We Have a Wellness Program: What’s the Problem?
Employers have the chance to make a difference by offering wellness programs, but many of these programs fail to deliver adequate or lasting benefits. Employer-provided wellness programs often fail because they do not address two of the most fundamental drivers of meaningful change:
- Reaching people where they’re “at” and addressing the issues they truly care about
- Creating a culture that supports and encourages ongoing personal and collective change
Studies show that 70 percent of employees who are offered health risk assessments (one of the most fundamental elements of current wellness programs provided by employers) complete them, but only 20 percent follow up with action based on the results. Producing lasting results takes more than just telling people to eat more vegetables and add more steps to their pedometer. Here are six simple steps to increase the health and wellness of your staff and produce meaningful and sustainable change:
- 1. Put People First
Health and wellness has to become the norm in your corporate culture if you want to meet your organizations overall wellness goals. How do you make health and wellness the norm? By employing a “person-centered” model. Healthcare systems are reorienting to a model of patient-centered care in which patients and families’ needs, interests, and values are accounted for, and patients and families share decision-making with clinical professionals. Employers should also reorient to a similar “person-centered” model. Ask your staff about what’s important to them and what help they need. Make it clear that their values, interests, and needs count.
Incorporate their values, interests, and needs into the final products you offer them. Then, make sure the corporate culture does three key things:
- Adequately supports individual efforts
- Addresses the collective influence on wellness
- Provides executive support
Make sure that leadership articulates the value of health and wellness, establishes policies supporting it, and applies resources to it to make it happen. But first, evaluate your existing wellness program and make sure it is responsive to your employees.
- 2. Create Wellness From Within
You can’t outsource core functions of your organization without weakening the core strength of the organization. So, why outsource something as essential to the health of your organization as your wellness program? The best way to ensure ongoing wellness is to empower in-house employees with science-based skills to turn casual conversations, formal one-on-one meetings, and general organizational exchanges into opportunities to model and foster wellness.
It might be great to have consultants – fitness experts and nutritional counselors – available, but the most successful organizations have the built-in capacity to self-assess and self-correct. Success happens when organizations become learning communities with a strong internal culture of wellness.
- 3. Take a Holistic Approach
Effective workplace wellness programs address the needs of the whole person. Obesity, use of tobacco and chronic disease, for example, are problems that directly affect employers’ bottom line. But, offering fixes to those problems may not be the powerful leverage point you need to make a difference in your employee’s lives.
Often, other factors cause cascading health problems and spark unhealthy behaviors. Maybe, for instance, adjusting an employee’s work schedule so that he/she could take advantage of less costly daycare might reduce her financial stress and help her cut down on the stress-related emotional eating that’s driving her weight gain. If you only address the symptom of employee distress you often will miss the cause and the change that is important to the employee to make. Taking a holistic approach to help employees address the unique issues that affect their health and wellness can go a lot farther than just incentivizing a walking competition or introducing the newest social media app.
- 4. Look Long-term
Most of today’s corporate wellness programs simply offer a quick fix. Overweight? Here’s the diet. Smoke tobacco? Here’s a program and a patch. Not getting enough exercise? Here’s a discount for a health club membership. These are great offerings for employees who are already “on board” but only a small percentage of your workforce will be “on board,” especially as your organization starts to embrace wellness.
Offering short-term solutions to problems you’ve defined for yourself may enable you to check off an item on a to-do list, but will fail to create the attitude changes that are crucial for fostering healthy living and achieving long-term goals. Long-term wellness builds on the principle that all change is self-change. It builds on behaviors and methods that both produce the results desired by each individual and fit the individual’s needs, values, preferences, and culture.
- 5. Foster Resilience
Today’s workers face tremendous pressures on the job: longer hours, increased workloads, pressure to do more with fewer resources, and constant change. In fact, the vast majority of American workers—8 in 10—report that they are stressed about their jobs. Admittedly, some of the pressure may be difficult to change, but employers can do things to significantly reduce the effects on staff.
Resilience is critical. Employers can lay the foundation for a resilient workforce—one that performs well under pressure, overcomes roadblocks and adapts well to change—through formal programming and by establishing a work environment that helps employees develop their “resilience” muscle. This means:
- Fostering honest, empathic, supportive conversations
- Instilling optimism - guided by internal values and standards
- Encouraging curiosity and experimentation in which the goal is learning across the organization
- 6. Act Now! And Keep Going
Why wait? Getting as many people involved in corporate wellness programs across all areas is crucial for success - and companies can’t stop there. Put the power and responsibility for change in the hands of your staff, from leadership to front-line staff, and recognize individual and collective efforts. Celebrate successes, even baby steps taken in the right direction.
The important thing is not to try to find the ‘fix of the day’ or tell someone else to make your organizations employees healthy – building a culture of wellness from within using these six simple steps could make all the difference.