Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

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Creating SUSTAINABLE Behavioral Change Part 4

by James Porter February 09, 2022

Want to know why employees don’t participate in your wellness programs? See below.

In the last three installments I talked about a behavioral change program I attended at a recent Health Promotion Conference I attended with Michael Kim, CEO for HABIT CHANGE, a company that helps employees make healthy lifestyle changes.  The following list was one of the more interesting slides in his whole two day program. The resource here is from a report on wellness from a few years back that was published by The Economist.  These are reasons why employees DON’T participate in wellness programs at work:

  1. Not enough time (51%)
  2. Not a high priority (26%)
  3. Employees are skeptical of making any significant health improvements (21%)
  4. Rewards are not worth the time and effort (19%)
  5. Employees lack guidance from personnel and resources (16%)
  6. Employees distrust employer motives (12%)
  7. Existing programs don’t adequately address employee goals (9%)

I was really struck by how many different ways that STRESS factors into some of the items on the list above.

  1. Time: Having too much to do and not enough time to do it (which has always been a major source of stress) is the #1 reason why people aren’t participating in wellness programs. Teaching time management is an important part of every stress management program I present. That’s why I wrote a whole chapter about it in my WELCOA book STOP STRESS THIS MINUTE.
  2. Not making it a priority. This is where you have to start looking at values, meaning and purpose. Most people wouldn’t even THINK about putting stress management as their most important value or priority, but when I remind them that if they did lower their stress, it might positively affect ALL the things that they DO value (like being a better parent, a better worker, or even being a more spiritual person) suddenly the importance of stress management goes way up.
  3. Rewards aren’t worth the time and effort. I’ve been a proponent of emphasizing intrinsic rewards (feeling better) over extrinsic rewards (monetary incentives) since day 1. It’s WHY people want help with managing stress (over other wellness objectives) because the INTRINSIC rewards of feeling relaxed and at peace are (in the language of behavioral psychology) a PRIMARY reinforcer where as monetary incentives are considered a SECONDARY reinforcer (especially when you add in the fact that financial incentives usually wind up as credits against health care costs which – if there was such a term – would probably be considered a TERTIARY reinforcer. As Dr. David Katz said in one of his keynotes at AJHP, people want to feel better now, not next month or next year. We have taken this into consideration and carry a line of wellness gifts that can be used as incentives in all aspects of your program. These incentives help to promote the behavioral change the program is trying to instill in employees yet are probably something the employee would not purchase on his/her own.
  4. Employees don’t trust employer motives: I almost hate to admit it but I think this problem may apply to the concept of resilience, which is a hot topic right now in the world of stress management. Employers LOVE the word resilience, but what I hear from my clients (mostly wellness professionals), is that many employees don’t. These clients tell me that employees don’t even know what resilience means or why the C-suite is so crazy about the term. And when you think about it, the concept of resilience is subtly saying to the employee: Stress is YOUR problem to solve not ours. Employees don’t feel that way about stress management. They know EXACTLY what it is and why they need to do something about it.

In my next installment I’ll show you a second list from the same program of the reasons why employees DO participate in wellness programs. And guess what? Offering stress management training is right at the top of that list.

James Porter
James Porter