The pathway to behaviour change – it’s longer for some than others.

Have you ever thought about the process involved in actually changing a long established habit or behaviour? Furthermore, have you ever considered why it seems easier for some than others to change and then make that change a lasting habit?

Australian Psychologist and Founder of Health Change Australia (HCA)   Janette Gale, developed ‘A practical guide to health behaviour change’ to teach health professionals how to support their clients to change their behaviours. You can download the guide here

HCA developed the 6 stage ‘Generic behaviour change pathway’ which outlines what needs to happen for a person to take and sustain action.

Generic behaviour change pathway

The first step in the model suggests that people need to have a certain amount of knowledge and understanding before they can even think about changing their situation and take action.

Then they need to have enough motivation driving them to change. Think about it, something needs to be quite important to us to create the motivation to change. If it is not important we won’t be motivated to change.

Armed with knowledge, understanding and motivation we can then make the decision to change and commit to change. This is the half-way point on the behaviour change pathway, known as ‘above the line’.

‘Below the line’ is where perceived ability or confidence can be a barrier or enabler to take and sustain action. At this stage some planning is required to get through any road blocks that may (and probably will) come up. Finally, ongoing self-regulation is required to ensure changes are made and sustained.

Why this process is important for the success of workplace health and wellbeing programs?

By understanding the behaviour change pathway it’s easy to see why many wellbeing programs do not support employees to change and sustain their behaviours. Such programs promote good health and wellbeing by assessing health levels through health checks then offer health promotion activities to educate employees on target areas. While this approach is a great starting point and may work for employees who find it easier to change (typically the healthier ones), the often ‘high risk’ employees who find change difficult need more ongoing support.

How can you support high risk employees who struggle to change?

There are a few ways you can support employees to change however the first step is identifying those who are high risk. Not so easy I hear you say? How do you get around privacy and confidentiality issues? One way of doing so is by asking employees for their consent upfront to inform the employer if their health check results identify them as high risk.

Your organisation may choose to incentivise consent by offering high risk employees some health coaching. I know what you’re thinking, health coaching is expensive, and in some cases it is. However there are some telephonic and video Skype health coaching options that are cost effective.

Because the organisation would only be investing in health coaching for high risk employees that have an opportunity to improve their absence and productivity levels, and as a result the performance of the organisation, the investment is easily justifiable.

Some employees will not provide consent no matter how much you incentivise them, however some high risk employees who are ready and want to change will –  these are the ones you can help.

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