We’re struck by how often wellness and benefit professionals lament low participation in health improvement programs. The tone often hints there’s something wrong with employee attitudes because they don’t take advantage of what’s good for them. It’s the main reason cited for implementing carrots and sticks to “motivate” — If they can’t see this is important, we’re going to show them with cash or the threat of losing cash.
Somewhere along the line, many employers simply abandoned the idea that people can act in their own best interest or do what’s good for the company without bribing or browbeating. They’ve set their expectations so low with regard to employee motivation for personal well-being that they think they must impose extrinsic motivators to improve health.
Unfortunately — without fail — every organization learns within 3-5 years that they’re incurring a huge cost to pay healthy people to keep doing what they’re already doing and haven’t made a dent in the 60% of their unhealthy population.
What’s odd is these same organizations would never resort to such twisted logic to sell their product or service. “Our product is so mediocre, we would like to pay you to try it. And if that doesn’t work, we’re going to fine you for not using it.” Insulting your customer seldom works… nor does insulting your employees.
Best Practice or Lack of Innovation?
I’m convinced that at least some of the mediocrity stems from the “best practice” idea that’s gained traction in the last decade. The notion that for a wellness program to be effective, it needs to include this, and this, and this — as outlined by organizations like HERO (Health Enhancement Research Organization), National Business Group on Health, ACSM, and lots of vendors. All are useful guideposts, to be sure, and worthy of consideration. But the idea that all these elements are needed to have an impact on the health of a population can contribute to stagnation, while hiding behind the guise of comprehensiveness.
Another downside of the checklist approach to wellness program design is the impression that each element should have equal weight and/or that there’s a proper sequence of activities. For example, you wouldn’t start programming before doing a health assessment, right? Well, actually, you might — since you can probably figure out the top 3 needs of 90% of employees in almost any North American organization simply by reviewing the demographic profile (something HR should have at their fingertips). Or, you could spend 20% of your budget to learn that people need to move more, eat more vegetables, and improve their sleep habits.
Build a Better Wellness Program and Participants Will Beat a Path to Your Door
So how do you break out of the begging or bribing mindset? By creating a program so stunningly attractive, so inherently compelling that employees would be willing to pay for the privilege of participation, just as they are for outside services they value. Here’s how:
So if you want a wellness program that employees (and your employer) can’t live without, narrow your focus to what matters and become the best you can at all aspects of it.