Dozens of articles have been written on the topic of wellness program design and many contain helpful content about some of the elements that make up every successful program and ways to implement them. However, the industry articles I have read rarely, if ever, take into account an organization's foundational values. It's easy to say that wellness programs demonstrate that the employer cares about the health and well-being of their employees. As sincere as that message may be, it is often received with skepticism and resistance in even the most progressive companies. Why is it so difficult for employers to convince employees that their wellness program is a sign of their commitment to employee health? I believe there are 3 key reasons.
- Employers are not being truly honest about their intentions. If you think about the employer-employee relationship like any other relationship, it is easy to understand how employees can spot a hidden agenda easily. We are all instinctually aware of the true agenda when a friend offers to wash our car just before asking to borrow it. We don't even have to wait for the request, because we can sense that the favor of washing the car will expect a favor in return. Employees are just as sensitive to the 'favors' their employer provides and their true meaning. I don't mean to imply that companies don't have the genuine desire to support the health of their employees. However, if the top priority for implementing a wellness program is to save money on health care plans, then that message should be honestly conveyed to employees. (If your company is struggling to understand how to communicate the cost savings message effectively, we can help.)
- Employers don't fully commit to a wellness strategy. Have you ever been asked to try something that the person who asks you hasn't actually done themselves? "Here's a something that might be good to eat. I haven't tasted it but you should try it." When employers take a "wait and see" approach to wellness, the message their employees get is lukewarm enthusiasm, at best. Company executives need to actively lead their employees in the direction they believe they should go with true conviction and passion. Even if your company's wellness strategy consists of only a quarterly wellness newsletter, leadership needs to ensure that it is the best newsletter they can produce and give to their employees. Leadership with passion creates integrity throughout the organization.
- Wellness programs are not built on a company's foundational values. Organizations are formed around a common mission and good organizations also identify a common set of values they will uphold as they carry out that mission. These values and mission represent the soul of the company- the beliefs put into action. If this foundational approach has made your organization successful, why not take the same approach to building your wellness strategy? Let's take Google as an example. The number 1 thing they know to be true is, "Focus on the user and all else will follow." Because they hold to this belief, one would expect that Google's wellness strategy would be all about learning what each employee needs to live a healthy and productive life and then finding ways to deliver those things. It would be incongruent to hear Google promote the costs savings of their wellness program because that benefit serves Google, not the "end user", or employee.
The bonus to building your wellness program on your organization's foundational values is that it solves the issues raised in 1 and 2 above. It's easy to be honest when the message is in line with who you are. No one is surprised to hear what you have to say. It's easy to maintain integrity when there is a consistent set of values from which your actions flow.