We want healthier employees
"We want healthier Employees"
This is the the mantra of every HR Director and CEO of any company who understands the fact that long term growth demands a healthy workforce.
This implies that there is a process involved in actually getting healthier employees. Corporate wellness programs have been developed to this end. The challenge is that these programs cannot simply be a work order, or something that is ordered from a supplier. Just like skills training to keep your workforce on the cutting edge of your industry's specific technologies or processes, corporate wellness requires study and application.
"It is possible in the next 4 years that 25% of your workforce will develop a chronic condition or disease related to poor eating habits"
Health and Wellness also go beyond the workplace into employee's private lives, which makes wellness a bit of a tricky topic. Staying current with job-related training and certifications can be a condition of employment or promotion, but health and wellness cannot, obviously, be mandated.
The myriad benefits of healthy, happy employees are well known, and there are not many people who would not want to achieve optimal health and happiness, however, this is where a person's lifestyle choices come into the picture. Studying and learning about the information that contributes to a healthy eating plan is simply not enough. Follow through is required, and it's usually where the breakdown occurs.
"Improved eating habits lead to reduction of disease"
Because of the personal nature of health and wellness, the strategy of delivering a wellness program is fraught with the issue of compliance. A company or a program can offer information and training, and even offer opportunities to take part in events and 'challenges' that are designed to foster a healthy lifestyle, but, at best, the company or program can only hope for compliance. A healthy habit is just an idea until it is put into action. Broccoli, with all of it's nutritional content, is just a plant until you actually eat it.
Incentives to comply can be offered to employees, but unfortunately, the data still shows that participation in wellness programs is still low (often as low as 24% or less) indicating that these incentives are not effective. For program participants, the data is very thin on the longevity of any success, and there is even evidence that much of ground gained by successful programs is not maintained past 12 months.
"Long-term growth demands a healthier workforce"
By putting all the energy into the learning phase of some programs, or the limited time of a 'challenge' or 'event', we are focusing on compliance. Compliance in hopes that there will be good outcomes, but with little to no ongoing support or method to maintain the forward momentum and ground gained by the participants. Therefore we must shift our attention to programs who emphasize outcomes versus compliance.
One might argue that is already the case, since a positive health outcome is the goal of a wellness program. However, the reason for starting a program does not necessarily translate into the method in which the program is employed. A delicate dance around compliance involves not pushing the employee so far as for them to feel participation is a mandate, but also offer incentives that do not also do the same. The focus, therefore, rests on compliance issues.
A program that emphasizes outcomes does offer unique challenges to anyone trying to develop one. For one, it requires that the program be tailored to an individual's needs because of the personal nature of affecting health and wellness. Everyone starts at the 'beginning' of a program on equal ground. Once people actually do comply with (or completely abandon) objectives in a program, they begin to have unique responses to it, and this is where the focus of outcome becomes critical. Achievement of the actions and goals specified by the program puts each participant in a new place, with a different health outcome (or none), which can and does affect their ability to continue with the program, or leaves them scratching their head at the end of a challenge wondering 'What's the next step?'
"The next step in wellness program evolution will produce high engagement and long-term success programs that are outcome emphasized."
An outcome emphasized program is ready for participants to continue and offers next steps. The best programs are tools that actually empower the employees to determine their own 'What's next?' along with the ability to reach out to an expert when they do have a challenge. This is how a program can be designed for a large group, and still deliver individual and customized results.
This is not to say that a blind eye needs to be turned towards compliance. It is still the critical part of producing positive health outcomes. It simply is not the emphasis. The employees take on compliance themselves as participants, and they are given tools and guidance towards their individual outcome which produces a customized experience for them. This is empowerment-in-action.
There are plenty of dietary recommendations, and recipes, and activities that are proven to produce positive health outcomes, however, only for those who do, indeed, comply. Focusing on outcome ensures that the effort lies in helping the employee discover their own methods to succeed in compliance with the help of the program, their own problem solving through a use of the tools of the program, and the help of experts that are available on an 'as needed' basis. This has potential to become a cultural phenomenon and a truly a long term approach that will deliver the healthier and happier employees of the future.