Using Social Networks to Promote Health and Wellness

Employers understand that simply trumpeting the benefits of employee wellness programs isn’t enough to guarantee participation. In the digital age, the common wellness textbook for “Leading the Horse to Water 101” has changed. It isn’t enough to just point out the pond and extol the virtues of drinking — you have to help the thirsty find it, convince them it’s healthy, and creatively encourage them to drink from it. And since maps are practically extinct, using GPS – or some form of electronic media – will help guide your audience effectively and efficiently.

While the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that as many as half the employers with 50 or more workers offer some kind of company wellness program, most managers say that engaging employees to participate in these efforts is their greatest challenge. For smaller employers (under 50 employees), proximity may work in their behavior for traditional face-to-face wellness outreach, but employees are busier than ever, multi-tasking like crazy, and often on the run or working remotely.

The solution to reaching everyone more effectively has to include but also extend beyond the workplace. That creates a perfect opportunity for using social media. Even though companies have long frowned on having their employees access the Internet or their personal phones while working, today’s world dictates new rules. And with smart phones and other electronic devices, savvy employers and health benefits companies have 24-hour access to promote healthful programs and activities.

Online social interaction is a way of life in today’s rapidly evolving world. Social communities keep people – and in this case, employees – involved and engaged, both in and out of the workplace. In fact, robust employee wellness programs have long been credited with helping to reduce sick time, improve quality and teamwork, and enhance morale, productivity and retention.

Beyond these positive long-term results, social media also provides the extra motivation employees may need to lose weight, quit smoking, adjust their diets, spend more time exercising and to make other healthy decisions. Sharing goals is a win/win – it’s often more fun to work out, walk or pursue other wellness activities when you do it with friends and coworkers. Positive peer pressure is a strong incentive for change, and utilizing online tools should be part of your strategy as well as the use of posters, questionnaires and “live” information sessions with health and wellness experts.

The social nature of products like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and other popular platforms can be harnessed to help people become more engaged in their wellness programs, and more successful as they try to improve their health. Other ideas that employers can consider implementing are online wellness journals, and discussion groups and progress reports that they can choose to share with friends or other individuals with the same fitness goals.

Here are some practical tips for using online tools and social media to improve health and wellness participation and results:

  • Post regular quizzes, trivia, Q&A sessions, and other interesting educational tools. You can also share helpful resources to navigate screenings, ergonomics and other health-related services provided through your business, or using outside resources.
  • Promote events and activities. Keep employees in the loop about ways they can get actively involved such as classes, news, team marathons or online meet-ups. They can even subscribe to a calendar for the latest updates.
  • Hold friendly contests, such as who can lose the most weight, walk the furthest or visit the gym most often. The competition can be individual or team-based between departments (or even businesses). You can also create daily or weekly challenges in the office, where participants can share their results.
  • Use third-party platforms for a more personalized experience. Third-party apps like FitBit or Keas are great ways to expand employee engagement with integrated sensors, devices, and biometric tracking – all with private access.
  • Create groups or boards. Wellness engagement needs to be long-term, so keeping the dialogue going is crucial. Give your employees space to discuss health issues, share recipes, post updates and more, in the office and online.
  • Offer discounts, recognition, time off, or other rewards. Nothing encourages activity like a great return – so give plenty of public recognition to celebrate employees’ achievements and successes.
  • Share success stories. Workers are more likely to jump on the fitness bandwagon if they can see what others have achieved. Sharing personal accomplishments puts a positive emphasis on each employee’s strengths and potential.
  • Use your resources. If you’re not sure how to begin the wellness conversation on social media, recruit your top internal health advocates to get the ball rolling and to manage your team Chances are your employees are interested, and if encouraged, will take a stronger role in coordinating activities that benefit them, the company, and their associates.

The bottom line is that social media networking can provide strong support for your health and wellness program year round, without adding cost. Through creative incentives and careful management – including a clear use policy and well-defined privacy guidelines – the right networks can transform your current workplace into an active, dynamic social community.

If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!