True confessions: I grew up in Southern California with lots of opportunity to surf, but was a pretty lousy surfer. I could never get the fine balance skill between being too far forward “pearling” the board and being too far back and missing the wave. I lacked the key skill that would have helped me be in the right place on the board at the right time and place in the wave.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the help I needed to develop the skill I was missing. That’s a real regret of mine. As a result I did become a pretty competitive body surfer and body boarder, but I still regret that I didn’t get the help I needed to be the surfer I wanted to be.
The “S” in AMSO is for skill acquisition–acquiring skills that support the new healthy behaviors participants want to take on. To bring the “S” in AMSO, your wellness program has to have various methods that help people acquire the new skills they need to become a regular exerciser, eat more healthily, reduce tobacco use, reduce heart disease risks, maintain a healthy body weight, handle stress more effectively and many more specific healthy behaviors.
The desired new healthy behaviors participants are motivated to adopt always require the acquisition of new skills for the individual making the change! The skills are complex and need to reflect individual differences and circumstances.
If your wellness program is not helping people get those new skills across the full range of prevention targets your program is addressing, then it is not likely to be effective at helping people change their short term, let alone long term health behavior.
No participation-> no skill acquisition; no skill acquisition -> no behavior change; no behavior change -> no health improvement; no health improvement -> no economic return. None of the above –> no program and no worksite wellness career!
But remember, acquiring a new skill is not rocket science, we learn new skills all the time, but we do need to thoughtfully build in to our wellness programs many ways and options for learning those new skills. Skills are fundamentally about how we do something.
Some of us need more help than others at picking up what the new skill is and how we actually should go about doing something. Some of us can simply be told how to do something and we will figure it out. But others of us need to see someone doing the new skill in order to grasp it and yet others need to have a coach giving them personal feedback on how we are doing with the new skill.
Here are the major ways that our wellness programs usually impart the skills associated with a new health behavior.
Method #1 – Provide written information on demand: In newsletters, informational brochures, websites and FAQs that address how to do what you need to do to change that unhealthy behavior into a healthy behavior. We are talking about things like: how to quit smoking, how to use a fitness facility, how to eat healthy on the road, how to lose weight, how to manage your personal stress, how to moderate your alcohol consumption, how to seek advice for common self-limiting medical symptoms, how to select a PCP, how to build your personal resilience and literally hundreds of other “how-to’s”. However, the information provided has to be intentionally skill oriented and organized in easy to follow step-by-step sequence.
Method #2 – Provide video and learning modules: Why is YouTube so popular? Among other things because It gives people clear visual examples of how to do something. Helpful YouTube videos can be made available that cover key health behavior skills and more formal Learning Management Systems (LMS) can be used in the same way to emphasis the acquisition of key skills for specific health behavior changes. Those under 40 years of age are beginning to see video as THE main way they want information.
Method #3 – Provide experiential learning opportunities: Experiential learning is powerful and effective if done correctly. Tasting a healthy salad after seeing how it is made can help someone acquire that new skill. Having them make the salad themselves is another great experimental skill-building technique. Going through a cafeteria line with a nutrition coach giving feedback about your choices would be another example of experiential learning. Taking someone through the set-up process for a Fitbit wearable would be another example. Using a fitness facility for the first time with a buddy that has used one for years and coaches you would be another example. Navigating a restaurant menu with a wellness coach would be an example of experiential learning at its most practical. Lots of ways experiential learning can be woven into the fabric of your employee wellness program!
Method #4 – Provide telephonic coaching help: Using telephonic coaching is a typical intervention that wellness programs use to help participants acquire the necessary skills to prepare for or begin a healthy behavior. Trained and/or certified wellness coaches can provide skill building expertise to employees. The coaching help can be one time or multiple times over a year period and it can be combined with supplemental learning techniques such as biblio-therapy, support groups, health advice line use, website use and other methods. If we know how our participants likes to learn we can augment the coaching process and make it even more powerful.
Method #5 – Provide face-to-face coaching help: In many situations it is possible to use wellness coaches in the work environment on a regular basis. This process can be made available to specific work groups or for specific health behaviors and can become a regular part of the work environment. The wellness coach can help participants individually scope out and prepare for a behavior change and problem solve to help reduce recidivism. The process of knowing that you will be facing your coach soon is also likely to help support your change process.
Method #6 – Provide wellness mentors: By intentionally linking those employees of the same gender that have already successfully made a specific health behavior change with those who are just starting out with a similar change you can set up an opportunity for key skills to be acquired. Mentors are not trained wellness coaches, but can be trained and alerted to focus on the how-to issues reinforcing what skills their mentee needs to acquire.
This focus on skill building and skill acquisition in all these methods need to be strongly and clearly aligned and we need at the same time to constantly work to bring improvements to our efforts to help people change by helping them acquire new behavioral skills.
Next week we’ll look at the “O” in AMSO- a powerful framework for making sure your wellness program is producing results!
Don’t forget, strategies for using AMSO are a key area of emphasis in each level of certification in the WellCert Program!