Corporate Wellness Programs- Successful and Acceptable to Employees?

The Carrot (or the Stick, Depending on Your Perspective)

Incentives come in carrot and stick varieties, and really, it’s just two sides of the same coin. Whether the employer is offering an incentive or a disincentive is a matter of which side of the message you’re standing on. Frankly, there is little evidence to indicate that financially prodding employees leads to any sustained behavior change. You’re much better meeting employees where they are and igniting self-motivation. In fact, more often than not, employers are moving away from outcome-based incentives.

You don’t have to take my word on this; check out this joint position paper published as a partnership among the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Heart Association; yet with this info, employers put piles of cash into these financial offerings.

Wellness tools should be repackaged to be an actual benefit to the employee rather than a dangling carrot. The employer needs to send a message that clearly indicates a desire to help the individual employee achieve his personal health goals, and then back that up by putting their money, policies, environment, and productivity expectations where their mouth is.

The Alternatives

In my opinion, the current wellness program pillars outlined above are flawed—very flawed. Too many employers take useless biometric numbers as the guideline to health and success. The problem is, blood markers are NOT reliable enough to be indicative for stroke or cardiac events.  The second issue is companies often give the blood results without designing a program for change. So how do we get back to this idea that wellness should be done FOR employees, not TO them? Our company, Vital Advantage Consulting, partner practitioners with over 60 years cumulative experience, took a moment to dream about the possibilities for shifting the current wellness paradigm to one that might actually support and inspire individual health. Here are some of our what-ifs that became proven, measurable methods that work

  • What if the five-minute walk break throughout the day was supported and encouraged my management, team-driven, or even required? We’ve been beaten on the head with the research that shows the harmful effects of sitting. But now, new research from Indiana University has demonstrated that walking as little as five minutes on three different occasions during a three-hour sitting period can reverse some of the harmful effects of prolonged sitting.       We provide workspace methods and workplace challenges to get you moving without disruption in your day.
  • What if there were no unhealthy options available in your vending machine or cafeteria? Is this the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction? Most of the clients we work with have shifted to healthful subsidized options with unhealthy choices at full cost or upgrades in snacks and vending machine choices.
  • What if management at ALL levels in the organization supported employees working out during the day? There are a lot of corporate policies that keep employees in their seats, but even more are on board with group step challenges, walk with the boss and even employee spin rides.
  • What if paid-time-off policies provided bonus time off based on the number of minutes an employee spends exercising in the company fitness center? In a similar vein, what if employees who choose to spend their 30-minute lunch break exercising could be given another 30 minutes to still eat lunch, away from their desk? What if employees were recognized for participating in walking meetings or signing up for 20-minute intervals at a walking/standing desk? (Gasp…compensated workout time!)

None of these ideas are a complete pie-in-the-sky kind of concept.  A key concept in wellness is not always ROI but also VOI (value of investment to the company and the employee). Wellness does require a shift in workplace policy and fresh thinking about how organizations can inspire better wellness habits for its employees. By encouraging 5-minute stretch and/or hall walking breaks in the workday need to become accepted as a norm.

What do you think of when you hear the term Corporate Wellness? It’s one of those concepts that have so many different meanings depending on who’s answering the question.

Comment below on your own “FOR employees” what ifs or share your successes with these and other ideas.

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