Is your Wellness Program Alienating your Employees?

My perspective on wellness draws from a good 25 years of experience starting with managing corporate fitness centers that quickly evolved to corporate health and wellness.  I knew from day one of registering for my bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology, that I would dedicate my career to engaging employees to participate in onsite wellness programs and, furthered that commitment by eventually pursuing a master’s degree in health promotion, focusing on corporate wellness.  I strongly believe in wellness that is done “for the benefit of” the employee and not “to” the employee.  When did wellness move from positive health promotion to penalties and alienation of the employee in the name of insurance premiums and biometrics?

I recently received an email from a relative who works for a company with a results-based wellness program.  Offering the program for several years, a biometric screening and health risk assessment completion are now only the “gateway” items that must be completed in order to work towards a lower insurance premium.  With these mandatory items out of the way, they can now try for a BMI of 18.5 kg/m2 to 24.9 kg/mand various other standard biometrics.  For a 60 year old male, even body fat percentage is more generous as we age…we’ll save this for another discussion.  His response “the incentives are just getting too hard to earn, so to hell with them, I’m not participating anymore!”  What are we doing? What is the point of this approach?

The reason I got into health promotion was to make a difference in people’s lives, by helping them feel better today and add quality to the years of their life.  I’m not sure how we are doing that in the example above.  What about all the intangibles associated with wellness programs?  It still brings me to tears when someone comes bursting into my office to tell me they lost 2 pounds!  Or that they’ve started to walk around the block and made it to the third mailbox this time! We need to create the conditions in the workplace for employees to harness their own motivation.  Then they tell more people and more want to feel like they do!  It’s about the small daily changes that people make that I can support by focusing on the process, and the results will come…and yes, even the results that businesses are focused on; increased productivity and reduced medical costs.

I wholly embrace a new generation of wellness, where culture, well-being and all leadership realizes the benefit of their own wellness practices; a true paradigm shift.  I look forward to a more holistic approach to sleep deprivation, stress, poor eating habits, caretaking, financial woes and the sitting “disease.”  Let’s get started…