Wellness

Workplace Wellness

Leading edge companies are coaxing their employees into the last frontier of the culture change underway in the healthcare industry – wellness.

For many the thought of employers accessing their health information seems invasive and worrisome because the use of their information may seem like more of a motive or agenda to rid the company of people with negative health habits.  Most people know that the obesity rate is on the rise, smoking causes some serious health issues and the stress of balancing the demands of life is growing as more people become caregivers for children and/or aging parents. 

The problem is that the majority of people cannot see their own health risks.  People often rely on friends and family to help them with other decisions and see issues in their life, but relying on friends and family to help with their health issues is not working.  Let’s face it – talking with friends and family about how you feel about your body or life invites comments and judgements that can be destructive to the relationship.  No one wants to hurt the feelings of someone they love or care about which is why it is so difficult.  So the question then is who should provide and/or hold the mirror to help us see our issues?  

Employers are stepping into the role to provide the mirror and in some cases, are holding it for us.   Why the employers?  We all have a relationship with our employer and there is a mutual benefit if we are healthy and happy on the job and in our individual lives. Several companies on the leading edge of wellness recently spoke at the Silicon Valley Leadership Forum Wellness Summit about their journey into wellness and the success of their programs.

Progress is being made but there is still a long way to go to ignite the wellness revolution in America.  So let’s revisit the culture change framework to get a better understanding of where things are now and what still needs to be done.

Getting Started

Change starts with establishing new behaviors.  The way we work, what we eat and how we live has changed since employers started providing healthcare insurance.  The system that served us well way back then is not working for many people now or the companies competing in the global market.  

To get a competitive advantage or to just level the playing field, some companies are shifting more of the financial burden onto employees to help reduce their labor costs.  However, the leading edge companies are showing us that there are better ways to go about it.  They are providing the mirror in the form of biometric screenings so that employees learn their numbers and know where they stand on health.  Many are starting to change workplace policies, implement benefits to promote healthy living and model healthy behavior in the workplace.  How you ask?  

The programs are as different from company to company as the people they serve.  There is no “silver bullet”.  However, there are some common elements such as discounts on programs such as Weight Watchers to promote diet modification, company gyms or discounts to clubs and gyms to promote regular exercise, standing and treadmill desks to promote movement throughout the day, the use of yoga and meditation practices to promote mindfulness and stress reduction and individual support whether in the form of concierge services, health coaching or on demand solutions.  

If there is one “silver bullet” common to all programs, it is the use of financial incentives to gain participation and engagement.  The promise of better health is simply not enough at this point.

Making Progress

Progress makes people happy. There are glimmers of happiness with the wellness programs in place now.  The leading companies have figured out the right elements of the program needed and have the leadership and financial support to fully implement the initiatives for a successful program.  Other companies are struggling to develop a meaningful program because the Return On Investment (ROI) is not clear to the leadership and is generally not immediate or certain over the long term.

A study was done of the Johnson and Johnson wellness program in  2010 that showed a 3.7% lower average annual growth in medical costs and a return of $1.88 – $3.92 for every dollar spent on wellness.  The Johnson and Johnson program is notable because it has been in place the longest of any program and is routinely evaluated and modified to meet the changing needs of their employees.  Other studies done by Johnson & Johnson since the 1980’s report improved employee health, reduced inpatient healthcare spending and decreased employee absenteeism – all indications of happier employees.

Health is part of the DNA of Johnson and Johnson.  The company’s Credo from 1943 reflects their commitment to healthcare providers and the health, wellness and safety of their employees.

Earning Support

When you tell people your goal and they can see your commitment you will get the support needed to achieve it. Getting people to tell employers their issues and goals can be a little tricky even though there is a mutual benefit. 

Employers can do a lot with the the relationship that exists with employees but like with any relationship there are limits as to how far the relationship can go.  Depression is a bigger issue than diabetes and an issue that often goes unreported because of the stigma around mental health.  

Google reported a rate of 6% but suspects that depression is more prevalent in their workforce.  There was discussion at the summit around ideas and initiatives to support people with depression but most panelists acknowledged the challenge of getting help to the right people at the right time.  So who’s in the best position to help with this kind of issue?

Who is the question that remains to be answered.  It may be the employer, it may be friends and family as health and wellness initiates make it into the home, it may be healthcare providers or it may take the entire village to pitch in, help out and provided the needed support.

Progress is being made to promote health and wellness but conversations are just starting about work life balance and/or work life integration in terms of what makes people happy and more productive.  

About the Author: Shannon Smith is a strategist with over fifteen years of experience helping companies achieve greater success.