DialogueAt most organizations, a workforce health strategy includes communication and education to motivate and equip employees and their families to reduce health risks, improve wellbeing, and prevent the development of serious (and expensive) health problems.

But according to research scientist Tom Rath, the typical health messages aren’t very effective in motivating people on an ongoing basis to make healthier decisions – surprisingly, not even people who already face life-threatening conditions. Tom’s own experience battling cancer for over two decades bears out that it doesn’t consistently influence his behavior when faced with choosing a burger and fries versus a healthier lunch.

Rath’s new book shows that it’s more effective to connect better daily decisions with short-term wins and incentives. In Are You Fully Charged? 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life, Rath identifies personal energy as an intrinsic motivator that appeals universally to all types of people.

Making the connection between better health decisions and daily energy levels does far more to change employee behavior than telling them about longer-term health consequences.

Although the primary trigger is a short-term benefit, it’s most effective if the message makes a further connection to a longer-term purpose that stimulates the Impact motive. In other words, an employee is more likely to be motivated to make a healthier choice because it will help them have the energy they need to influence other people or make a difference in people’s lives – for example, the energy to deliver a presentation that impresses the audience, or to inspire your kids to pursue their dreams, or to innovate the next iPhone that changes the world.

Say This. Not That.

Here are a few examples of how organizations can choose more effective health messages to engage their workforce.

Less effective: Stick with a daily exercise regimen, because it may help prevent cancer several years down the road.
More effective: When you have an important day ahead – for example, an important presentation to deliver – get some activity in the morning so you’re in a better mood and your thinking is sharper.

Less effective: Don’t eat fast food; it could increase your long-term risk of heart disease.
More effective: What will you eat for lunch today? Choose food that will sustain your creative energy throughout the afternoon. Your innovative genius is helping us change the world!

Less effective: Get adequate sleep, because it will help you lose weight.
More effective: A solid night’s sleep gives you a head start on the next day’s productivity and mood, so you’ll finish each day feeling fulfilled and ready to inspire your kids’ dreams.

Less effective: Eating whole grains for breakfast may reduce your cholesterol and risk of stroke.
More effective: A breakfast or snack of sweets or baked goods makes it almost impossible to get your energy and focus back on track for the rest of the day. Healthier foods will help you power through the day with brilliant insights and impressive results.

Less effective: Get enough sleep so you can manage stress better and avoid a heart attack.
More effective: Sleep better to achieve more and work safer. Losing just 90 minutes of sleep reduces daytime alertness by a third.

Lead with short-term triggers – while still connecting it to a longer-term impact – to help people make the changes necessary to improve their health and wellbeing.

Jesse Lahey, SPHR, is the host of the podcasts Engaging Leader and Workforce Health Engagement, and he is CEO (chief engagement officer) of Aspendale Communications. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. If you know anyone who would benefit from this information, please share it!

Tom Rath is author of five influential bestsellers. He is a senior scientist and advisor for The Gallup Organization, where he helps people and organizations reach their potential. His previous bestsellers include Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements and EAT MOVE SLEEP: Why Small Choices Make a Big Difference. His newest book is Are You Fully Charged? 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life. Be sure to catch our upcoming interviews with Tom on Engaging Leader and Workforce Health Engagement.