Many organizations are turning to wellness and fitness programs as a way to help their employees stay mentally healthy. They know that their workers won’t be productive if they are excessively stressed or burnt out.

Workplace wellness programs typically encourage employees to engage in more physical fitness by initiating walking challenges, indoor gyms and sporting activities. More comprehensive programs may also deal with the problems that negatively affect emotional wellbeing — for example, issues with finance, workplace pressures, and quitting bad habits. Periodic webinars, workshops, and counselling sessions may constitute a big part of these plans.

Despite the supposed benefits, the evidence suggests that employees don’t always embrace them. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), which are often a part of a broader wellness program, are only utilized by 3-5% of staff at organizations. This is despite the fact that up to a third of American workers are affected by mental illness.

Why Aren’t Employees Using these Programs?

Workers who haven’t used their organization’s wellness and fitness programs often cite one the following as the reason for not engaging with the initiative.

1. The programs tend to be reactive

A lot of workplace wellness plans are designed to tackle issues with employee’s wellbeing that are very serious, enough to affect their mental health and reduce their productivity. For instance, workers may only attend a counselling session when their psychological problems have entered the crisis stage.

Without an emphasis on proactive mental health checks, people may not see the need to track their stress levels until things get worse.

2. The objectives don’t engage with employee needs

According to the Compare Effective Health and Wellbeing Programs Report, many workers feel that their employers treat wellness programs as peripheral or optional. The report suggests that middle and senior-level management often do not realize how beneficial these programs could be for staff. As a result, they don’t see the value in engaging lower level employees as part of wellness programs.

This lack of engagement means that senior management will remain largely unaware of the needs of workers, and won’t be able to address those needs adequately with the wellness plans they introduce. This is despite the obvious role they can play to help improve employee wellbeing.

3. Needs are not addressed on an individual basis

Many traditional programs are built to serve generic employee needs company-wide. This might include things like yoga classes or healthy workplace snacks. These fail to account for the individual stressors that employees may be struggling with, particularly in relation to their mental health.

How to Engage Employees with your Wellness Program

1. Find out your employees specific mental health and wellbeing needs

The first step to increasing the uptake of wellness and fitness programs among employees is to find out what kind of solutions they really want. They will be more willing to use programs that address their actual needs.

Engagement surveys are one way to get this sort of feedback. They can determine how motivated employees are to work and reveal perceptions about their work environment that may be causing unnecessary stress.

Uprise Health, an Employee Assistance Program, performs these surveys on a monthly basis. The difference with Uprise Health engagement surveys is that they identify employees at a high risk for psychological distress, and high-risk employees are called back for a risk assessment within 24 hours. Due to the accessibility of its online platform, the surveys gain response rates between 25-60%. The results are de-identified and used to develop actionable insights reports about employee needs every quarter.

2. Take a holistic approach that links to company goals

Traditional employee assistance programs aren’t broad enough to meet the whole range of health concerns that employees have. A more holistic approach will address all of the social, emotional, physical, mental, and financial factors that may affect each individual employee’s wellbeing differently.

It’s can be very useful for organizations to emphasize how their wellness program is connected with (or inspired by) their core values. If you can align the goals of a wellbeing program with broader company goals, this can increase the perceived importance and authenticity of your program. When employees become aware of this, they may be more open to getting involved.

3. Make it personal and long-lasting

Ongoing engagement is a vital part of proactive employee assistance programs. Workers who assess their mental health more regularly are more aware of fluctuations in their head space and of the resources available to them that will help them to deal with changes before they get worse.

The Uprise Health EAP assesses employees and provides them with specific training and coaching on a range of psychological skills every month. This personalized coaching is unique to the Uprise Health program and has a lasting impact on your employee’s abilities to cope with stress and improve their emotional state.

Employees are the biggest supporters of coaching. One employee shared, “Really impressive wellness program initiative. Good combination of content, interactive sessions and calls with an expert to individualize the material. No other initiative has that level of engagement.”

In 2019, the Uprise Health EAP recorded an average uptake of 20% using our program; this number rises to 80 percent in smaller companies.

4. Interact directly with employees

Engagement surveys can help employers understand the needs of their team members. However, it doesn’t give the same sort of insight as conversations can yield. By speaking with workers about the things that interest them, you gain a much more detailed picture of their concerns, so that you can work more effectively to address them.

More organizations are working to improve the wellbeing of their staff. But it takes a lot of conscious planning and constant engagement to develop a program that employees really want to engage with. The ideal solution will be one that recognizes the unique challenges that each individual faces, and helps them tackle those challenges before they can cause psychological harm.