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One Size Wellness

Joanne Frederick

A tape measure wrapped around a red and green apple.

Imagine you are head of Human Capital for a 100-person company. Imagine the owner of the company walks into your office on Monday morning with the weekend newspaper, tosses it onto your desk and tells you, “We need a wellness program for our employees. Look at the stats!” Yes, you know employee wellness programs are all the rage. Yes, you absolutely know healthy employees who feel well are happier, have better morale, are more productive and are less likely to leave the company (not to mention will save the company money in healthcare premiums). Yes, you know it is time you find a wellness program solution for your team.

And that is where all of the agreeing ends. With 100 employees you have a wide variety of shapes, genders, cultures, sizes, health statuses, needs, habits, preferences and knowledge. How in the world can you find one, affordable, wellness solution to meet everyone’s needs? The answer… choose carefully. How? Let’s explore.

The Challenge

First, take a look at what we’re facing. If your 100 employees represented the average American , this is what your company would look like.

Impressive, isn’t it? Your mission is: To find a wellness solution for the fast food eater and the vegetarians. Find one that will mesh with the different ethnic backgrounds your group represents. Find one to address the vastly different educational experience and health knowledge you’re dealing with. And find one to help the 25% of your group that doesn’t get any physical activity during their leisure time. Oh, and one more requirement… find a wellness program people will actually follow, and dare I say, enjoy.

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[1]  Data from the CDC and Census Bureau

Let’s start with a quick review of what wellness programs are out there. To make a gross generalization, wellness programs fall within three categories:

  • Ones that tell you the status of your team (HRAs and other assessments)
  • Ones that work to educate and inform (emails, health fairs, health coaches and online content)
  • Ones that track data (pedometers, calories, steps, laps, etc.)

It is simply a fact that some people on your team will do better with option 1, others with option 2 and some will succeed with the available data from option 3. Ideally, you would be able to offer a wide variety of programs and something that would meet each person’s needs. Doing so, unfortunately, could create discrimination and legal challenges so tread carefully if you go in that direction. Not to mention the fact that our current economic environment demands you find an affordable program that is easily managed. Having several different programs could be expensive and time consuming to negotiate and monitor.

Choosing one of the three options often comes down to how much involvement your company wants to have in the health and wellness of your employees. Providing people with information about their health status is important, but many firms have found it is simply not enough. The 25.4% of your employees who aren’t getting any physical activity? They know they should be doing some exercise, yet they aren’t. The most common excuses are lack of time and lack of information or knowledge about how to exercise.

If you get each employee a pedometer and suggest they follow the recommendation to get 10,000 steps a day, you could see some results. Most people who first get a pedometer get more exercise each day. The problem is the pedometer gets left at home or in the car or on the desk. The pedometer can be viewed as a fad and, only if it becomes engrained in each person’s daily life, does it work. Plus, eventually 10,000 steps will create a plateau and we know people only stick with what produces results.

Option 2, are the “educate and inform” types of wellness programs. Programs that provide each employee a personal health coach are pretty effective. And, they are also expensive. Books, emails and other online content is only as good as its ability to keep your team coming back for more. The real objective for any wellness program should be to help your employees learn what they need to know to keep themselves healthy. People learn best when they are engaged, having fun and seeing the results from their new knowledge. Programs that teach are your best bet. They are out there, but you still need to find the one that most closely matches the needs of your team.

Finding the Best Wellness Program

Given all of those challenges, finding the best wellness solution for your team is possible. Here are a few helpful steps:

  1. Do a census. Understand who is in your company. Understand what they spend most of their workday doing (sitting at a computer, driving, physical labor). Understand their general health status, age, preferences and health knowledge.
  2. Take a survey. Ask them what they would like in a wellness program. Ask them about their preferences. Ask them what would work best for them. Ask them their biggest personal wellness challenge or need. If you want help coming up with survey questions, do a Google search, there are plenty of examples on the web.
  3. Create a budget. Wellness programs can range from practically free to hundreds of dollars a month. Sure, a weekly health coach onsite to meet with each person would be great and is generally very expensive. Be realistic about your annual budget and what your company can afford.
  4. Consider a co-pay. People are more likely to follow something they are invested in. Simple fact. Ask your employees to pay a fraction of the wellness program costs and then consider a discount on their insurance premiums for meeting wellness goals.
  5. Ensure accessibility. To be most successful, the wellness program you select should be available 24/7 from everywhere. Sure, office-based workout facilities are great but what does your staff do at night and on the weekends? Wellness should integrate into their lives, not just become another thing “to do.”
  6. Build a community. Look for tools that help your team get, and remain, engaged in the program. Are there social networking features? Inter-company challenges? Ways to measure group success?
  7. Seek Balance. A well-balanced wellness program includes exercise, nutrition and stress-reduction information. With the diversity in your group, each person will need a different aspect from a wellness program. More exercise won’t combat a bad diet of too much processed food. And eating leafy greens won’t much help the person so unhappy and too stressed. Be sure the program you choose has some elements of each key tenet of wellness.

Once you have selected a wellness approach, start the program right. The vendor you select, now your wellness partner, should provide you tools, tips and information to hold a fabulous kick-off party. Some of the best ones combine stuff (water bottle and resistance band giveaways), fun (have a dance contest) and information (a healthy cooking demo).  After your kick-off party, your next mission is to:

  1. Create a culture. Regardless of what wellness program you choose, have regular in-office wellness sessions. They don’t have to be fancy or expensive. Hold a weekly brown bag lunch and project a health or wellness video in the conference room. Create a lunchtime walking group. Have an exercise break where everyone does a desk-side workout at 3 PM.
  2. Gather feedback. Ask people, both formally and informally, what they like and what they don’t. Work with your wellness partner to address the “don’t likes” and be sure to share the “do likes” so they can give you more of what works for your group. Bring back the suggestion box!
  3. Celebrate success. If your team starts losing weight, share the good news. If people are feeling better, encourage them to spread the word. Give awards. Acknowledge success.
  4. Review. At the end of the first year, do another survey and take another look at the wellness solutions available. New programs, ideas and concepts are being introduced all of the time and next year there may be something even better out there.

The websphere is full of articles that estimate the return on investment of wellness programs. Some experts are suspect on the validity or importance of such ROI reports. Plus, the biggest gains are measured over time. Having an idea of the return on your wellness investment is important, but remember one thing: It is very difficult to measure success one company at a time because many “one-size fits all wellness programs” are unlikely to work for your entire team. Your success in helping your employees get healthy and be well is based on your ability to implement a solution with something for everyone. After all, wellness programs, like people, aren’t “one size fits all.”

About the Author

Joanne is the Founder and CEO of Cybercise and the author of “Move.Eat.Be. Finding Your Personal Plan for Wellness.” She is a certified personal trainer, a Health Coach, a Board Certified Holistic Health Practitioner and a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She will graduate in June 2011 with a Master of Arts in Transformative Leadership and Social Change from Tai Sophia Institute.

To learn more about Cybercise visit www.cyber-cise.com. You can also find Cybercise on Facebook, Twitter and Blogspot. “Move.Eat.Be. Finding your personal plan for wellness.” is based on the wellness education program delivered through the Cybercise portal and is due to be published in book form in the first quarter of 2011. More about Move.Eat.Be.can be found at www.moveeatbe.com.

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