Employee Wellness

It’s 2017—Why Does Implementing a Good Wellness Program Still Feel Like Guesswork?

The Internet teems with advice about the best wellness program for your business. The consensus among experts and business leaders seems to be that you can’t just say you have a wellness program; you have to do a program.

Too many companies mistakenly believe that an adequate program constitutes incentivizing employees to fill out health assessments and take biometric screenings. But that’s not enough.

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Sometimes it’s not even enough to supply the fitness room, healthy snacks, rewards for healthy choices, penalties for poor choices, and motivational posters at every corner. After all, a key ingredient to the successful wellness program is people who run it and participate in it.

Not only do employers get lazy and farm out wellness to vendors and managers without another thought to it, but employees get resentful that their job is requiring something more of them than the hours they put in already. Everyone’s busy. Some find the whole wellness program idea a privacy intrusion.

Fidelity’s 2016 Employer-Sponsored Health and Wellbeing Survey of 128 large employers found low employee participation in company-sponsored wellness programs: 10% availed themselves of life coaches and 53% filled out a health questionnaire.

Low participation and the sheer number of programs available seem like daunting hurdles to overcome in implementing a successful wellness program. Plus, the industry itself is divided on which programs work best. And business is ambivalent about whether they’re worth the investment in the first place. Reported findings vary.

If You Give Employees the Tools to Help Their Health, Will They Use Them?

It depends on whether the program is properly implemented, well-designed, and continuously evaluated. That means, a program must be more than a company investment farmed out to others. A company culture starting from the top makes a wellness program feel like it’s required while not actually penalizing anyone for not participating.

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Most experts agree that penalizing employees for not filling out health assessments or undergoing screenings is a bad idea. No one wants to feel that wellness is imposed on them. Moreover, some skeptics claim that over-screening leads to false positives and unnecessary anxiety and tests.

But even if you figure out the right formula to cover all bases of health and wellness diet, exercise, sleep, stress reduction, water, and Vitamin D (the outdoors) education still seems to be the biggest gap between supply and use.

Yes, penalizing employees for not filling out health assessments dampens enthusiasm to voluntarily undergo the rigors of lifestyle changing behaviors. However, the information in those questionnaires not only provide a baseline starting point by which to measure progress but also an eye opener for employees who don’t know that they’re not as healthy as they thought. That might be the first they learn of  their high cholesterol or blood sugar.

And while it seems like common sense that a fast food diet isn’t good for the average human being, many people know far less about eating, sleeping, and living to optimize health than one would suspect. It’s not a foregone conclusion that people know how to improve their health and energy levels.

What’s in a Wellness Program, Anyway?

When it comes to wellness programs, there’s no one right way. Companies differ in size, culture, location, employees, finances, and purpose. For example, a small bicycle designer and manufacturer that attracts cycling enthusiast employees differs from a company that manufactures paint. The culture of the former company is already health-oriented while the latter probably has a more diversified (healthwise) employee population.

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How much more do you have to include in your wellness program if the majority of your employees are fitness-oriented? You might get away with company race events, distributing educational materials on injury prevention, substance abuse, and financial health. Maybe that’s all you need.

In other words, wellness programs tailored to each company’s needs, budget, and population makes it hard to nail down one formula that fits all. The good news is that there’s a wellness program to fit any company. It just takes some planning, time, assessment, resources, and ingenuity to craft one.

Even companies that design and implement wellness programs have employee wellness program challenges. No, they don’t have to convince their employees the company’s product is important, but they do have to figure out how to keep it fresh, interesting, challenging, and beneficial.

Count me in.

One principle applies equally to all companies, however inclusion. Regardless of abilities or disabilities, there should be some degree of participation possible to everyone. A plan overseer must carefully adapt wellness offerings to its employee population.

Adaptability is critical to old and new companies. As startups grow, a wellness program that fits at the beginning may have to be adjusted as more employees enter the picture. But established, larger companies must also keep a careful ear to the pulse of its programs, checking up on what works and doesn’t. Employee feedback and analytics are your best tools for evaluation.

It’s Not Rocket Science, but Not Easy as Pie Either

Let’s face it. Opinions vary as to the precise dollar savings of wellness programs across businesses nationwide, even globally. Some say ROI makes programs worthwhile and others dispute they produce quantifiable savings. The bottom line, however, is that wellness programs work in a myriad of tangible and intangible ways, not the least of which is improved efficiency and productivity among employees, improved presenteeism, and better talent retention.

But with obstacles like

  • The sheer diversity of employee needs, beliefs, education, and health;
  • The plethora of program options to choose from;
  • The months or years it takes to set up, work out the kinks, and see tangible results of any program;
  • The pooled efforts necessary to make wellness programs work from the highest earner to the lowest by willingness and determination,

It’s no wonder that a good wellness program feels like guesswork.

While wellness programs come with the same basic components from assessment all the way to goal attainment through tools, education, incentives, community, and communication, each one requires an ongoing tweak, a bit of intuition, and a whole lot of patience. Most importantly, it requires rigorous dedication to the cause of good health and wellbeing for all.