I graduated from the University of Miami with a Bachelor of Science in physics. I even went through a year and a half of physics graduate studies.
Then I discovered advanced theoretical statistical mechanics. No thank you.
But I’m not here to talk about that. It might seem a little strange to hear this at first, but I’ve discovered that corporate wellness operates under the same three basic laws as physics does: inertia, force, and reaction.
In physics, Newton’s first law simply states that any object moving at a constant velocity will keep moving at that same speed, in that same direction, until or unless some external force is applied to it. It also says that anything not moving will continue to not move until or unless some force compels it to move.
In corporate wellness, the concept of inertia applies to how well your wellness program is doing. If it’s not moving (if you don’t have a wellness program) and you don’t do anything to make it move (i.e., to have a program), your endeavors to improve your employees’ health will be entirely useless.
Alternately, if it’s moving (if you actually have a program in place), but moving slowly (not getting results), you won’t get any results until/unless you do something about it. Exert some force for crying out loud. Figure out what needs changed and make the change.
Even if you have a thriving wellness program (an object moving at high speed, in the right direction), you still need to ensure that it maintains its motion. What does this entail? You need a strong wellness team. You need solid metrics to measure and evaluate your progress. You need to recognize and incentivize your employees. You need to educate them, encourage better nutrition and physical activity throughout the work day, and try your best to keep them from burnout or too much work stress.
That brings us to Law #2.
Newton’s second law isn’t quite as simple as your high school physical science class said it was. It isn’t actually F = ma. In fact, the second law states that any force on an object is given by the change in momentum of a system over time. F = ma applies only when we assume that mass is always constant.
How does this tie in to corporate wellness? It actually fits quite nicely when combined with inertia. If you want to get your program from one state of inertia (poor performance or no program at all) to another (tip-top shape), you’re going to have to change the program’s momentum.
You might have to change the “mass” of the program:
- include more people on the wellness team (or drop a few if you have too many),
- add physical mass to the company in the form of fitness centers, wellness coaches, walking paths, etc.,
- offer actual incentives to drive participation,
- offer activities and educational events,
- maintain better records of your program participation,
- take better biometric measurements to have a better idea of your population health,
- add formal responsibilities to some job descriptions to promote employee wellness, and
- increase the amount of support from all levels of the organization, ESPECIALLY senior / C-level executives.
You might also change the “velocity” of the program:
- offer better incentives than you’re already giving,
- offer activities and educational events more often than you already are,
- send out wellness newsletters or periodicals more regularly than you are, and
- evaluate individual initiatives (as well as the whole program) more regularly.
How do you decide what actions to take? Look at Law #3.
The third law of motion says that all forces exist in pairs. If you push hard against a wall, the wall exerts a force right back at you. In reality, this law says that every force is an interaction between two bodies: one force can’t exist without the other.
For your wellness program, this means that if you don’t push hard enough, your employees won’t respond enough. You won’t get results. At the same time, if you push too hard, your employees will push back just as hard. This can damage morale and break the program entirely. You need to find a “wellness force” that inspires employees to react, but react favorably.
It’s like cutting food. Without enough pressure on the knife, you won’t cut through; too much pressure and you damage the cutting board or slice your finger(s) open. “Just enough” pressure — and yes, there is a continuum of “acceptable” force — will get the job done much more effectively.
Where your employee wellness is concerned, this “just enough” force can be found by tinkering with the methods shared in the Force section. You gauge reaction by measuring participation, satisfaction, cost reductions, etc., and then evaluating that data to discern how to react to your employees’ reactions. (In other words, should we ease up or press harder?)
That way, your wellness program efficiently churns between the second and third laws of corporate wellness — Force and Reaction — while always keeping an eye on Inertia.
How does your company use physics in its wellness program?