Is Your Wellness Program For Employees or For You?


Companies have implemented all kinds of wellness programs — from healthier vending machine options to group fitness classes — for years, all with varying levels of success. What is the dividing line between a wellness program taking off or never leaving the ground? It all boils down to this question: Is your wellness program for employees or is it for you?

That isn’t to say a leader is consciously aware that their new program is really for them; all wellness programs are established with the mutual interest of employees and productivity in mind. But oftentimes the intent can be lost in translation. What we observe in many organizations is mid-level HR stakeholders with a limited spend and conditional organizational equity doing their absolute best with what they have, only to find the response is less than expected. Analysis of these programs usually yields the following factors driving the outcomes: cookie-cutter offerings that are more about vendor-partner capabilities than employee realities, prioritizing easy solutions over investing the time and effort to accurately diagnose employee life-flows and preferences, and rushing to get a program out rather than cultivating a thoughtful process to define and qualify what the guiding elements should be.

The most common example of a wellness program that works for the organization but not your employees is the company-wide weight loss challenge. This program states there is only one goal: to lose weight. To accomplish this goal, there is only one measurement of success: how low the numbers drop on the scale.

Consider the employee who wants to participate in this wellness program. They eat better and exercise more frequently, but when the weekly weigh-in rolls around, their number is unchanged. By the rigid definitions of this program, they have failed. The structure doesn’t allow employees to approach individual goals in individual ways or celebrate improvements in behavior as a win. Because of this, a handful of employees will flourish, and the rest will flounder. Their conclusion? Your program isn’t one that works for them.

Wellness programs for your employees:

  • – Treat employees on a one-on-one basis
  • – Have multiple definitions of success
  • – Have multiple ways to measure success

Working with countless companies to avert programs going awry, we’ve refined a process for developing wellbeing programs that work for everyone in the company. We’ve found that successful programs stem from solid research. Based on our process, try these 5 steps and use the answers you find to influence what program you implement.

1. Ask what goals your employees want to achieve. Are they work related, physical or mental health related, family related, etc?

2. Ask how they personally work towards goals. Do they work best by tackling a little bit once a day, or a larger project once a week? How do they measure their success and overcome their setbacks?

3. Ask what motivates them. Some companies use financial incentives to motivate workers such as increasing or diminishing company contribution to premiums depending upon health risk factors such as if they smoke or have a high body mass index. Common sense assumptions hold that these tactics will be motivating to your employees, but recent data suggests extrinsic motivators such as money have limited impact over time.

4. Ask how they celebrate. We all know the joy of achieving goals, no matter how large or small. Would your employees benefit from a monthly lunch to celebrate one another’s accomplishments over the past few weeks? Are they intrigued by an email chain specifically for sharing achievements and supporting one another? Are recognition tools such as tasteful prize items to display in the workspace or coveted branded tchotchkes the way to go? Would they like to be featured in company-wide communications as a Wellness Warrior?

5. Implement what you’ve learned. Take in what your employees have told you and establish a program tailored to what your people want and need.

Your wellness program won’t be perfect the first time. In fact, running one should be considered an iterative process of constant listening, watching, evolving, and creativity. Rather than letting that process deter you, dive in with curiosity and a willingness to push the boundaries of traditional wellness programs. Modeling that spirit through the programs you offer will go a long way towards encouraging employees to do the same with their own lifestyle and wellbeing choices.


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