|Most wellness programs are designed while looking through the lens of money. Who are the most expensive employees? What can we do to change those employees so they will cost less? What you get when this is your focus is policies that charge overweight, tobacco-using employees more money for health insurance than their slender, healthier counterparts and all but forces these individuals into programs that they may or may not be ready for or even interested in participating in.|
These are the wellness programs where very little changes in overall employee health and the money you were hoping to save goes down the drain along with the additional cost of your failing wellness program.
Here are three common mistakes companies make in their wellness program design and solutions to turn them around.
- The focus is on the individuals with the highest risk factors.
One critical mistake many companies make in their wellness programs is to worry too much about individual risk factors and lose sight of creating the conditions within which those individuals with high risks can succeed in changing their behaviors. You can ask anyone, literally anyone, if they can think of three things they could do to improve their health and every one of those people could give you an answer. If they know how they can be healthier, why don’t they do it? There is a recognized gap between what we know and what we do. The tactic that most effectively closes the know/do gap is culture. When the desired behaviors become the things everyone does, your employees will be much more likely to successfully change their behavior. This is why we see clusters of obesity and why tobacco users tend to quit at the same time as all of their tobacco-using friends. Healthy habits are best created in groups!
The solution: Increase your focus on group wellness campaigns and less on zeroing in on individuals with high risks. Create the culture and conditions for them to succeed.
- The unhealthy choice is still the easy choice.
New habits are challenging to maintain long-term. When old, unhealthy habits are still the easier, more convenient choice it is highly likely your employees will continue to make those bad choices! If you want your employees to eat healthier, yet maintain junk food machines in the break room or order pizza and desserts for lunch meetings, you are making it far too easy to make unhealthy choices. Will power alone will never be enough in the face of convenience.
The solution: Make the unhealthy choice difficult and the healthy choice easier. For example, put junk food on high shelves and healthy snacks right at arms length. Invest in healthy snack and lunch machines and put them in the break room. Reposition junk food machines to rooms, and hallways that require some effort to get to. Or better yet, get rid of them entirely. Above all, set a healthy example at company meetings and events by offering meals and snacks rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds.
- Financial incentives are given for behavior change.
Money is a great motivator, but when the financial reward is offered for behavior change (tobacco cessation, for example) it is only effective in the short term. Once the financial reward has been achieved, the motivation to maintain the new healthy habit wans.
The solution: Where financial rewards are most effective is in “check the box” types of activities such as taking a Health Risk Assessment, getting a dental screening, or getting a flu shot. When it comes to helping employees make those bigger, behavioral leaps like eating healthier, exercising more, and quitting tobacco, focus your efforts and your financial investment in the previously mentioned ideas that make healthy choices easy for everyone, like healthy snack machines, on-site group fitness, relaxation/meditation rooms, and flex-time.
If you aren’t focusing your wellness program on creating a culture of well-being, you are not going to succeed in your wellness mission. Focus your time, programming dollars, and efforts to making the right choices the easy choices for everyone.