How to Cope When the Mandatory Workplace Health Program Is Driving You Crazy

They can lead you to the salad bar but they can't make you eat.

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By John Boitnott

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Wellness programs have become a staple of workplace health benefits, and it doesn't look likely to change any time soon. According to a report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 90 percent of respondents will increase their investments in wellness programs in the future if they see reduced healthcare costs as a result. Two-thirds of those respondents say they saw reduced healthcare costs in 2014 due to these programs.

What does that mean for the employees of those organizations? Unless the employer makes participation optional, they'll likely have to follow the rules of the plan. This means wellness screenings and regular phone follow-up calls from professional program coordinators, who will gage their success eating healthier, exercising more and kicking bad habits, especially smoking. Here are a few things you can do to survive your business's mandatory workplace wellness program.

Understand "mandatory."

While you employer can make workplace wellness programs mandatory, there's a limit to what they can force you to do. They can, for instance, require you to attend seminars or complete questionnaires revealing your health habits. They cannot require employees to go to the gym every day or eat salad for lunch instead of fast food. They can only offer opportunities to participate in special programs and provide you the information you need to live a healthier lifestyle.

Related: How to Encourage Employee Wellness Without Being a Jerk

Don't delay.

If your program requires regular check-ins, don't procrastinate. You'll only create more work for yourself if your wellness coordinator starts calling. If you do get a call from your coordinator, accept it or call back immediately. The more you delay, the more time and effort you waste worrying about it. If possible, make an appointment with your doctor for next year's physical as you leave the office this year to save time and avoid missing any deadlines your employer sets.

Stop worrying about privacy.

Your employer contracted with a wellness program company to take itself out of the equation. Yet when you're asked to complete questionnaires or speak to your coordinator, you may feel as though the information will be held against you somehow. In truth, the wellness program is required to safeguard the privacy of a participating business's employees, only offering information in aggregate as it may benefit the employer. For instance, an employer may ask how participation has increased from one year to the next or ask which employees should be rewarded for reaching their goals. However, unless an employee has authorized the sharing of personal health details between the wellness program and the employer, any leak of information would likely be a HIPAA violation.

Related: Employee Wellness Programs Are Due for an Overhaul

Find a buddy.

Any new healthcare program is easier when you tackle it with a friend. Whether you make a date to walk to the gym after work every day or have lunch at a healthy restaurant down the street, having someone to share the journey is easier. If your issue is kicking an unhealthy habit, find a coworker who also has a bad habit to kick and agree to be each other's accountability partners. Not only will you be more likely to stick to your goals, you'll also have someone to commiserate with when your wellness coordinator is calling yet again.

Related: Are Wellness Programs Right for Your Company?

Mandatory screenings.

In some instances, businesses include mandatory screenings as part of their wellness programs. This may mean simply visiting your doctor once a year for a physical, but more often it means getting your blood drawn or submitting urine to tests. Increasingly, these programs include testing for nicotine, with higher insurance premiums given to those who test positive for the substance. Legal questions have been raised, especially when employers use these tests as a reason to not hire smokers or terminate employees who smoke. If you smoke or do recreational drugs, these programs are additional incentive to quit.

Many businesses implement wellness programs to save on healthcare insurance premiums and maintain a healthier workforce. When employees learn to work within these programs, they can make their employers happy while also enacting small changes to live healthier lives.

John Boitnott

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

Journalist, Digital Media Consultant and Investor

John Boitnott is a longtime digital media consultant and journalist living in San Francisco. He's written for Venturebeat, USA Today and FastCompany.

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