Well-being pros often ask how far in advance they should communicate about a program. The better question is: “How frequently should I communicate?” The correct answer is easily memorized with ABC: Always Be Communicating.
Effective well-being program communication takes place before, during, and after the program.
The importance of communicating before a program is a no-brainer for most people. Try this approach, which I took when implementing many multi-week, team-based challenges:
- Near the start of the year — Communicate all upcoming programs you know about. In December, consider including in a newsletter article a statement like, “Next summer you’ll set sail in a new challenge unlike anything we’ve offered before.” I don’t have to explain that this refers to a pirate-themed program, like HES’s new Yo Ho Ho. It’s just the right hint of mystery to keep readers wanting more.
- As a challenge launch draws closer — Communicate increasingly specific information. For a 6-week team-based challenge, for example, create buzz with the program name and slogan 2 weeks before registration, then blast the details (with a call to action, such as registering or finalizing a team by a specific date) on the day registration opens. You want everyone talking about the program and reinforcing key messages, like why employees will love participating. Avoid giving details so early that employees file away a mental note that they may forget to revisit.
- Throughout registration — Communicate updates that feature registration rates. This is a social marketing technique: More people will register if they see that large numbers of their peers are doing so. Use messages like, “Nearly half of your coworkers already have signed up!” to create excitement and urgency.
Available channels influence the frequency of communications. Though you have intranet banners, table tents, and every other channel imaginable, you can’t send an all-employee email every time registration rate ticks up a notch; try this:
- Have wellness champions distribute fliers for “coming soon” messages
- Save precious email bandwidth only for the main call to action like “Click this link and register now for…”
- Leverage social media posts with “time is running out” messages and persuasive tidbits to expand prospective participants’ understanding of the program.
You may not be able to apply all these modalities, but don’t make the mistake of issuing only 1 announcement and hoping employees find information on your intranet. A well staged flow of messages will make the difference between a 5% and a 75% participation rate for a program like a team-based challenge.
Once registration is closed, your work’s not done. (Remember? Always Be Communicating.) This is your chance to:
- Keep participants engaged with motivational tips
- Recognize the accomplishments of individual participants and teams
- Announce surprises like drawings for those actively engaged.
Inevitably, some people will be tempted to drop out of the program and may convince themselves that everyone else is dropping out. Show it’s not true with testimonials from active participants and data reflecting how well they’re doing (like total number of steps, percentage of people tracking every day, or team accomplishments). Some people like to be reminded where they are in the program, so consider messages marking the halfway point or just a week to go.
Communicating after a program is almost as important as before. In fact, the success of a program largely hinges on your messaging in the wake of previous challenges.
- On the last day of a program or immediately after, congratulate and thank participants. For these reasons also thank internal team members — wellness committee, champions, internal support partners, and leaders who helped make the program possible:
- They earned the recognition; you don’t want to take their contributions for granted
- Participants value the program more, and feel more valued by their employer, when they understand how much effort goes into providing them with wellness services.
You’ll also want to acknowledge and share results from program evaluations and any insight about changes based on participant feedback. Use this opportunity to start generating excitement about your next big well-being offering. Your “after” communication for one program becomes your “before” communication for the next. And remember to note participant accomplishments, team camaraderie, family members who joined in, and just having fun.
Great Communication Is the Key
There’s no formula for communication frequency that fits every scenario. An annual health fair, biweekly farmers’ markets, financial wellness seminars, flu shots, and new healthy vending machine choices, to name a few, all lend themselves to different timing.
The important thing is to think of communication as ongoing. Don’t worry about overdoing it; you can avoid that with a well executed plan based on the channels you have available.
As you hone your messaging and your schedule, communicating will get easier and more efficient. If you still feel you’re too busy running programs to communicate enough, you may need to conduct fewer programs. Better to do a few well communicated quality programs than several nobody knows or cares about.
A culture of health, high participation rates, program satisfaction, leadership buy-in, and positive outcomes all depend on strategic, ongoing well-being communication.
Bob Merberg is an independent consultant with 20+ years in managing employee well-being programs. He specializes in helping employers increase engagement and health outcomes through innovative programs, communication, workplace environment, and organization development strategies. Bob’s well-being program evaluation results have been featured at wellness conferences and in various media outlets.