Blog: Three tips to create an effective corporate wellness program

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Over 80 percent of companies with at least 50 employees report offering some type of health promotion program – but, less than 20 percent of the employees actively participate.
 
Even worse, it’s likely that the employees who participate are those who need wellness programs the least because they already engage in health and wellness activities.
 
Many of today’s corporate wellness programs define wellness as only “the absence of sickness and disease” and then offer quick fixes or Band-Aids to address the limited areas that they define as problems for their employees. These kinds of programs never engage employees in dialogue about the health and wellness goals that are important to them.
  • Overweight? Here’s a pedometer and a diet plan.
  • Using tobacco? Try a program and a patch. 
  • Not getting enough exercise? Use this discount for a gym membership.
 These are all great tactics for employees who are already engaged, but only a small percentage of your workforce will be engaged and ready to jump into action at any one time.
 
Strategies like these fail to transform people’s lives in the ways that can produce sustainable health and well-being. Long-term sustainability will come through offering people solutions to the challenges that they themselves define as problematic.
 
The transformation that’s needed to make change stick is actually not about tactics, but about identity. When people are able to see themselves as healthy, vital, and well, their behaviors will match their values and self-image.
 
Helping shift identity isn’t only about employees. It goes for companies too. Health and wellness are highly influenced by culture, so instituting policies and practices that foster a culture of health and wellness will create huge competitive advantage.
 
Doing well for employees and helping them do well for themselves translates into doing well for your company. Health and wellness are key factors that contribute to employee satisfaction, retention, recruitment, and employer profitability. Understanding wellness issues and taking a few simple steps can transform a company from one with the usual wellness program to one that is successful because of it nurtures a culture of wellness.

To initiate changes that can produce sustainable health and wellness for your employees, consider these three steps:
  1. Create a culture of wellness: It’s not possible to outsource core functions of an organization without weakening its strengths. So, why outsource something as essential to the health of your organization as your entire wellness program?

    The best way to start on the path of cultural transformation? Empower your employees with knowledge and skills about the successful models of change. When people are equipped with strategies that work, they have the chance to turn casual conversations, formal one-on-one meetings, and general exchanges into opportunities to model, inspire, and support wellness for others.
It’s fantastic to have consultants, such as fitness experts and nutritional counselors, available for employees but the most successful organizations have the internal capacity for self-sustaining action. Success happens when organizations become learning communities with strong internal cultures of wellness.
 
  1. Think holistically: Effective workplace wellness programs address the needs of the whole person. For example, obesity, use of tobacco and chronic disease are problems that directly affect your bottom line. However, offering fixes to these issues— problems for you—you might not get your employees onboard.
For your employees, other issues may be more pressing—issues that may contribute to unhealthy lifestyles and risky behaviors. What if your employee is overweight and has started to smoke but these unhealthy changes are related to the stress of caring for an ailing parent? In that case, your best bet may be to help the employee get a handle on that stress, not simply suggest an exercise program and a nicotine patch.
 
Helping employees make positive change in one area of their lives gives them the confidence and drive to pursue changes in other areas as well. When addressing only the symptoms of an employee’s distress, you may miss what the employee needs and what they’re ready to act on. Taking a holistic approach to help employees address the unique issues that affect them can benefit you a lot more than just sponsoring a walking competition or introducing the newest fitness app.
  1. Don’t Wait!: Getting as many people involved in corporate wellness programs across all sectors of your organization is crucial for success, and companies can’t stop there. Put the power and responsibility for change in the hands of staff—from the field and the back office to the offices in the C-suite—and recognize both individual and collective efforts.
Finally, celebrate successes, even small ones taken in the right direction. Celebration feels good and it’s a feeling everyone cannot wait to experience again.

The important thing is not to try to find a “quick fix” or tell someone else to make your organization’s employees healthy. It’s about fostering a shift in identity and culture so that health and wellness become inevitable because it’s who you are as a company and because each employee’s well-being is valued by your organization.
 
Dr. Deborah Teplow is CEO and co-founder of the Institute for Wellness Education. She developed the competencies and training curriculum that became the basis for US Department of Labor’s (DoL) approvals in 2012 of wellness coaching as a new US occupation and a Registered Apprenticeship Program. Previously, she held executive positions in continuing medical education companies leading strategic planning and educational programming for medical meetings and publications in all medical specialties and behavioral healthcare. She has served on an expert panel for SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services, on the Corporate Advisory Board for the American Psychiatric Association, the Board of Directors for the Global Alliance for Medical Education, and a subcommittee chair for the Alliance for Continuing Medical Education. She earned her doctorate at Stanford University.

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