Many companies provide lunch and learns or one time seminars, and then become frustrated when employees ‘refuse’ to take advice or continue with behaviors that have a negative impact on their health and productivity.

Lifestyle changes such as weight control, exercise, and smoking cessation can be difficult to change and maintain over a long period of time and require more intensive behavior change programs.

In a recent conversation with Deborah Balfanz, Ph.D., of Stanford University Health Improvement Program, Stanford School of Medicine, she shared her experiences in her role of coordinating behavior change programs.  Some of her guidelines for behavior change programs are listed below and are worth considering when developing worksite wellness programs.

For change to be sustainable it must be gradual. We live in an instant gratification society, yet behavior change rarely happens quickly.  Build ‘baby steps’ into your programs to make it easier for participants to succeed.  When we don’t achieve instant change we have a tendency to want to give up. Small change gives one the confidence to make another one and then another.

Lifestyle changes are continuous, not temporary. I used to cringe whenever I heard the term ‘lifestyle’ change. We all wish we could just eat a cup of cabbage soup for lunch for seven days to forever loose ten pounds.  I finally got that temporary doesn’t work long term, and whatever changes I make, I need to be able to sustain for the long term. When building programs ensure the changes asked for are sustainable.

It is imperative to set appropriate short term goals. The goal must be specific, include a time factor, be measurable and realistic. Studies prove the more specific the goal the more likely it will be accomplished.

Structure the environment to me more conducive to the change being made. It won’t help your employees or company if you hold classes in nutrition and then have only donuts and cupcakes in the break out room.

Recognize people will be more likely to be successful if they work on what they are ready to change. It is important to give employees a voice and a choice. The organization, their spouse, or even their doctor cannot make them change before they are ready.

Although, with the right incentive employees could be moved to change – but that discussion is for another blog.

Valorie Bender