Clearly, the whole world has been shaken by the pandemic, including our industry, the wellness  industry. It’s a great time to evaluate what we’ve learned and use that wisdom to shape a better future.
Let’s face it, wellness has been regarded as warm and fuzzy. We like to make things fun and we are ever optimistic! I took on writing this article with enthusiasm; how hard could it be? Well, let me tell you…
Writing predictions for the upcoming year is a pretty normal writing assignment; I’ve done it before. I simply talk with visionary leaders of our industry, pull together the common themes and there you have the predictions. Just like the trend of the last two years, it was neither as expected, nor easy.
I interviewed a diverse group of people in keeping with best practices of ensuring multiple points of view. One thing they all agree on is that Wellness and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI or EDI, depending on where in the world you are located) are forevermore intertwined. A population cannot be truly well without it.
The other common theme the pandemic has brought to the fore is that genuine caring is essential. Period.
Now, onto the diverse and brilliant thinking and actions: a good place to start with predictions is answering the question - where are we now? What is our starting point? That is a good question. One that our industry is known to not be able to answer very clearly.
The Energy Connection to Wellness
Dr. Kenji Saito, CMO of Procter and Gamble, envisions being able to quantify energy input and energy output so that we may more easily integrate and manage our workload, our personal life, and also our work life.
We’ve been able to measure our output using devices for years, even our clothing can help with that. The current generation of wearables can measure your sleep and Heart Rate Variability (HRV) which can quantify mental energy and recovery, but the biggest challenge is finding a way to measure your nutritional input. Once we master this, we will be on the doorstep of the next phase of wellbeing.
In this phase, people will have the intel to change their habits and distribute their energy optimally. Getting to this phase will of course be assisted by big data and AI.
To quote Dr. Saito, “This next frontier is going to be an interesting one.” I personally am excited because I know of a couple of start-ups currently working on bringing these types of measurements to the masses without the need to purchase expensive devices. Stay tuned!
The positive impact of the Metaverse on Wellness
Dr. Saito also predicts that the next few years will take wellness into a new dimension, quite literally… The Metaverse will play a big role in how we interact with healthcare professionals, coaches, and providers. Using the myriad of data previously mentioned, artificial intelligence, and the ability to meet in a virtual reality space, we’ll be able to improve our disease management process and learn to fine-tune our preventive actions using instantaneous biofeedback, all with ever-present guidance and support. Look out folks of The Matrix, now it’s time to use that for good, not evil!
While we can’t pinpoint exactly how much progress we’ve made with all of the initiatives and programs we’ve offered over the years, there is much debate as to whether we are making any progress. But perhaps we’ve been “barking up the wrong tree” and it's time to look at things differently.
As always, Laura Putnam, well-known author (Workplace Wellness that Works), speaker, and pundit is bringing us fresh new perspectives that perhaps, our downfall has wrongly been placing individual responsibility on health and wellness. Her new view is a game-changer and asks, have you considered “Wellness Privilege''? Wellness Privilege, a phrase coined by her and DEI expert Karen Catlin, is an unearned benefit or advantage enjoyed by some and unavailable to others. For example, are you healthier because of your age and where you live? Or less so? Are you healthier (or less so) because of the team you work with, your boss, or who your parents are? Moreover, do the systems within each of these – your community, your workplace, your team – work in your favor, or do they work against you? There are ways to even out Wellness Privilege across a workforce so that everyone within it has the opportunity to be at their best.
From wellness to well-being, to human-being
Additionally, Laura suggests our industry continue its transition along the wellness continuum, to well-being, to human-being. We recognized long ago that keeping physically healthy isn’t enough and we moved to be more holistic. The next step is to admit what matters the most to us. Things like our freedom, our loved ones, our deepest why. Being human is what matters the most.
Laura’s final point I want to mention (she offers so much more, so follow her if you are not) is that she wisely points out how our individualistic thinking is not delivering on its promise to us. The pandemic has put on display just how interdependent we are. That is, “my health matters to you, and your health matters to me. And, the only way forward is together.” We need a fundamental shift from individualism to collectivism or the sense that we are all in this together.
This virus is teaching us a huge lesson. As just one example, think about the environmental issues we are facing; we clearly need to develop a sense of community to address and build a future together.
The Air Canada Success Story
Sobora Duy, Manager for Mental Health and Wellness at Air Canada, a newly minted wellness leader, exudes what it takes. He cares. He lived as an unhealthy person and wellness helped him become a better colleague, family member, and human being. He is able to put himself in his client’s position from a health point of view. He serves, and he sees each person he serves. He has his “Amazon cart” of branded swag that he takes to airports and offices so that he can have personal interactions with employees from all walks of life.
Recently, he went on a four-day European tour and delivered 16 wellness workshops in London, Frankfurt, and Paris. The result has been phenomenal. The airline’s wellness program is called Unlock the Best in You (UBY) and it has generated an increase of 393 percent in participation from 2020 to 2021.
The internal social media community members have grown by 122% since Duy was appointed to his role. As of today, over 40 percent of the total employee population has used the wellness platform, an increase of 426 percent from 2020. One of his targeted goals is for the wellness program to be one of the top three reasons people decide to stay with Air Canada. And let’s face it, that’s a challenge because the travel benefits are solidly in first place.
The link between employee support, community, and retention
Another wellness sage is Gen Barron, Senior Manager of Global Wellness at Medtronic. She and her team are working on mastering the oxymoron of program simplicity while at the same time, offering all possible support for their employees so that they do not have external worries: from supporting employees’ physical, emotional, social, and financial wellbeing, to life concierge services, and even Focus Fridays designed to allow employees to close out their weeks and enjoy their weekend.
As a technology platform provider whose key differentiator is bringing simplicity to administering complex programs such as this, I know the challenge all too well. Barron is taking all of the right steps to provide the options but at the same time, simplify their program. She is well ahead of the industry, which is now just looking for ways to not overwhelm their staff yet having the right support in place for the right person at their fingertips when they need it.
It’s quite an art. In any case, Gen and her team at Medtronic got the caring right as evidenced by one of her first comments, “our wellbeing programs focus on community, taking care of each other, and taking care of the community which is outlined in our quarterly and annual Wellness Plan.” One simply has to look at Medtronic’s attrition to see the impact of its caring. Gen herself has worked there for more than 30 years and she states that people reaching the 10+ year milestone is a regular occurrence.
Even more impressive is that 40 years is not uncommon. It may seem remiss to get to the end of this article without mention of mental health. While it has definitely taken center stage, giving people articles to read and exercises to practice seems a bit superficial. We need to look deeper, starting with doing some soul searching by those sitting in boardrooms. These leaders need to ask some hard questions. Does our organization (at every single level) truly care about its employees? Do we act like a community? Are we delivering Wellness Privilege to all? Are we truly contributing to our people’s health & wellbeing?
Ultimately, as humans, we need to first respect the dignity of every human being. Period.
Anne Marie Kirby
Health Revolutionary and Managing Director, Carebook
Anne Marie is a proven leader in the healthcare information sector, with more than 20 years of combined preventive health and hospital information experience. Prior to co-founding CoreHealth Technologies (now CoreHealth by Carebook) in 2004, she held multiple technology leadership roles as a professional software engineer in the health industry. Recognized as a leading female entrepreneur by national awards panels, Anne Marie has been at the forefront of health and wellness innovation.