Successful Wellness Programs Built on More Than Good Intentions—Meet the Six Pillars

By Carol Marin-Vargas, National Accounts Sales Manager, Creo Wellness

Chances are the majority of your employees can describe a past experience with a workplace wellness program that was less than effective. Disorganized and burdensome are adjectives commonly associated with workplace wellness programs.  And many participants report that, despite the online questionnaires and personalized screenings, the interactions felt cookie-cutter.

As a national sales manager with experience in many different business venues, I recognize these statements as containing a kernel of truth. Although many workers participate in wellness programs, most do so to lower their health care premium cost or to attain some other benefit, and few claim these programs provide any real incentive to change health behaviors. The reason for this disconnect is that, historically, wellness program management evolved from a corporate-facing (i.e., cost-saving and productivity-increasing) perspective, built on what is easy for the business to implement rather than what was motivating and empowering for the employee.

However, in a truly successful corporate wellness program, the model should be viewed in reverse.  Optimal success is only fully achieved when a personalized and empowering program motivates an employee to achieve better physical and mental health.  In this scenario, the program not only cuts costs and improves productivity but also creates employee loyalty by significantly increasing job satisfaction.

This sort of engaging wellness programming does not happen by accident. In fact, there is an actual science for getting it right.

In a landmark Harvard Business Review article from the last decade, an extensive review of case studies of both effective and ineffective wellness programs identified six qualities that set the performers apart.  HBR dubbed these qualities the six pillars of effective wellness programs. An understanding of how to implement the six pillars of an effective wellness program transforms a corporate wellness initiative into a bottom-line investment.

  1.  Multilevel leadership:  Seeds for success must be planted at every level of an organization. An effective wellness program is an ecosystem that requires participation from C-suite to middle manager to entry-level employee.  Defined roles and responsibilities at each level create a community of stakeholders, rather than a hierarchy of rule-makers and rule-followers.
  1.  Alignment:  Authenticity is important.  Because a motorcycle manufacturer has a different corporate voice than a financial planning firm, there’s value in programming materials, including online portals and apps that can be white-labeled to match your company’s corporate culture. The behaviors and values espoused by a wellness program must also be integrated into the work culture itself. If, for instance, a program promotes healthy snacks for weight management, workplace concessions, vending machines and catering must reflect these messages.
  1.  Scope/Relevance/Quality:  Here is where things are getting exciting.  Unless you have been living off the grid, you have likely heard about Big Data. The scads of data now available to businesses to inform educate and transform workplace wellness.  Medical screening moves beyond a finger stick for cholesterol and glucose levels to a more comprehensive approach and new algorithms. And applications allow for risk evaluation and goal setting that evolves as the program interacts with each employee.
  1.  Accessibility:  On-site wellness screenings, coaching and facilities ensure wellness messages translate to action.  Related to alignment, accessibility pushes the boundary of convenience by making records, tracking, coaching and rewards available at a click from multiple, integrated device platforms.
  1.  Partnerships:  As technology continues to evolve, workplace wellness managers can quickly find themselves outpaced by the market (think pedometer vs. Fitbit).  Identifying partners with technological expertise in the areas of health data collection, diet and fitness tracking, rewards generation and even gamification ensures a program stays evergreen.
  1.  Communication:  Mastery of the nuances of health communications, from confidentiality issues to diversity, is the final pillar of a successful wellness program.  With increasing amounts of data available to provide meaningful insight into employee health, finding the right way to message and act is essential.

Of course, it bears mention that when the HBR article was written in 2010, cloud computing and big data did not define business operations in the way they do today.

In light of the new data-heavy environment, perhaps it’s time to add a seventh pillar, Health Data/Mobility Management, focused solely on data collection and interpretation, as well as application development.

The bottom line is that while the effectiveness of a wellness program begins with an employee-facing strategy, it is equally important to acknowledge that each pillar has an operational expression as well.

Creo was founded by an innovative, cross-disciplinary team of laboratory diagnostic, business finance and health care management veterans. Contact us to learn how our advanced blood testing, precision analytics, health coaching and technology build employee plans that are personalized and effective—delivering real health improvements with measurable reductions in long-term health plan costs to employers.