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The Art of Participation

by Patricia Tallon ASEBP | October 27 2016

I have often wondered why some employee wellness initiatives take on a life of their own while others seem as though they need life support. Reflecting on my experience as a health advisor and my career in the health industry, a thought popped into my head—the need for active participation in planning, executing and evaluating wellness initiatives is half the battle! Sometimes the best intended initiatives are planned and executed without consulting the people they impact and the end result isn’t pretty. It could mean poorly attended programs and misused budgets in the process. So, I have a few ideas to consider to ensure your next wellness initiative takes off like a rocket!

Participation Under the Microscope

People need to feel empowered and excited about an idea in order to get behind it. Here are just a few benefits of strategically analyzing participatory approaches for your wellness initiative:

  • Empowerment. People who are given the opportunity to be part of the solution are more empowered to take control over their health. Allow participants to provide feedback on a past initiative, give a wish list of topics they’re interested in for future initiatives or share ideas on how their group would benefit most from your initiatives.
  • Buy-in. Getting a sense of what people want and need from your wellness initiative will help with engagement. Participants will be more engaged and are more likely to make positive health-related behavior changes if they feel like they’re the target audience for your initiative. This will increase involvement in your project and can help embed wellness into your workplace culture.
  • Improved work culture. Collaboration in planning allows for different ideas to be heard from all involved and, ideally, empowers people to feel like they’re part of the solution. Are you seeing a trend?
  • Creativity. Participation allows for new and novel ideas to come to life. As the old adage goes, we’re better (and more creative) together!
  • Skill development. Participation allows those impacted to develop skills in a new area—it’s a win-win situation.
  • Broader reach. Participants will often infect their broader workplace community with their new-found enthusiasm. Word-of-mouth goes a long way when you’re working to spread the news regarding proactive (and positive) health changes.

It’s All in the Details

With champions infusing wellness into their communities, the possibilities for increasing participation are endless! So now that I have (hopefully!) convinced you of the value of thinking about your audience first, what tools area available to you? Here are a few to get you started:

  • Use ASEBP’s handy Employee Interests and Willingness Survey or develop your own survey to gain feedback or poll ideas
  • Create a suggestion box that is regularly monitored
  • Add wellness questions to an employee engagement survey
  • Use brainstorming in smaller groups or teams and bring your group’s ideas together
  • Develop or maintain a Wellness Committee
  • Participate in this forum page, or this one, on The Sandbox or start your own

So often we only see the tip of the iceberg—what we think is the problem—when we plan for an initiative and we miss the underlying causes—the rest of that massive iceberg looming under water. Thinking about your target audience and how best to employ their knowledge can help you strategically plan and implement meaningful wellness initiatives. So now I turn it over to you. What considerations come to mind when you start planning for a new wellness initiative or improve on a project that you’ve done in the past?

Patricia Tallon

Not only is Patricia ('Trisha') ASEBP's former lead of Client Services and a registered dietitian, she can also put pencil to paper and hammer out a terrible doodle of just about anything. It’s up to you to interpret her 'impressionistic style' though. But every superhero has their kryptonite. Trisha’s just happens to be the terrifying Cottonius Ballitis—or cotton balls as they’re more commonly known. It’s okay Trisha, we understand. Sort of.