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3 ways to ID wellness concerns of workers
Ask what they want
Are you hoping a particular employee will participate in a certain wellness program? "Identify their needs, then tailor everything in the program to meet their needs," advises Tracey L. Yap, RN, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati (OH)'s College of Nursing.
A brand new employee who is overweight and sedentary may not necessarily be worried about their health, says Yap, but probably feels like they need to belong. "Start by showing that person a walking club at noontime, or explain that a group gathers on Tuesday nights to do weight lifting," she suggests. Here are three ways to find out what workers want:
1. Walk around.
Yap recommends asking employees directly, "What is keeping you from participating in a program? "Without figuring out what is going to motivate them, you are sunk," she says. "Roam the floors of the plants and talk to people."
You might learn that hardly anyone is attending an after-work program because they're all at ball games with their children. "So it doesn't matter how many of their friends are involved in this thing they've got to get going right after work," says Yap.
Yap cautions against scheduling any wellness programs or activities during the employee's private time, unless this is something they specifically ask for. Instead, she says to use lunch time or break time.
2. Do small focus groups.
Before Yap sent out an e-mail message about a new physical activity program, she asked a small group of employees how they'd want it to look. It turned out that they had a lot to say on the matter.1
"They didn't want a typical black and white e-mail. They wanted a really flashy header," she says. They also wanted bullet points instead of paragraphs, she says, and fun tips that they could share with others, such as how many steps it would take to work off a latte.
These changes made a difference in how workers responded to her e-mail message, she says. "A significant number of people who were in the 'contemplation' stage, who weren't even physically active, jumped right to the 'action' stage after an 8-week intervention, just based on the e-mail," reports Yap. "It seems to me that knowledge was what they needed."
One focus group composed of employees in the 'preparation' stage of change told Yap that they wanted to make a walking program into a game. They wanted to try to out-walk each other and the other companies that were involved.
"They wanted to be able to track themselves against the mean average of the coworkers, and also coworkers in the other manufacturing facility," she says.
Yap cautions against mixing staff and supervisors in focus groups. She learned this after a group of engineers was strangely silent during a focus group, and confided in her later that this was due to the presence of a particular plant manager. They later confided that the real reason some employees were avoiding the company gym was its reputation as a hangout place for singles.
To get that type of frank discussion going during a focus group, Yap says to hold separate groups with administrators and employees, and keep the group under seven. "If they are too big, you always get the people who dominate, and then others who do not contribute," she says.
3. Ask pointed questions in surveys.
"Be careful not to use a neutral tone," says Yap. "Get employees to take a stand, and always include a comment box."
1. Yap TL, Busch-James D. Tailored e-mails in the workplace: A focus group analysis. AAOHN J 2010;58(10):425-432.