Some recent media reports have suggested that organizational wellness programs are a waste of money, that they don’t deliver the kind of returns on investment that have been promised.
I would take strong exception to that idea.
Whatever the strictly financial returns might be, I think establishing a wellness culture in your company yields a number of crucial benefits that can’t be ignored. After all, what number can you assign to supporting employees as they get healthier and happier about being in better shape? Do we not feel better when we’re part of a motivated, positive team environment? While it may not be easy to pin down an actual ROI on enhanced teamwork and a more positive individual and group attitude in your company, we think these are all inevitable outcomes of true wellness cultures.
Wellness has to be done right, and it can’t be rushed, because we’re talking about behavior changes, which take time. You need to have realistic expectations, a “right-sized” budget, a smart use of available resources, and choose a program that’s right for your organization. You need to identify and encourage one or two internal champions, who will help influence others simply by sharing what has worked for them. Consistency is key – this can’t be overstated.
Carrots, Not Sticks
Building a wellness culture takes subtlety and consistency and is best done with carrots rather than sticks. It has to be fun and even inspiring to employees, though building in accountability and maybe even a modest level of guilt isn’t such a bad idea, either.
This can’t be an exercise in asking everyone to lose 50 pounds or to “suggest” that they suddenly quit smoking, or to summarily proclaim a smoke-free campus. Instead, the best programs are built on re-engineering habits, providing simple and useful tips that are fit to the population’s challenges and needs. This ranges from encouraging the use of Fit Bits and other wellness tracking devices to thinking more deeply about the food choices at company events. Cultures aren’t built overnight.
We think the best wellness cultures aren’t the result of outsourced programs but instead built from within. They are supported from the top and developed in partnership with employees and line managers. And they are realistic about timelines. It might take a year, or in some companies even three years, to establish a wellness culture. But it’s eminently worth doing.
I learned all these lessons myself when I recently lost 80 pounds—not from a fad diet, but by making lifestyle changes in my diet and exercise patterns. I emerged not as an annoying fitness freak, but someone who now understands the comprehensive benefits of being healthier. No one can tell me that my recent life changes didn’t move a number of needles in my work and personal life.
Helping Clients Execute Wellness Strategies
As part of our work in mitigating risk, we have long helped our clients in this area. We happen to have a client in the trucking industry, with about 230 employees, who was interested in starting a wellness campaign. The challenge: engaging most of their employees, who weren’t sitting behind a desk looking at a computer screen all day but instead out on the road driving trucks.
We helped them develop targeted, accessible and meaningful messaging that met the drivers at their normal touch points—an intranet site and their home base operation—and we’re now experimenting with delivering those communications through mobile channels.
In the end, building a wellness culture in your organization will pay lasting dividends, and tracking hard ROI can’t be the defining factor of a successful program.