How do I motivate apathetic employees? October 10th, 2013, by Ken Buckley

In our recent webinar on behaviour change, I touched on the benefits of incentives schemes and rewards programs as a way to deliver sustained changes to employee habits. At the end of the webinar, a participant asked me, “But how do I incentivise apathetic employees?”

Every organisation has them: that group or groups of employees who simply don’t seem to be interested.

In some cases, they’re all part of a certain team with its own subculture. In other cases, they’re employees of a certain demographic. You can never generalise – a group of males in their 50s may be super motivated in one organisation, and resistant to all efforts in another.

They aren’t motivated by free drink bottles or movie tickets, or even a marketing strategy focused on the benefits of feeling great. (See my earlier blog on How to use incentives to boost engagement in your corporate health & wellness program.)

Chances are they’ve tried “it” before and it didn’t work, whatever “it” might be: weight loss, a regular exercise routine. They tell you they just want to get on with their job and have you leave them alone.

So what does it take to motivate them to change?

The answer is both extremely simple and extremely diverse: ask them.

Just as no two disengaged groups are the same, no two groups will be motivated by the same thing.

There are a number of ways to go about asking, depending on the size and culture of your organisation and your relationship with the individual employees. Obviously, you need to avoid the opportunity for them to give you spurious or frivolous answers, or ideas you can’t cater to. “A trip to the Gold Coast” is rarely going to be a feasible incentive.

1.       Send a short survey with multiple choice options

www.surveymonkey.com is one of many free online options that give you an easy way to develop and send online surveys.

Ask questions such as:

  • What kind of rewards for participation would motivate you to take part in our health & wellness program?
    • A. [feasible item you can afford]
    • B. etc
    • C. etc
    • D. etc

Allow space for them to add their comments or suggestions. You ‘ll be surprised what you can discover.

You may also want to dig deeper into why they aren’t engaged. Ask them about previous activities/ programs, and find out what they did or didn’t like.

If you haven’t already canvassed employees for input on the type of activities and programs they’d like to see, ask them this as well. Even if you’ve already planned this years’ programs, you can always incorporate their ideas into next year’s calendar.

Again, provide a feasible and finite list, with the option for free comments.

2.       Invite the group to a “focus group” session and talk about it face to face

 Ideally, you’d do this with a number of other groups as well, not only to keep it honest, but also to gather more ideas and insights.

This focus group gives you a great chance to explain again why you’re offering the health and wellness program, and how it will benefit them personally.

You can explain why you’re offering incentives or rewards (helps them maintain their new healthy habits), and then segue neatly into questions about what incentives or rewards would motivate them personally.

Provide some initial ideas, which set the price-range and nature of the kinds of things you can offer.

Use the focus group idea to find out more about their barriers and perceptions and ideas. You’ll be amazed what you can find out when you ask.

3.       Talk casually to each employee

This relies on some familiarity, but a lot can be gained from simply rocking up next to someone in the kitchen and remarking, “I noticed you’re not too keen on the activities we’ve been doing. They’re not your thing?”  OR along the lines of, “You didn’t seem swept away by our new incentive program. What’s missing for you?”

4.       Invite some group members to join your Wellness Committee

The Wellness Committee is a group of “employee ambassadors” who spread the word amongst their peers about your program, and who give you ideas and insights to make your program better.

Certainly, most members should be positive, proactive people with a passion for health and wellness. But much can be gained from involving one or more of the more vocal employees in your Committee. They can play “devil’s advocate”, and tell give you valuable insights into how your ideas will play out in the trenches.

In a Committee meeting, have an open discussion about motivation, incentives and rewards, and invite the group member(s) to comment.

 

Find out more about the Rewards program which comes with our evidence-based WellSteps system for corporate health and wellness.

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