Creating a Culturally Competent Wellness Campaign

Creating a Culturally Competent Wellness Campaign

This is written by Jennifer Zanfordino from Monaco Lange.


At the start of 2016 one of our clients re-launched their wellness program. They had spent the previous months exhaustively searching for the right backend vendor to support their goals, and were determined to exceed the mediocre participation they had in the previous wellness program. As such, they were leaving nothing up to chance and realized they had only one chance to make a first impression that generated excitement and drove participation.

Many people would take launching a new wellness program in January for granted. After all, January is the time to talk about resetting your health habits. But our client was all in on making this program successful, so putting some information out there and hoping employees connected it to the naturally occurring conversations they were having about their health wasn’t enough. They wanted to create something that spoke directly to their employees and inspired specific wellness program related actions. Because of this they forwent the standard, off-the-shelf communications offered by their vendor and chose to create a custom, culturally competent wellness campaign.

To figure out what creating a “culturally competent wellness campaign” meant for their organization, they first assessed the current state of health of their employee population (collectively, not individually). The data showed that much of their population wasn’t making their health a priority. From a communications perspective this was important because it meant we weren’t talking to employees who were hitting the gym three times a week or strictly monitoring their fruit and vegetable intake. It meant we were talking to people who knew they could be healthier and reduce their risk of things like heart disease, but for some reason weren’t motivated to take action. Using scare tactics probably wouldn’t work for this population. And telling someone who already knows they’re probably not in the best shape of their lives how “easy” and “fun” it is to get healthier might be met with an eye roll. Finally, showing end result photos of smiling, athletic people running along trails was a no-go because they would be unrelatable.

And while many of our client’s employees weren’t at the top of their health game, there were employees who made their health a priority. We couldn’t forget about those people. All of this needed to be considered, which is why we needed campaign messaging that was inclusive of both audiences.

After considering the state of the audience, our client needed to think about the language that would be used throughout the campaign. The vendor supplied communications (posters, digital signage, emails, etc.) focused on the competitive aspects of the wellness program. The problem was our client’s culture wasn’t competitive. Instead, employees continually received messaging about the power of collaboration and working together to achieve more. So while the competition factor could be inspiring once an employee was signed up for the wellness program, it was an inauthentic lead message for the introductory communications.

Finally, our client had invested a lot of time and energy building trust with their employees. One of the ways they had achieved this was by delivering a consistent communication experience – whether they were talking about their 401k or afternoon ice cream break. The vendor communications weren’t aligned with the established style. They had a different look, a different feel, and barely included the client’s brand anywhere. So instead of the wellness program feeling like something our client was offering its employees because it was aligned with the overall strategy and EVP, it felt disconnected and unrelated.

Armed with this understanding of their unique employee population and experience, we set out creating a wellness campaign that would resonate with this client’s employee population. We focused on using language that was inclusive and spoke to employees at both ends of the wellness spectrum. We looked for imagery that quickly represented the shift we were asking employees to make, without showing the traditional “end” result that may seem unachievable for some people. We created practical giveaways because we knew employees would view frivolous tchotchkes as wasteful. And finally, we made sure we had a really simple, really clear call to action because we respected the fact that employees are busy with their work and life to-do lists, and that this was an additive program.

Launch was a success with more than a third of eligible employees and spouses/partners enrolling in the first month. Since then, more than half of the eligible population has participated in the new wellness program. And while the work isn’t done, the results to date show significant improvement from the previous wellness program where the client took a hands off approach to communicating about the program.

So the next time you’re preparing for a culturally competent launch of your next program  – whether it’s a wellness program, retirement program or a learning and development program – make sure you consider:


  1. Your employees. Where are they when it comes to this program? Are they hungry for a solution and looking for a change? Are they indifferent? Are they stuck and resistant to anything new? Understanding their current position will help you understand how you need to approach them.


  1. The employee experience. Are leaders constantly talking about being an underdog? Is the environment collaborative? Competitive? Tapping into this tone, language, and identity when communicating will leverage the energy that already exists within the organization and ensure you’re delivering an aligned, authentic experience.



  1. The communications experience. Have you been consistently communicating with your employees using one tone of voice? One look and feel? (if not you should but that’s a story for another day) Do they trust you? If you have a look and feel, or have established trust with your employees, make sure you deliver your communications in a way that is familiar to them and aligned with their previous experiences. Doing so lowers the cognitive burden of trying to figure out if a new message is worth the time and energy needed to process it and take action.


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