When a good idea doesn’t work: What is holding back wellness programs?
Over the last few years, wellness programs have become one of the prominent topics of discussion on LinkedIn and across industries. For programs having such a clear, positive intention, they have caused substantial divisiveness with regard to their effectiveness and value.
One thing is agreed upon – wellness programs sometimes do fail despite the best intentions behind them. So what holds back these programs from success? What could be done to mitigate these problems and have programs succeed?
Some of the major problems plaguing wellness programs are:
Programs aren’t social enough
Gamification has been one of the biggest trends over the last few years (DI is all about it). However, when it comes to a topic as complicated as wellness with participants having a very diverse set of capabilities, simple rewards challenges are not enough to appeal across the workforce. For example, take the traditional step challenge; having a contest for who can have the most steps in a day will leave employees who are transitionally sedentary unmotivated knowing they will lose to their more active co-workers. On the flip side, setting a challenge too attainable won’t get your more active employees buying in, and ultimately hurting your program’s success by not helping build a culture (more on that later). Adding a social elements to challenges will help drive engagement. Success isn’t contingent on just someone winning a gift card, having non-monetary rewards and making the process fun and social will ultimately lead to improved long-term success and engagement.
Programs lack depth
Many programs check a box rather than focus in on a goal. Many companies offer a variety of lifestyle management programs such as biometric screening, health assessments, and/or smoking cessation classes then slap a bow on it and call it a wellness program – and wonder why their ROI isn’t good. In fact, lifestyle management programs ROI is terrible, returning just 50 cents on every dollar in comparison to disease management programs (which have an ROI of $3.80 for every dollar spent). How bad is that? That’s an even worse investment than the Green Lantern movie. These types of offerings are great for tracking high-level progress and giving basic information but don’t actually drive substantial change.
Even programs that take the next step and offer physical activity incentives or rewards are still missing that it is called a wellness program, not a fitness program. An employee’s activity level isn’t always indicative of their overall wellness – a failure to acknowledge other wellness facets such as sleep and stress levels will ultimately result in your wellness investment being wasted. Wellness can’t be boiled down to a couple statistics, no matter how many steps you take. Programs need to be able to help improve a person’s mental and physical health in order for their performance to improve.
To bring it full circle, offering biometric screenings and health assessments are great for wellness programs – as a way of evaluating the effectiveness of your other efforts and tracking progress. If your program only gives minimal offers, expect minimal participation and return.
Failure to build a wellness culture
Behind any great team or group of people, one of the driving forces is a culture. Whether a sports team or a leading corporation, success and having a good culture usually go hand-in-hand. Building not just the wellness program, but the wellness culture takes buy-in from the top of the company. Not just in allocating dollars, but also through motivating, educating and emphasizing the importance of it throughout all levels of the organization. Employees knowing their leadership are in on the program too will drive engagement across the board; whether an executive joining a rec league team or a manager holding a yoga class or an afternoon walk, building a corporate mindset will lead to increased corporate buy-in. Getting executive and managerial support will help be one of the driving forces behind a program’s success. Remember, for better or worse, companies tend to follow their leaders.
Not listening to your employees
Listening to your employees’ wellness wants and needs will help build that culture. Too often companies just go with standard offerings for their employees instead of putting in the extra effort to slightly tailor their programs to their people. Depending on your workforce, maybe people don’t need a rebate on a fitness tracker and what they really need are mindfulness and nutrition classes. Even financial education classes are becoming a staple in wellness programs as part of the overall effort to reduce employee stress, as program managers realize this is what their employees need. Adapting standard wellness programs to meet the needs of your workforce will keep that engagement up result in long term sustainment of the program.
A well-done wellness program can be a game-changer for any company; differentiating itself from competitors when recruiting personnel, building a happy and healthy culture that keeps talent sticking around while also increasing productivity. There’s no surprise that “top corporate wellness programs” has a lot of overlap with “top company” lists. By avoiding the mistakes outlined above, you can help not just empower your wellness program and ultimately your whole company.
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