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How to Design a Wellness Program for College Students During Covid-19

Blog: ProcessMaker Blog

A wellness program isn’t built overnight.  It can take months of planning to launch a sustainable program that impacts participant health and institutional ROI. 

In anticipation of in-person classes returning in the not-too-distant future, many HR departments at universities and college campuses are doing exactly that.  According to Mckinsey & Company, organizations that invest in workplace wellness programs demonstrate tangible performance gains in as little as 6–12 months.

As higher education takes cues from these organizations, it’s safe to assume that wellness programs in university and college settings will yield similar results.  For any college looking to decrease absenteeism and improve productivity, wellness programs are a long term but proven investment.

How to design a wellness program for college students:

Get Executive Buy-In

Without top-down support from the school’s leadership team, it will be challenging—if not impossible—for wellness to become a university-wide priority.

This raises the stakes for college staff looking to launch wellness programs at their own school. If you’re going to earn executive support, your best bet is coming to the table prepared.  This doesn’t mean spelling everything out in exacting detail, but your proposal should account for key implementation questions that senior management will likely have ideas about how to answer.

Common items to address in a wellness program before pitching to campus executives:

Gaining leadership’s support for wellness initiatives is crucial to their staying power. Prepare thoroughly before making your pitch.

Hire or appoint dedicated wellness program staff

Beyond executive support, wellness programs also need dedicated professionals to thrive.  For multi-campus schools especially, having wellness staff at each campus helps colleges ensure they carry out initiatives that benefit the entire student body regardless of location.

But even with the best of intentions, budgetary constraints can get in the way of producing a campus-wide culture of wellness.

Scaling student wellness programs:

Whether an institution hires full-time staff or employs interns, having one wellness coordinator to start is a significant step in shifting the culture toward wellness.

Design wellness interventions

Designing wellness interventions is the “how” component of any wellness program. To define how the program will support student wellness, colleges must connect the program’s mission and goals to actionable, real-world tasks and behaviors.

As a recipient of the Koop Award for the nation’s best wellness program, the Boise School District uses a combination of interventions to drive better lifestyle choices for its employees.

A similar approach will work with student populations. Here are a few of Boise School District’s proven wellness interventions:

The district also uses behavior-change campaigns to successfully drive wellness. Some of its behavior-change campaigns include:

Offer a mix of incentives

While some researchers disagree on the effectiveness of incentives, there’s ample evidence to suggest that offering the right kind can promote participation and engagement in budding wellness programs.

For instance, the University of Virginia (UVA) offers cash incentives ranging from $100-$200 for completing health assessments and fitness challenges.

Perhaps more impressive than cash, the Boise School District offers its employees benefits-based incentives to promote participation in wellness interventions. In 2011 and 2012, employees who completed the PHA and biometric screening qualified for a discounted office visit co-pay and a deductible that decreased from $700 to $350.

But the University of Michigan found success in offering non-cash incentives—like coveted program t-shirts—in addition to traditional monetary rewards.

They’re not alone. Through an employee survey, UVA confirmed that a variety of incentives influenced employee participation in a university-wide fitness challenge, including:

These findings strongly suggest that money isn’t the ultimate motivator. For many students, the challenge of completing a fitness program will be motivation enough.

To inspire everyone else, take a cue from the Boise School District’s award-winning wellness program. In addition to cash and benefits-based incentives, the district also randomly awards campaign participants with gift cards, event tickets, prizes, and other gifts.

These incentives work because they’re immediate, small, and external. And the goal of these gifts—beyond keeping participants motivated—is to help them identify and enjoy the intrinsic benefits of a healthier lifestyle.

No matter what mix of incentives an institution offers, all colleges and universities should assess their students’ needs to determine which ones will motivate and have a lasting impact.

Craft a marketing and communication strategy

Marketing and communication play a huge role in establishing a successful wellness program.

If an organization relies too heavily on incentives and skimps on marketing, they’re likely to attract fewer participants—and people who may only participate in hopes of snagging rewards.

To attract and sustain interest and excitement around wellness initiatives, the program must be dynamic enough to appeal to all potential participants.

Connecting with these folks in a meaningful way will require a strategic, multi-channel approach that spreads the word well in advance.

Here are a few ways a college might communicate about its wellness program:

There are many ways an institution can market its wellness programs, but timing and visibility are among the most important factors to nail down.

Launch any marketing and communication well in advance of your official launch to build excitement, and periodically follow up to stay top-of-mind and build momentum. Bonus points for creating collateral that includes visible support from senior leadership.

Amplify reach and impact with technology

The Boise School District’s award-winning wellness program is successful—at least in part—due to its use of technology.  With over 3000 employees in almost 60 different locations, the district needed a tech stack capable of supporting wellness at scale.  To help them do it, Boise turned to Well Steps, a third-party platform with a suite of relevant tools and resources.

Here are a few things the district accomplished through its inclusion of purpose-built software:

But building a thriving college wellness program isn’t about signing up for a specific platform or service.

Institutions that approach wellness programs with a pro-technology mindset can collect and analyze data to track trends and improve program and service delivery without necessarily relying on purpose-built software.

For instance, most email service providers allow for email tracking. With the help of their IT teams, college wellness coordinators can leverage technology to monitor engagement, analyze data, and make informed decisions that enhance the program.

Designing a wellness program?  Check out our workflow automation platform for colleges and universities.


The post How to Design a Wellness Program for College Students During Covid-19 appeared first on ProcessMaker.

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