Business of Well-being

The Role of Education in Motivating Positive Behavior Change

Approximately half of U.S. employers offer wellness promotion initiatives, and larger employers are more likely to have more complex programs (RAND Health 2013). As employee wellness programs continue to become more prevalent in the American worksite, there remain ongoing questions about results-driven practices, incentives, programming methods, participation, and many other factors.

Worksites struggle to provide meaningful programming and incentives to boost participation in a multi-generational and cultural climate in attempts to have a healthier more productive workforce due to a lack of education about what good health means.

"Out of concern about the impact of chronic disease on employee health and well being, the cost of healthcare coverage, and competitiveness, employers are adopting health promotion and disease prevention strategies commonly referred to as workplace wellness programs. Disease prevention programs aim either to prevent the onset of disease (primary prevention) or to diagnose and treat disease at an early stage before complications occur (secondary prevention)."  

RAND Health 2013 - Most wellness programs are a combination of screening activities and interventions. Common methods used in employee wellness programming include:

  • Fitness and wellness activity programs
  • Biometric screening
  • Lunch and Learn education programs
  • Incentive and de-incentive programs
  • Poster campaigns
  • Counselors, coaches, trainers

With many worksite programs experiencing less than 50 percent participation in health screening and intervention programs, program managers are challenged to develop ways to entice employee involvement. Employers are using incentive programs as a primary way to boost program participation. But many are still seeing resistance to participation.

In promoting behavioral change, it is important to recognize the role of ingrained negative behavior or getting bogged down in existing habits. What causes the desire to change an existing negative habit? Often it is forced by a life threatening event such as a heart attack or stroke.

There is also strong evidence in research that indicates that education can play an important role in prompting positive behavioral change. When you look at research linking the effects of education to behavioral change, there is a strong history of the role of education in fundamentally supporting positive behavioral change.

Education can clearly communicate the risks of not taking action and the benefits of taking action to address health behaviors. This evidence is clear in research for information delivered academically, culturally, in communities, and in worksites.

Education provides health literacy promoting participation and better long term outcomes for programs addressing most wellness dimensions. Education often prompts an incentive to take action, and therefore should ideally include options, resources, and information on HOW to take that action.

Many worksites face roadblocks in providing information for employees. The worksite may have more than one location, more than one work shift, short or staggered lunch times, and it is very difficult to provide an opportunity that is convenient. Education delivered live can be very costly and not available at convenient times for many employees.

Computer based education provides a great addition to the traditional "Lunch and Learn" format often used to teach employees. It provides 24/7 access to all employees, making it now "fair" to offer incentives for employees. It also becomes easy to track participation.

Computer based learning can provide resources for facilitating behavioral change, and for providing explanations about health and biometric screening that empowers positive behavior change.Be aware that not all computer based classes are created equal.

There are many methods of delivery including; webinars, audio only or video based information, text information to read, and actual online courses to take. Although other methods may offer some valuable information, the best experience may be provided by a properly developed online course.

The following are considerations when looking for education for Employee Wellness:

  • Is the content designed to be informative or educational? Information is valuable, but education promotes behavioral change.
  • Is the education created in a sound educational format that promotes learning and retention? The quality of the education greatly affects the desired outcome. You can find accredited education companies that provide quality education at affordable prices. Accredited education providers can often provide courses that carry continuing education credit that can be used for meeting other educational requirements as well.
  • Does the education provide options, resources, or methods for behavioral change embedded in the course?
  • Does the education provider have usage tracking capabilities that will easily allow you to incentivize the education? Offering incentives for thorough education courses may boost participation in education. We find that a 1-2 hour course is enough time to provide the needed information and promote behavioral change, and is "meaty" enough to warrant incentives.
  • Is the content relevant and worth the employee's time?
  • Is the education available 24-7 in a format that is easy to use? Is there customer support available?

There is growing evidence that employees want more than just improvements in health. They want better quality of life in general and are searching for improvements in other aspects of wellness as well. Consider offering courses that address most wellness topics such as financial stability, how to deal with cultural diversity in the workplace, functioning in a multi-generational workplace, how to make better decisions to balance home and work life.

Life satisfaction and reduced stress play a major role in overall health. Consider education as a viable tool in your employee wellness program to promote positive behavioral change and to increase participation. It is more effective to promote participation in a program when your employees clearly understand why they should participate to develop or initiate a behavior change.

By offering an online component before you start a worksite wellness program (called "blended" learning), you may find that you can reach and recruit more participants. Even if they don't participate in the worksite program, the information provides awareness and the desired incentive points, and may lead to behavior change or future program participation. For example:

  • Before you start a walking program, promote preliminary online tools about why sedentary behavior is so detrimental to health.
  • Compliment your biometric screening programs with online classes about what the tests are for and what the results indicate and mean.
  • Boost emotional, financial, and social wellness with diverse online courses relevant to what people need to be successful and happy in life today.

Knowledge is power. Empower your employees with quality fundamental education and opportunities to implement related behavioral change. The two go together like peanut butter and jelly.

About the Author

June Chewning, MA is the educational specialist for Online Learning Strategies, an accredited education company. June has served to format, develop, author, and deliver continuing education to institutions, certifying and continuing organizations, and in the community setting.

An exercise physiologist and physical educator by profession, June has worked several years in development and delivery of employee wellness services. June's current project is working with a team of top-notch authors to develop a high quality line of employee wellness eLearning courses designed to inform and provide behavior change resources for employees.


  • EBN May 20, 2015. Blood tests provide wellness data, but caution urged.
  • EBN May 20, 2015. Incentives becoming the major push for wellness programs.
  • Pettigre S, Moore S, Pratt IS, Jongenelis M. (2015) Evaluation outcomes of a long-running adult nutrition education programme. Public health Nutr. 2015 May 20:1-10.
  • RAND Health. (2013)  Worksite Wellness Programs Study: Final Report. RAND Corporation Research Report Series. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  Accessed July 2015.
  • Rea JB. (2014) The role of education in health and wellness programs. Worksite Wellness, a Corporate Wellness Magazine Publication.  January 2014.
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