manage lapses in commitment.

Research has shown most individuals go through the behavior change cycle--start, lapse, restart--six to seven times before they make a lasting change. Thus, it is unrealistic to expect everyone who starts to make a behavior change to sustain that behavior permanently after the first attempt.

Campaigns and Contests

Healthy lifestyle (behavior) contests or campaigns provide people with the opportunity to try out new behaviors (skill-building) within the structure and with the support of an organized event. These campaigns are most effective when they are designed to appeal to a broad range of people in the population (employees)--from those who may already be practicing the behavior to those who are not. They will also focus on an incremental change in individual behavior that is an improvement over the current state, rather than meeting what may be a lofty, hard-to-attain goal. Effective campaigns and contests focus on the bigger picture of individual health status and a variety of lifestyle choices that relate to optimal health, such as increases in physical activity, making healthier food choices, and improved self-esteem.

Some examples of popular health improvement contests or campaigns are smoking-cessation programs, exercise and healthy-eating campaigns, health improvement seminars, community wellness events, and weight-loss contests. The ideal campaign combines several of these elements and also provides obvious connections (references) to other programs and resources that exist in the overall health management program.

Rewards and Incentives

Rewards or incentives often are used to encourage employees to participate in contests or campaigns, and have been demonstrated to be very effective in driving enrollment. Although the goal is ultimately to help individuals develop internal (intrinsic) motivation to practice healthy behaviors for the benefits they provide, external motivators (rewards or incentives) can provide the initial "push" to get people started. External rewards also can keep people motivated in the early stages of practicing a new behavior before the benefits of the new behavior are fully realized and internal motivation is developed.

Instant Results vs. Learning Through Participation

People who join a campaign or contest are not likely to continue practicing that behavior permanently after the contest ends. If the ultimate goal is to help people make healthy lifestyle choices consistently, then the result of completing one campaign (e.g., 10,000 steps a day for 8 weeks, eating five portions of fruits and vegetables each day, losing 10 pounds in 12 weeks, etc.) may not be as important as learning and practicing skills that can be used for a lifetime of healthy living. In addition to learning skills, participation leads to increased self-confidence, which improves the likelihood that new behaviors will become permanent at some point in the future.

Rewarding participation (meaning completion, not just enrollment), rather than the result or outcome of a contest or campaign, is more beneficial and supportive for individuals who want to improve their health for the long term. If the contest "winners" are only those who achieve the best result, then those who "lose" will receive negative reinforcement. In other words, their belief that they can't succeed at practicing the behavior will be reinforced. Those who think they will have no chance of "winning" will be deterred from even enrolling in the contest or campaign, and an important opportunity to reach those who need the most support may be missed. Further, if participation is rewarded more than results, all who participate are winners, their confidence increases, and their belief that they can make healthy behavior changes (self-efficacy) is enhanced. The contest or campaign can be the first step for many toward eventually making permanent behavior changes.

So what are you waiting for? The very health of your business may hang in the balance. Install a wellness program, beginning today The benefits are myriad. Get help from The Wellness Councils of America ( and Mercer Health and Benefits (
COPYRIGHT 2006 D.L. Perkins, LLC
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:installing a wellness program, human resource management
Publication:The Business Owner
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2006
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