Even companies with robust and engaging wellness programs can still face one particularly challenging problem on the path to high engagement: how to get men to participate.
In general, women are more likely than men to participate in employer-sponsored wellness programs, as revealed by a recent study. Women also tend to be more likely to visit the doctor for a physical exam and undergo routine health screenings. A Department of Labor report found that the higher the percentage of female employees in a company, the more likely the company was to even offer wellness incentives.
Although many employers see this realization in their wellness program engagement data, most do not act or respond to the dynamic. Nevertheless, the gender gap should concern employers, especially in male-dominated professions and companies.
Closing The Wellness Gender Gap
In a recent article for strategy+business, Josh Levs, author of the book All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses—and How We Can Fix It Together, outlines some suggestions for closing the gender gap in employee wellness program participation. His suggestions include:
- Provide the time to exercise during work hours and encourage men to use that time by setting the example
- Cut back on unhealthy office snacks and meals
- Destigmatize mental health care
Perhaps most importantly, Levs suggests that employers talk to their male employees to find out what programs would maximize their participation. Not surprisingly, when men are consulted on their wellness program preferences, participation rises, as a group of Canadian researchers discovered.
POWERPLAY Program: Designed With Men In Mind
Designed by researchers from the University of British Columbia and Athabasca University, in conjunction with the Canadian Cancer Society, BC Cancer Agency, and Northern Health, POWERPLAY is a wellness program targeted specifically toward men in blue-collar professions. The program was designed with men, for men, and “creates an opportunity for men to get involved in their health in a way that is both fun and acceptable to them.”
The group designed the program after meeting with groups of men to talk about the best ways to support their health goals during the working day. They found that most men are interested in staying healthy as they want to continue working and providing for their families. However, in many professions, staying active and eating well can be difficult.
The POWERPLAY program was introduced to four male-dominated worksites in British Columbia. At the end of the pilot program, men who participated reported increased physical activity and greater awareness of the importance of healthy eating.
The program’s designers found that men were most motivated by elements of friendly competition. One truck driver said, “It gave guys a really great idea, built up a little competition and helped bring people together in the workplace.” Close to 20% of participants said that the competitive nature of the program was their favorite part.
Finding The Sweet Spot
While the question of how to get maximum participation in a wellness program is always an important one, employers with predominantly male employee populations should think critically about how to engage those employees.
A good place to start is listening to employees by collecting responses on an employee wellness interest survey. Make sure to capture a respondent’s gender, which will allow for analysis on the specific preferences of men. Questions around main health concerns, what activities are appealing, and program design features that would be most engaging can help design a program with elements for both men and women. Keep in mind that successful employee wellness programs are multi-faceted; not everyone will be interested in the same things, so it is ok to create certain programs that will have greater interest by one segment of the population.
It’s also helpful to understand the motivations for and barriers to participation. According to the study on participation by gender, men are more likely to participate in wellness programs when prompted by their family. When asked about barriers to participation, men cited work demands and unhealthy food and snacks on the job more often than women did. With these responses in mind, employers can design a program that supports the specific needs of men as well as women.