We’re bombarded with messages to improve our lives. Emails, phone calls, TV and even smart phone apps and social media sites tell us how to be happier, healthier, and live better.
So there’s an abundance of competition when it comes to communicating the benefits and news of an employee health program. It’s a battle, but one that’s worth winning.
MHealthy is a comprehensive population health strategy that has been recognized both internally and externally for successfully providing high quality services and creating a culture of health at the University of Michigan (U-M). Now in its fourth year, MHealthy has established a strong foundation for the future and is making measurable progress toward its long-term goals of improving the health status and quality of life of the UM community and helping to control health related costs. The level of health risks in U-M’s population is trending in the right direction. Customer satisfaction is high, and MHealthy is achieving favorable health outcomes. U- M is also seeing a positive trend in both health care costs and self-reported absenteeism.
Communicating the University’s health promotion vision, mission and goals and raising awareness of health improvement initiatives is key to MHealthy’s success.
Effective communications is more than having a perfect program name or tagline. It needs to be continuous, penetrating all levels of an organization and appealing to the values and interests of the various customer groups. Without a regularly updated plan to deliver authentic messages about your program’s mission, strategy, services and successes, you risk becoming just one more quiet voice that can’t cut through the daily onslaught of messages.
MHealthy mainly serves U-M’s 40,000-plus employees but also offers select services to their families. More than 28,700 employees have participated at least once in an MHealthy program or service, which include physical activity, nutrition, weight management, mental and emotional health, ergonomics, tobacco treatment, alcohol management, disease and health risk management, and health education.
Effective communication of that many services to that large of a group can’t come from one source or through one medium. In fact, it’s best if messages come from all levels, from your highest ranking leaders to middle managers to regular employees. And using a wide array of marketing and communications channels is essential.
MHealthy’s website www.mhealthy.umich.edu provides a comprehensive review of all programs and services. Continuous communications and marketing are accomplished through leadership and employee e-newsletters; videos; campaigns featuring testimonials from leaders; visible cues such as signs, building banners and screen savers; special events, and more. Fundamental strategies for engaging and motivating employees include: leadership engagement; department wellness champions; incentives, recognition and awards. Here’s a closer look at three key groups in the
MHealthy communication strategy
Leadership: Leadership engagement is crucial to motivating employees to participate in MHealthy programs and adopt healthier lifestyles. Some of the activities that have helped get U-M’s leaders on board include:
- Bi-annual leadership briefings from President Coleman and our executive vice presidents outlining our business case and the latest metrics on progress
- Education on employee health management and the leader’s role incorporated into existing leadership development programs
- Reports to department leaders with unit-specific participation levels and risk factors
- Awards recognizing department leaders who have met participation goals or been exemplars in creating cultures of health
- We also help leaders communicate to their employees by giving them tools such as draft emails they can customize and send.
MHealthy leverages technology to engage a large percentage of our population. Over 10,500 people participated in our online physical activity tracking program, ActiveU, in 2012. This annual program allows individuals and teams to track physical activity minutes online or through a mobile phone app. It also includes an ActiveU blog, which allows individuals to share their experiences. MHealthy uses Twitter to encourage participants on their journey.
We also feature regular employees in major marketing campaigns. One of our most successful was our year-long “I Will” campaign, where employees held signs proclaiming their personal commitment to maintaining or improving their health. This campaign resulted in employees posting “I Will” signs in their workspaces and sending photos of themselves holding their “I Will” signs.
Our video testimonials are also an effective way to showcase leaders, employees and MHealthy Champions and serve as long-lasting messages we can keep on our web site, use in meetings or in electronic communications. Videos provide us a way to offer compelling stories and personal messages from faculty and staff across the university.
High-risk and hard-to-reach employees: Not every university employee works at a computer, and our data show that many of the same people without daily access to email and the Internet also tend to have higher health risks. We reach them through posters, banners, home mailings, and bringing programs and services directly to their work areas. We have also started using text messages and mobile applications with all employees.
There’s no one perfect way or time to reach all of these groups. The delivery of easy-to-digest, consistent messages needs to be ongoing and kept fresh and interesting to each major customer group. We’re getting more aggressive in social media, and that means moving beyond Facebook and engaging our audience on Google Plus, Twitter and Instagram. We also plan to do more outreach to families in the coming year.
The good news is that we’re in position to succeed in social media and other emerging forms of communication, because we already have a solid network of two-way communication paths that reach our key audiences and their diverse subgroups. Their feedback on our programs will make us better and ensure we continue to be a vital part of the university.
About LaVaughn Palma-Davis
LaVaughn is the Senior Director of University Health and Well-being Services at the University of Michigan. In this role, she provides leadership to MHealthy, a comprehensive program designed to promote health and encourage healthy behaviors among the University community.. She was recently asked to lead the implementation of a five year strategic plan for health and well-being services for all U-M employees, dependents and retirees with the goals of improving health status and containing health care costs. LaVaughn received her B.S. in Health Education from the University of Dayton and her Master's Degree in Public Health Education from Central Michigan University.