As I review the wellness predictions I wrote for 2018, I realize that most of them are transitions, not “one and done”events. While the industry made some progress, these predictions really are ongoing and transformational processes.
Here is an overview of my 2018 predictions as a refresher, or read the detailed 2018 feature:
1. Greater Senior Management Involvement in Wellness Programs
2. More Sophisticated Technology to Illustrate Metrics
3. Increased Use of Gamification and Social Engagement
4. Implementation of Tools to “Personalize” Wellness and Motivate Participation according to Personal Drivers
5. An evolution of intelligence and machine learning
This year, I’d like to take a different approach - Rather than predictions, I’m going to list what I think are the “Hot Topics for 2019” for employee health and wellness. Some are brand new while others have been evolving, and now picking up speed. Regardless, I think these are significant developments that are going to impact the workplace wellness industry over the long term.
1. A Move to Leverage Health Data to Personalize Programs
To best help people understand and ultimately achieve their well-being goals, one pivotal factor is harnessing the power of personalized, secure data. The collection and interpretation of, and access to, personal data has been a hot topic that has stirred serious debate over the past few years, and with good reason. But all indications point to broader collection and better security, so there’s no reason to shy away from this trove of personal wellness information.
Whether it’s tracking your heart health, blood pressure, activity, breathing, or sleep patterns, health data will play an ever-increasing role in health and wellness programming. That role will go beyond simply monitoring, to designing personalized programs. Next on the list? Metabolism, a digital overview of the chemical and organic processes taking place inside your body.
2. An Evolution of New Job Titles
The evolution of corporate wellness has already spawned a wealth of new descriptors, titles, and responsibilities. “Certified Financial Therapist”(financial consultant) and “Talent Experience Designer” (human resources professional) are just two examples of new titles that are emerging as the importance of culture, wellness, and employee happiness are understood to be more intricately linked and valued. I believe job titles will attempt to reflect the evolving role of health and well-being in the corporate environment.
3. Further Integration of “Physician Care” and “Self-Care”
Now that everyone is online, not only has medical practice been impacted - with physicians being able to diagnose and treat patients in remote communities for example - but so has the way we consume medical information.
Prior to the digital age, we would receive medical information directly from our physicians, relying on them to explain the disease, its possible cause, and anticipated progress, and then discuss the treatment options. Now, a person’s outlook on their health has evolved to the point where people are becoming empowered by information from health and wellness programs or wearable devices to become informed and proactively take control of their health.
This informed shift to “self-care” means people have some of the knowledge to improve their behavior rather than waiting to the point of becoming ill and having to rely on physician care.
Employers can play an important role in aiding employees to take a proactive approach to their health by providing well-being programs and having a wellness technology platform with online questionnaires or, better yet, access to healthcare via telehealth services. This gives employees a discreet path to determine if they have a medical issue, and then a safe route to seek specific medical attention.
However, it is still important that the physician-patient relationship be preserved, so the process of data, diagnosis, treatment plans, compliance, patient initiative, and support can be implemented.
4. Improving the Understanding of “Engagement” in the Workplace
Wellness Program Engagement and Employee Engagement (reflected in culture and discretionary effort) go hand in hand. Health and wellness is multi-dimensional and while most organizations have adopted workplace wellness in some form, it does not garner the value proposition to Human Resources and Senior Leaders that productivity improvement solutions do.
Organizations today are interested in taking a more holistic, integrated approach to the health of their employees. They do this through linking preventive efforts, fitness for duty, health and safety, and presenteeism with ‘all cause’ health-related absenteeism, with the goal of improving productivity.
In addition, the concept of aligning what consumers of well-being programs are expecting with what wellness providers are providing starts with a common vocabulary. It starts with recognizing that engagement is a choice two parties make: the employee must choose to be engaged in his/her work, and the employer must choose to facilitate the employee’s engagement by providing a healthy environment where employees choose to be engaged.
This will determine how much discretionary effort an employee will give, as it’s the by-product of the two parties. A key way to facilitate this dual engagement is through technology: wellness platforms hosted on employee portals.
5. A Shift toward Cannabis Use for Managing Anxiety and Chronic Pain
Many workers with chronic pain are now looking to cannabis as an alternative to opioids. The opioid epidemic currently impacting the US and Canada is severe and may, in fact, be partly addressed through adapting existing strict prescribing behaviors, and increasing cannabis use for medical purposes.
Using cannabis is also proving helpful for mental and behavioral health conditions as it can significantly reduce self-reported levels of depression, anxiety, and stress in the short term -according to a recent study in the Journal of Affective Disorders published by the Washington State University.
Despite some recent events (one of which is the recent refusal of the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board to cover cannabis for patients licensed to use it, as reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), many private insurers in Canada are offering coverage for cannabis in health plans. One such is Sun Life Financial, which became the first major Canadian insurance company to pay for medicinal cannabis.
Just last week also, the popular pharmacy chain Shoppers Drug Mart launched its online retail portal for medical cannabis products (for Ontario residents).
Just recently the U.S. Farm Bill was passed allowing CBD (Cannabidiol) derived from hemp to be treated like an agricultural commodity rather than a banned substance. This bill will allow cannabinoid-infused products on the shelves of major U.S.retailers, and as such into the workplace.
These recent developments will open a whole new door to research on the use of CBD (Cannabidiol) in the workplace, and as well the distinction of CBD overuse and potential abuse. Employees will look to their “Talent Experience Designers” or HR departments to take the lead on what is acceptable in the workplace.
6. Further Integrated Well-being Programming
We tend to think well-being programming goals are to be aimed at preventing chronic disease, which impacts physical and psychological (behavioral) health. What we will see in the next year is that programming will be expanded to include a closer relationship of physical/mental health and financial health, as well as inter-personal relationship health, all sources of stress and significant contributors overall.
Well-being should, and will soon be, integrated into one-seamless solution and incorporate all aspects of well-being.
7. A Move for Non-Traditional Providers Now Offering Integrated Wellness Programs
We will continue to see insurers, brokers, employee assistance companies (EAPs) and disability management companies move into the “wellness provider” space (beyond providing traditional insurance and disability management services).
For example, the services provided by Canadian and US based insurance carriers go beyond standard insurance products and most are now offering wellness solutions to employers to help employees get and stay healthy.
In the United States, benefit consultants offering employee wellness programs are commonplace as their healthcare system is privately funded and group benefit premiums can be discounted if proactive wellness programs are in place – saving both employee and employer cash.
In Canada, it’s a little more complicated as essential healthcare services are mostly government-funded, and employers do not receive the same group benefit premium discounts from insurers when they provide wellness programs to employees. Canadian and US disability management companies are bucking the trend and are already providing some wellness solutions, with room for improvement.
So, as 2019 moves towards a close to this decade, I’m reminded of the numerous additional advances in corporate wellness that have been achieved over the past nine years. While in many respects there are still miles to go, it’s obvious that the corporate momentum that took years to build will not only continue, but expand in breadth, and success.
And we’ll have a seat at the table.