WELLNESS ISN'T WORKING

Wellness isn't working. Or to put it another way, companies keep spending more and more money on wellness programs yet employee populations suffer from chronic diseases in ever increasing numbers. 70% of Americans are overweight or obese and that number is rising as I write this. Growth rates in diabetes are alarming. Absenteeism and presenteeism (being at work but not actually working) are costing companies billions of dollars every year. And to top it all off corporate health insurance premiums see double-digit increases every year. Yet we're told that about three-quarters of US companies have some form of wellness program. Where's the disconnect?

One of the biggest problems is that a few years ago vendors in the wellness industry latched on to a couple of studies looking at the return on investment (ROI) of wellness programs in general. Without ever really defining what those programs were doing, or should have been doing, we were all told that you could count on about a $3 return (essentially more productivity and smaller increases in insurance costs) if you were willing to spend a buck. A closer look (combining a bunch of studies) got that number down to $1.38. That's still a pretty awesome headline figure in the eyes of any CFO, and so began the spending.

Fast forward a half-dozen years and we find ourselves in an interesting position. There's still no proper definition of the 'perfect' wellness program, and it's getting harder and harder to see - never mind measure - a positive impact from all this new expenditure. The CDC and NIH continue to publish data on the state of the nation's health and frankly none of it is good news. So what should companies be doing?

A PRACTICAL APPROACH TO WELLNESS

There's no question that designing a wellness program is difficult and complicated at best. So many things have to be taken into account; not just health but also concepts such as financial wellness, job satisfaction, employee morale, and corporate culture, among others. Not surprisingly, it's hard to get it right and keep everyone happy. Our approach simplifies things - a lot. We believe that one of the fundamental pillars of a wellness program is CARING. Caring about your employees in the sense that you want them to be happy and healthy above all else. Absenteeism and productivity will take care of themselves if you are willing to invest in your employees in a way that makes them feel that you genuinely care about them. Some initiatives are easier to implement than others: good working conditions, flexible hours, great benefits, huge salaries (okay maybe not huge) - effective and experienced managers are good at figuring that stuff out. Health and physical wellness are much more difficult to 'manage' because now you are talking about lifestyle issues, mostly away from the workplace. That's where we come in.

Our starting point is figuring out who people are, how they live, what they do when they're not at work, and ultimately what they know - and do - about healthy living. Then we go about focusing on the things we can change TODAY. If people are inactive we talk about the health risks of that and how to get moving. If they are overweight we try to figure out if they have the tools and the knowledge to eat better and potentially lose some weight in order to be healthier and feel (and look) better. We put together a wellness program that delivers health education and fitness coaching and we get people changing behaviors in order to live healthier lives.