Promote Well-being, Not Health

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Motivating lasting behavior change takes more than just promoting health. Over the years, we've learned a lot about the "why" behind changed behaviors. When planning and marketing your health and wellness programs, you need to go beyond basic health improvement messaging if you want long-term success. Putting this research to work can help you target, engage and promote your programs more effectively to your employees:

  1. Target a message based on “what” you want to change. For example, messages that talk about the "cost" of a behavior are called "loss-framed" messages (no sunscreen increases your risk of skin cancer); messages that promote a benefit are called "gain-framed" messages (sunscreen keeps your skin healthier). What psychologists in one study discovered is that gain-framed messages worked better in cancer prevention behaviors and loss-framed messages worked better for cancer detection behaviors.1 Pay attention to what you are trying to achieve when deciding how to promote it.
  2. Reward employees now, rather than later. More recent studies show people are motivated when a wellness program rewards them early on. For instance, instead of promoting longer life or better health as a reason to take part, promote the short-term effects, such as increased energy, feeling good or increased self-esteem.2

  3. Think like a marketer. Ask yourself how to get your employees to be repeat customers. The "save money and lose weight" message probably won't cut it anymore. Here's why: Let's say your employee takes part in a weight-loss program and reaches the set weight loss goal, which was the reason for going. Now what? Or say he or she doesn't reach the goal. How do you keep that person focused on good health? Appeal to what would keep him or her coming back, such as feeling stronger or a sense of happiness.2

    Improve health ==> less stress, feel stronger, sleep better ==> daily happiness, fulfillment and sense of well-being
  4. Give employees permission to take care of themselves first. We live in a caregiver society and often prioritize taking care of others (spouses, children, aging parents) and our life roles (professional, leader, volunteer, activist, friend) ahead of self-care. Self-care is your ability to take care of your own health — prevent diseases, stay healthy or cope with illness or disability.3 Research suggests giving people permission to put themselves first helps them actively choose to value the program or behavior highly, connect with it and add it into their everyday lifestyle for the greatest chance of success.2

  5. Know your audience and segment your message when you can. For example, one study found fostering positive body image with messages about self-care and self-worth was more effective for women to keep off weight long-term than messages about being physically active or losing weight. However, it didn't affect men with the same results.4

1 American Psychological Association website: To Motivate Healthy Behavior, It's Often Not What you Say, But How You Say It (Accessed June 2015):

2 Metabolic Medical Institute, Health Promoters Should Stop Promoting Health: New Science for Behavior Sustainability (April 2013):

3 World Health Organization, Self-care in the Context of Primary Health Care Report of the Regional Consultation Bangkok, Thailand: (January 2009).

4 U.S. National Library of Medicine website: Physical Activity Advertisements That Feature Daily Well-Being Improve Autonomy and Body Image in Overweight Women but Not Men (March 2012):