Reuters Article Says Workplace Wellness Fails Bottom Line

I say they’re full of it.

Reading between the lines of this article, it seems to me that most of the wellness programs surveyed are cookie-cutter McPrograms that don’t actually offer much of anything worth a damn. Smoking cessation programs are mentioned, and I would suspect that a handful of weight-loss efforts are promoted, but it simply doesn’t appear to me that much education is being done.

The issue with most wellness programs is employee motivation, as Al Lewis (of Disease Management Procurement Consortium International) correctly states. A lot of people simply aren’t motivated to lose the weight. Either that or they want the easiest solution possible – preferably a pill or magic wand being waved over their bodies.

I will bet fifty thousand dollars that at least 75% of the 600 wellness programs surveyed don’t do an adequate job of getting employee input.

You know what happens when you get good employee input? You discover their motives. Why do they want to get healthy? What would motivate them to do the work necessary to eat healthy and be active?

You also discover their weaknesses. What is their biggest obstacle to becoming healthy? (Ten more bucks says they think it’s “too hard.”) What other obstacles do they face? What don’t they know about nutrition or activity, and how each affects the body?

You also discover their fears, their stressors, and their “carrots.” What are they afraid of? What puts them on edge, makes them worry, and keeps them up at night: about work, about their health, about their kids’/spouse’s health? What are the ways you could get them to take a vested interest in bettering themselves and their families?

All of this has a huge impact on the success of your wellness program. Armed with all this information, you can tailor the program to your office. You can place incentives that get employees excited about improving their health. You can structure nutrition education seminars to improve your employees’ knowledge about how different foods affect their bodies – whether positively or negatively. You can create cookbooks for quick, healthy recipes, since so many full-time workers today claim they have such little time to cook healthful meals.

You can do all of this as part of your wellness program. But just like it takes employees’ hard work to make any sort of headway in becoming healthier, it takes employers’ hard work to get the information they need to make their wellness program not suck.

Employers can’t just trot out smoking cessation programs, pedometer walking programs, and gym membership reimbursements and call it a “wellness program.” That’s an embarrassment to the name. Wellness programs involve so much more than that, especially in a country where two-thirds of the country is either overweight or obese.

You need good incentives. Make the employees want to participate. You need the program to be based in both outcomes and participation. Get employees participating, but tie their benefits to achieving positive health outcomes (like a healthy waist circumference).

You have to educate them on nutrition, too — browbeating them on the do’s and don’ts of food is dumb. They might have a general idea of what’s considered healthy, but until they know just how much their food choices affect their bodies, they won’t change. They’ll just keep popping pills and staying sick. This increased use of medication is cited in the Reuters article as a primary cause of medical costs staying high, but (unsurprisingly) there is absolutely no mention of how preventive education (on nutrition, physical activity, stress management, etc.) can get many people off of medications.

You need a dedicated wellness team to make sure the program keeps running. Too many times, wellness is just a side project without any real power behind it. Give a small group of employees dedicated responsibility to the program and keep it moving.

You also need solid evaluation. Data is your friend. Take note of participation rates: you realize what works and what doesn’t. Take note of health surveys: you discover what health problems your company faces and can tailor your program offerings to help combat those problems. Take note of claims data and biometric measurements. These determine how to change your program to improve its efficacy.

That said, the Reuters article did mention a couple necessary elements of a well-functioning wellness program, but I’ll get to those next time.

In the meantime, what has caused your wellness program to improve or fail your company’s bottom line?

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