5 Signs of a Dysfunctional Wellness Committee

Whether you’re a lone wellness coordinator or an HR professional tasked with running the wellness program at your company, a wellness committee can be crucial for success.  I’ve seen a lot of wellness committees in my career, some amaze me with what they can get done and others, well, can be dysfunctional.  They become meetings with no purpose, no action and worst of all; leave the organizer wondering how they’re going to get the committee on track without pissing off co-workers.  Many times, you know the meetings aren’t running efficiently but can’t really put your finger on why.  I’ve seen the following five signs of dysfunction when dealing with wellness committees.  Hopefully it will encourage you to take steps to start building that cohesive committee that can amplify your wellness program.

  1. Wellness is just one focus of the committee. I’ve recently seen a wellness committee that was created to plan a Fall Festival. Since the group had already been assembled for this purpose, the employer just kept the same people together and re-purposed them as the wellness committee.  You could feel the enthusiasm when they came in the room talking about the Fall Festival.  Before they could get started, there was 10 minutes dedicated to wellness, but none of it was met with the same enthusiasm.  The wellness coordinator couldn’t garner the same interest I heard when the committee first came in the room.  If your wellness committee’s primary focus isn’t the health and wellness needs of your organization, then you may want to reestablish priorities or establish a new committee.
  2. People never rotate off. What happens when the same exact people convene as a committee year after year?  The same ideas and perspectives which leads to the same ways of engaging employees.  If you have the same people on your committee for longer than two years, consider  a process where people only serve a two-year term, then rotate off.  Otherwise, you’ll be left with people throwing out the same idea or coming up with some far out ideas just to see what sticks.  It also brings a narrow perspective of wellness to your fellow employees.
  3. Your committee is setting your wellness strategy. Wellness programs and the outcomes of them are owned by a department or business unit, most typically within the HR department.  Whoever owns the wellness program should be in charge of the overall strategy and expected outcomes.  If you don’t have a strategy, it isn’t up to your wellness committee to create one.  Rather, the committee should be charged with understanding the strategy, communicating the strategy to their business areas, providing input and/or giving ideas on how to improve the health of their fellow employees.  For an example, one of your goals may be to increase the physical activity/exercise in your worksite by 25%.  You may present that goal along with your plan to achieve it to the wellness committee.  They can react to your plan and tell you what you’re missing.  Or you can just start with the goal and task them with finding creative ways to increase the physical activity of their co-workers.  Either way, you know what you’re setting out to accomplish and they are in tune to how their co-workers would want to get there.
  4. The committee leader isn’t really leading the committee. In my opinion, a committee of 8-10 or smaller is ideal, although I’ve seen larger ones work well.  It all comes down to who’s facilitating the meeting.  The person in charge of leading the committee schedules the meetings, creates agendas and makes sure goals are getting accomplished.  The last wellness committee I observed had a leader and she kept everyone on task.  The only problem was that it seemed like she was crossing off items off her to-do list instead of working through an agenda of topics that the committee could contribute to.  No one received anything in advance or at the meeting that resembled anything like an agenda.  At the conclusion of the meeting, she set out to schedule the next meeting.  Although, I’m not sure what that next meeting was going to accomplish.
  5. Having only healthy people on your committee. If your wellness committee looks like the picture in this post, you may want to re-think who’s participating.  Yes, I realize it’s a wellness committee but the folks who don’t drink the wellness Kool-aid can give you a great perspective of those employees who aren’t quite ready to make health changes.  That way when you’re designing your wellness program, you can get honest feedback from the committee to create an approach that reaches employees at different stages of change.  In fact, one of the most loyal committee members I had on a committee many years ago was a smoker who helped give me her perspective as our hospital went tobacco free.  She helped other smokers understand why the hospital was going tobacco free and helped point them to resources when they were ready.

Leading a committee of your peers isn’t easy but if done right, can foster a genuine, collective interest in making your company a healthy one.  Believe me; it will help foster a culture of wellness much faster than going at it alone.  If you recognize any of the five signs of dysfunction, see what you can do to start changing things up.  I’d love to hear your experiences with any of these signs of dysfunction.  How did you overcome them?  Which signs of dysfunction have you seen that I missed?