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Getting the Wellness Message Right

July 26, 2009
Related Topics: Human Resources Management Systems (HRMS/HRIS), Health and Wellness, Featured Article, Compensation
Whether you're launching a wellness initiative or kick-starting an existing program, you've got to get the message right. Here's what experts say about effectively communicating your efforts:

  • "Planning is essential," said Pat Zar, senior vice president in the communications practice at Chicago-based Aon Consulting. Companies need to have a robust plan that they can fine-tune over time using employee feedback, she said. "We see a lot of big effort going into a launch and that gets people excited and engaged initially, and then sustaining that momentum, I think, is the biggest challenge."
  • "The 'what's in it for me?' message has to be clear," said LuAnn Heinen, a vice president and director of the National Business Group of Health's Institute on the Costs and Health Effects of Obesity in Minneapolis. Increasingly, she said, that involves some kind of incentive, monetary or otherwise.
  • Tailor the media to the audience. Generally, veterans and baby boomers are more geared to traditional media, while Generation X and younger want more high-tech media, including blogs, podcasts and even games. But don't settle on a few media and expect the message to sink in, Ms. Zar cautioned. Multiple media will help you reach different people at different times.
  • Don't just communicate it; market it. Employees are inundated with messaging in their lives, and they're skeptical of their employer telling them what to do, noted Tim Stentiford, a senior consultant in the communications practice of Hewitt Associates' Norwalk, Conn., office.
  •  Instead, employers should build a culture of shared accountability with their workers, Mr. Stentiford said. A defense contractor he is advising hopes to boost mammography screenings by pairing women who've had mammograms with women who need them. "It's about creating this grassroots buzz and then using organizational channels, like leadership messages, like newsletters and intranets and e-mails, to kind of support what we're doing at the grassroots level, by getting people to do something," he said.
  • Keep it simple. Human resources departments need to "ruthlessly prune" the number of programs, tools and resources for employees because there's too much clutter for people to navigate. "Our mantra [in wellness marketing]," Mr. Stentiford observed, "is we've got to make it relevant and we've got to make it easy."

Crain's Benefits Outlook, November 2008

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