Last week I discussed how to create a workplace stretching program on your own.  But having a good program and a variety of stretching routines is just the groundwork.  Where most safety manager’s struggle is getting it off the ground and having employees participate.

Should You Make Participation Mandatory?

The way a lot of workplaces solve the dilemma of low participation is by making their stretching program mandatory.  This means putting it in their job description and disciplinary action for non-compliance.

I don’t know about you, but when you force me to exercise *cough* PE Class *cough* I don’t put in much effort, I go through the motions to get my grade.  So there is really no benefit.

You have to look at your stretching program as a form of an exercise program.  Through that lens, you can more easily identify the obstacles that are getting in your way.  For starters, the fact that a large percentage of people don’t want to exercise.

The other problem with mandatory stretching programs is that you will now ‘own’ any injuries that happen during them. If someone pulls a muscle stretching too far, you now have a Worker’s Comp. claim on your hands.

This risk is always there, that’s why having trained facilitators is important as well as not setting expectations.  We all can’t be expected to touch our toes.

But when you force them to stretch, you open up this risk.  Especially, when they don’t want to do it.

Launching Your Stretching Program for Success

Planning a successful stretching program launch begins before you even create your first stretching routine.

Get your employees involved at the very beginning.  When you first start to develop your program, you are going to talk to employees about it.

Tell them your plans and get their input on the muscle groups that they use the most.  While you are observing their body mechanics, tell them why and what you’re creating.

When you start to pick out stretches, try them out with your employees to see what they think.

All of this adds time and effort at the beginning of your development, but it increases participation and makes implementation a lot easier.

Make your Employees the Heroes of Your Program Promotions

The next step is to include your employees in your stretching promotional materials. 

Take pictures or videos of them doing the stretches.  Include as many employees as you can. Throw in a supervisor or two as well. 

When it is time to promote and launch your program, they’ll be the stars.  Employees are more likely to follow other employees. The person in the picture is more likely to participate.

There are two issues that your promotional materials and rollout plan needs to address: The Industrial Athlete awareness and The Superman Belief.

The Industrial Athlete Awareness

Most workers do not compare themselves to athletes.  They agree that an athlete would never enter a game without warming up.  But, they don’t see the need in themselves.

They see work as something everyone does.  They don’t have to prepare their muscles to work – they just work.

This is the same at home too – how many people do you see limber up before they move a couch or bring down boxes from the attic or climb a ladder? No one!

So one of the first things we need to do is show them is that working is using their muscles and doing so without warming up is setting them up for failure.  They are an industrial athlete.

In your training or promotional materials, you can make comparisons with what they do to what athletes do:

  • A weightlifter lifting a weight compared to how much weight they lift in a day.
  • A golfer who twists when driving compared to the movements they make; or a baseball player swinging a bat.
  • A swimmer whose movements push the water compared to them pushing or pulling a cart.

These athletes wouldn’t skimp on warming up.  Help your employees realize they need to do the same.

The Superman Belief

Younger workers have a common thought – “That won’t happen to me.”  I call it the Superman Belief.

I used to think it was just young arrogance until I realized that their brains are not fully developed.  The prefrontal cortex does not fully develop until the age of 24 and possibly later for males.

This part of the brain is responsible for decisions about risk-taking.  Kind of explains why it is so hard to get them to understand that hurting their back today will affect them the rest of their lives.

To be honest, this is a tough one to combat.  Using stories of people who were injured when they were young and now struggle with chronic pain may work. You can chat with your long time employees and see if they have any stories to share.

Honestly, getting them to realize it can happen to them is the best thing you can do.

Pre-Launch Runway – Priming them to Participate

Priming is a psychology term that refers to a technique where you expose participants to a stimulus prior to the actions to influence the results.

For example, if I want you to pick the Red Circle in an experiment, I can prime your brain by either showing you the word RED or flashing red for a split second. When the choices come up, you are more likely to pick the red object.

Priming can be used to influence the acceptance of your stretching program.

We did a little bit of this by including employees in the process.  We primed their brains by talking about what’s being created and launching soon.

We are going to take it a step further with a Pre-Launch Runway.

The month leading up to the launch of your program, you are going to prime their minds with all the reasons why they should participate in the stretching program without coming right out and saying.

  1. Your weekly toolbox talks should be focused on Ergonomics, Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs), Strains/Sprains, Slips & Falls, and Lifting.
  2. Share your data regularly such as trending information, number of strains & sprains, and lost work time.
  3. Share accident and injury stories related to MSDs in your newsletters or postings.  You can get these from your workplace or from the internet.  
  4. Create a Safety at Home flyer to remind them to stretch before doing any strenuous activities around the house.

After a month or six weeks of this, their brains are primed to be more receptive to a stretching program.  

Make Your Kick-off FUN

There’s nothing better than having an excuse to have a fun event.  When you are launching your stretching program, consider making it a party.

Decorations, promotional items (stress balls, keychains, etc..), healthy snacks, and the whole team involved.

Recruit the entire management team to participate.  Every stretching session that week should have someone from your executive team joining in.  This shows commitment from the top.

After the kickoff week, your management team still needs to participate regularly.  Their visible support of the program is important to maintain the momentum of your kickoff week.

Maintaining Structure to Your Stretching Program

You took a lot of time and preparation to launch this thing.  Here are some tips to keep it going strong for the long haul.

  1. Select Stretching Leaders and train them to properly lead a stretching session and watch out for people stretching wrong.  These can be employees or supervisors.
  2. Make a Playlist – having a set music playlist for your stretching sessions signals that it is time to stretch.  But, you can use the music to time your stretches so that you don’t cut them short. For example – each song is a different muscle group.
  3. Create posters and handouts of the different routines so that your employees can practice them at home if they want to.
  4. Get a big timer that everyone can see (like you would see in a gym), so they can time how long they are holding the stretch.
  5. Create a schedule for higher-level management to participate and send them a calendar invite so they don’t forget.  You can rotate through them. Sometimes support for safety needs to be scheduled. 
  6. Occasionally incentivize participation – hand out T-shirts, do a punchcard program, or give tokens to the vending machine.  That extra push may be just what some needed.

Use Peer Pressure

I started this article talking about why a stretching program shouldn’t be mandatory.  However, I do believe that attendance at the stretching sessions should be.

I don’t make employees stretch, but I do make them show up.

By conducting your daily pre-shift meeting directly before or after the stretching, it is easy to make attendance mandatory.

Humans are tribal by nature and we need to be part of a group.  If you have employees that are adamant about not stretching, there is a chance, over time, that they will change their minds just by being forced to be around it.

You will see and hear people talk about how good they feel and how they’re more flexible.  This may worm its way into the psyche of your stubborn few. I’ve seen it work.

You get down to the last few hold-outs and the other employees will start putting the pressure on them to join the crowd.  Just be patient and don’t stress over people who refuse to do it.

TAKE ACTION

We just went over a lot of information about how to launch a workplace stretching program.  I hope you got some great tips out of it.

If you already have a program in place, you can always kick it off again if you feel it needs a boost.

If you don’t have a program.  I seriously think you need to move forward on developing a program, but use that priming idea.  It really does the trick to get them ready for a new idea.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN

I want to hear about your stretching program launch.  Comment below and tell me what you do to increase participation in your program.