A wellness program is great. A must!
But, most break down at the same place they start.
A wellness program is a great idea. In addition to wellness screening that identifies chronic health risks, they often promote team-building with interventions like “push-up challenges” and “drink-more water” contests. So, they’re social and kind of fun.
They offer a means to engage employees with their workplace. They promote preventive awareness. They’re great for generating ideas about eating well. Employees learn new techniques to maintain a fit-lifestyle. Also, they help to integrate a focus on fitness into each and every workday.
And, here’s the big one, they promise a boon for companies. Businesses large and small stand to save big on ever-rising healthcare costs. So, they’re signing up in droves.
Let’s review some facts. According to the Rand Corporation,
- Approximately half of U.S. employers offer wellness promotion initiatives.
- Workplace wellness programs comprise a $6 billion dollar industry in the United States.
- A wellness program has little, if any, immediate effects on what employers ultimately spend on health care.
RAND found employees who participated in wellness programs over the course of five years were found to incur lower health care costs. Plus, they had meaningful improvements in their exercise frequency, smoking behavior, and weight control.
But therein lies the problem. Employees have to participate to make the program successful. And they don’t. At least not consistently enough to secure the program’s promise for themselves or the company who’s footing the bill.
So, where’s the train leaving the tracks?
Workplace wellness starts at the employees desk.
I’m not talking about ergonomics. I’m talking about the day-to-day bustle of the employee’s day. People are busy. Like most leadership requested programs, they’r e pushed to the bottom of the pile. It’s akin to a cold-call for you to answer a survey. Take me off your list is probably all you say. Now consider the typical employee engagement survey. The average response rate is roughly 70%. Many of them exceed 90%, even for very large companies. People are just as busy…so what gives?
The reasons are plain.
- Employee like to communicate with their bosses. Not just about the next task in the stack. But about the “other stuff”. Organizational culture. Life at work. Are health and wellness much different?
- Employees recognize the expectation that their participation is expected. It’s not mandatory, just “strongly requested”.
I’m not suggesting we force people into wellness programs. That would be wrong. I do suggest we strongly request that managers and employees talk about them. Regularly. In structured, wholesome and “safe” ways.
The Gallup Organization, the creator of the the employee engagement business, said it best in in the first line of this now ancient article. Like all “action-planning” programming, the weak link is, and has always been, the manager/employee connection. Whether following-up an engagement survey or ensuring the success of health and wellness programs, they stall amidst the piles of precedent-taking tasks assignments to which employees and managers are all assigned.
It’s time for healthy conversations at work.
So, let’s ask our managers to hold employees accountable to engage in wellness conversations. Some managers would resist (as they always do) because they have other, “more important” things to do. But some would. And, in the end, who would benefit?
We know that manager expectations, and regular conversations about them, have a great effect on engaging employees in achieving objectives. So, why would anything different be true in the context of wellness.
So, lets make it easy. A simple conversation, structured by wellness experts, assigned by human resources, and held quarterly is the antidote to your stalled wellness program.
Some might suggest that the realm of one’s lifestyle choices are “out of bounds” for manager/employee discussion. Such things at times make HR pros uncomfortable.
To that, the obvious retort is to ask why we started a wellness program in the first place.