A Few Of My Random Thoughts Regarding Worksite Wellness Today (What’s Your Thinking?)

One of my mentors is developmentalist Mike Jay. Mike recently wrote a blog post, from the leadership perspective, regarding the current debate surrounding the admittance of Syrian refugees into the U.S. As I read the piece, my mind went to how his thinking could be applied to worksite wellness today.Stimulated by Mike’s thinking and my traditional year-end reflection, here are some of my random thoughts regarding the field of worksite wellness and where we find ourselves today.1) While the workplace remains an excellent venue for delivery of wellness related programs and services, we have forgotten that health, wellness and wellbeing each has a significant personal context associated with it. While the context might be individual and personal, all our strategies are focused on large groups.2) Our focus has remained on facilitating individual change, despite the robust research literature that clearly demonstrates the huge and significant role the workplace environment (physical, social, climate and culture) plays in the status of employee health and wellbeing. Health, wellness and wellbeing are all determined through the integration of a combination of multiple factors, not just individual responsibility. Therefore, our thinking needs to shift to a dual focus: A focus on both individual and organizational health and wellbeing.

3) My observation is that far too many worksite wellness programs today lack a clearly articulated purpose. The “Big Why” behind why the program exists is not clearly understood by all. Purpose drives programming.4) Lack of clear purpose hinders success. Unclear purpose cannot be overcome through actions. Too many programs today are activity focused (what should we do next?) rather than being data driven and outcomes focused (What do we want to accomplish?). A recent Towers Watson survey found that only 16% of the programs they surveyed had a health and wellness program plan in place.5) Many worksite wellness programs today suffer from a lack of adequate resources. Available resources need to match the desired or expected goals. Too much emphasis is being placed on no and low-cost programming and interventions.6) Many employers bemoan low employee participation rates. Research compiled from the use of the University of Michigan Health Management Research Center’s HRA reveals that, on average, 60% – 65% of an employee population has no or low health risks. With our field’s sole focus on physical health, why should we be surprised then by the lack of interest when, for 60% – 65% of our target population, health is not even on their radar? As a field, we need to do a better job of helping all employees address their current life issues or pain points, no matter where they are in their life’s journey.While I agree with Dr. Dee Edington’s mantra of keeping the healthy employees healthy, we need to meet them where they are at if we ever expect them to participate. What we offer needs to meet their current needs, or solve their current problems, not what we think they need.7) Our focus on healthcare cost savings needs to be expanded to a larger value based focus. I believe the value we can deliver to both the employer and the employee is far greater than just financial value alone. We need to remember that healthcare cost savings is only one type of potential cost savings for the employer. We also need to remember that cost savings are very different from future cost avoidance. We need to do a better job of articulating this difference.8) The current controversy surrounding ROI and healthcare cost savings suggests we need to do a better job of under promising and over delivering. Let’s acknowledge our failures and seek to be better able to demonstrate or “prove” what we say we can deliver. There is no excuse for not monitoring, measuring and evaluating what we are doing. We can better manage what we measure.9) Researchers have clearly identified the components necessary for an effective and successful worksite wellness program. Yet, the latest national survey found that less 7% of the programs surveyed met the criteria to be considered a comprehensive program – the very type of program researchers have found to be the most effective and successful. We need to immediately stop launching new programs that are poorly designed, poorly implemented, have inadequate resources and never evaluated.

10) Our field needs a clear understanding of and the research behind everything we do. For starters, I would suggest:• The difference between participation and engagement• Being clear about just what the use of extrinsic motivators (incentives) can accomplish• The nature of intrinsic motivation and how to best facilitate its emergence in the workplace• The determinants of health, wellness and wellbeing• The myths related to health• How to best apply medical or health screening standards in the workplaceAbove all, we need to remember that while there should be a scientific or research basis for what we do within a worksite wellness program framework, how we do it remains an art, as each and every workplace and individual employee are different and unique. Therefore, context is king.