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Create a Wellness Culture, NOT a Program

Updated: Mar 16, 2022

There are a variety of approaches to corporate or workplace wellness. A majority of them are focused on programs. Sadly, many of these programs do not accomplish the goal for which they were created regardless of the industry.

Workplace wellness usually takes one of these forms:

  • Education focused programs

  • Education focused programs with biometric screening

  • Education focused programs with biometric screening and fitness/nutrition components

  • Education focused programs with biometric screening, fitness/nutrition components, AND a company culture of wellness

Companies spend over $8 Billion a year on workplace wellness programs. Despite all the effort, the Center for Disease Control has found employees in the United States to be in worse physical condition than ever. Although employers have provided diet and exercise-focused wellness programs, obesity and chronic illness levels have continued to climb.

There are several key reasons why workplace wellness programs do not provide lasting lifestyle change.

  • Limited senior-level support

  • Questioning the need to pay or provide company time for employee wellness

  • Lack of clear health and wellness goals tied into their corporate mission, vision, and goals

  • Limited return on investment (ROI) related to healthcare savings and productivity to demonstrate a benefit

A RAND Research study found employee participation in workplace wellness programs to be limited. Less than 50% of employees are willing to undergo clinical screenings or health risk assessments. The study also found no statistically significant improvement in health care costs or health care use. Although incentives have been found to help drive screening and assessment participation, they did little to motivate health behavior change.

The study identified some key needs to promote success.

  • Broad outreach and clear messaging

  • Convenient and accessible wellness activities

  • Organizational priority among senior leaders

  • Leveraging existing resources and relationships for cost-effective expansion

  • Approach wellness with a continuous quality improvement attitude

  • Solicit employee feedback

One thing my experience has revealed that isn’t on this list is employee trust. Trust that the information gathered in a screening or assessment isn’t going to be used against them. Trust that leadership cares more about the person than the position and will be ethically responsible with personal information especially when related to mental and emotional well-being. A belief that the encouragement they receive to participate in wellness programs is more about the individual than the financial bottom line. A program can never provide that trust, only a change in culture can.

Culture Creates Ongoing Change

A culture is created when a group of people shares a universal code of learned behavioral traits. When people behave according to a wellness code, they begin to be viewed from a wholeness point of view with an understanding that all aspects of someone's life influence their health and well-being.

It is difficult to create lasting change when a program doesn’t fit the culture of the organization. If the wellness coach is there on Thursday but the donuts come in from management on Friday, what message is received? If the vending machine provides revenue based on junk food purchases but that revenue goes to pay higher health care costs, what has been gained?

The culture can be intentionally changed to work hand in hand with programs and help the organization and individuals ignite lasting change. A cultural environment that works with people in their quest to achieve life goals, not a place that works against them. When people reach lifestyle wellness, the organization receives improved trust, better customer service, healthy communication, creativity, and enhanced product quality, with improved productivity and engagement. Many times that leads to reduced turnover, loyalty, and profitability while attracting and retaining top talent and reducing health care and disability costs.

Does your workplace need a wellness culture overhaul to help your programs provide the return you desire?

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