I recently had a conversation with a large global company on the future of wellness. It caused me to pause and reflect on how much has changed and yet in many ways very little. It feels we’re often “stuck in old paradigm thinking” (honors to Jon Robison on the phrase).
What do I mean by that?
First the elephant in the room, ROI (return on investment). Every since academics and leaders in health promotion starting pushing the notion that health care dollars “could” be saved by wellness programs that became the component du jour. I admit I was also once upon a time on the ROI bandwagon, luckily I’ve recovered.
Research from wellness academics to companies like Safeway promoted savings from as much as 3 to 1 to 6 to 1. But when individuals like Al Lewis, Vik Khanna and Tom Emerick began looking closer under the hood, the savings just weren’t there. In fact in numerous cases they were grossly exaggerated. While the studies and ROI wishful thinking has been debunked time and time again, vendors, brokers and consultants still hawk it.
“The recently published RAND Wellness Programs Study, which included almost 600,000 employees at seven employers, showed that wellness programs are having little if any immediate effects on the amount employers spend on health care. This has been further confirmed by our new analysis of 10 years of data from a Fortune 100 employer.”
The same goes for incentives. Numerous researchers and writers like Daniel Pink expose the futility of extrinsic motivators in achieving long-term behavior change. In the wellness industry leaders like Jon Robison and Rosie Ward of Salveo Partners offer alternatives to old thinking and go beyond incentives in creating thriving work cultures.
So why do leaders still keep promoting either ROI or incentives?
- If you keep saying the lie over and over it must be true
- Vendors and consultants are great at selling it even when it doesn’t work
- Wellness by nature has an aura of all is good in the kingdom
- Individuals are afraid of losing jobs, contracts or work in general when speaking the truth
- Changing behavior and beliefs is hard
Probably the truth lies in all of the above. The point is not too blame individuals but figure out how to move forward. I think much like the field of nutrition you really have to think critically and investigate all sides of the wellness coin. The good news is if you watch and listen closely the rumbling for change is there.
A great example is William McPeck’s suggested strategies for when the bubble bursts (meaning the wellness one not the tech bubble for my California friends). Bill offers concrete ideas on communication, collaboration and staying current.
“When the wellness bubble bursts, you want to be in a position to have the skills necessary to maximize your contribution to the organization and to be able to demonstrate that your program is not a nice to have, but a necessity to sustain the organization and significantly contribute to its success.“
Another forward thinking perspective is Al Lewis and Vik Khanna’s “Cure for the Common Corporate Wellness Program.” I love the simplicity is this thinking as modeled below.
“Rather than offer a laundry list of possibilities for offers, we suggest a new approach: ask employees what they want.”
That seems a fitting way to end this short plea for wellness programs moving beyond old patterns and into a new era of realism. Making worksite wellness get out of people’s way and support them in being the absolute best they can be at work.
Create opportunities for career enhancement, improving communications and enhancing health literacy at all levels of the company. Assist with resilience and mental health support throughout one’s work career. Move away from seeing employees simply as A cost shifting mechanism.
Less is almost always More!