The word “participation” is a popular word among employee wellness program champions. These champions may be the Human Resources or Benefits Executive, the local point of contact for the program or the wellness program provider. It looks good on paper to point to 96% of employees participating in the Health Risk Assessment (HRA) or 87% of employees were active participants on the web portal. Unfortunately, this can certainly provide a nice starting point, that’s about it.
Participation, in and of itself, is… well… not “meaningless,” but if we don’t pull back the curtain on what that participation is referencing, then we learn very little from the reported stats tied to that figure. So let’s talk next level.
There are two primary next level definitions for participation: Compliance or Engagement. Compliance means I did something. Engagement means I care about what it was that I did. Compliance means I checked a box. Engagement means the box checked mattered to me. Getting more specific, compliance means I completed the HRA. Engagement means I utilized the HRA as a springboard for positive change.
Unfortunately, many employee wellness programs are set up to focus in on compliance and pay little or no heed to engagement. In many ways, it comes down to the difference between “Extrinsic” and “Intrinsic” motivation. If you’re not familiar with these terms, they are almost self-explanatory. Extrinsic motivation is motivation that comes from the outside. If I’m extrinsically motivated, I’m motivated because of what someone else does to me or for me (pays me, makes me feel guilty, stands over my shoulder, yells at me). On the other hand, if I’m intrinsically motivated, my motivation comes from inside – because it matters to me.
Keep in mind that one can lead to another. Take wellness coaching for example. Many people either have no idea what wellness coaching is or they had a bad experience with it in the past. So when an employer offers the employee a financial incentive to participate in coaching, that’s an extrinsic motivation. However, if the coaching that then takes place is effective, it will tap into the intrinsic motivation of the individual employee. The personalized, one-on-one discussion can bring out that intrinsic motivation and build on that over time. The ongoing coaching will continue to enhance or expand over time.
Web portal tools can be connected with intrinsic motivation. A serious runner may love tracking and reviewing various runs, paces, heart rate levels, etc within Strava, GarminConnect or other resources. An activity tracker like a FitBit may get someone started toward a more active lifestyle just to participate in a contest. Then, over time, that extrinsic motivation shifts to an intrinsic motivation as the individual tunes into the enjoyment of that active lifestyle.
Depending on the individual, almost anything “can” create intrinsic motivation. However, experience demonstrates that the skills an effective wellness coach brings to the table clearly creates the best odds and the straightest line toward that critical intrinsic motivation. As an added bonus, the coaching you provide can also enhance the adoption of other tools and resources that will further build on that intrinsic motivation.
Compliance can be created extrinsically, but the long term results beyond low-hanging fruit will be minimal at best. Engagement on the other hand, driven by intrinsic motivation, will provide the outcomes most desired by both individuals and organizations. Effective wellness coaching isn’t the only pathway to creating intrinsic motivation and long-term, meaningful behavior change. But it’s clearly the straightest line between point A and point B!