4 Approaches to Worksite Wellness That DON’T Work

In my last post, I talked about two critical elements successful worksite wellness should include – strategic communications and a culture of wellness/well-being. This was based on a research article by Kent et al that described these two critical elements very well.

The study also examined past worksite wellness research and reviewed what doesn’t work (i.e. no supporting research/evidence to support it). This really piqued my interest because there’s a ton of conflicting advice from both wellness experts and pretty much every random person out there.

So, let me walk you through the worksite wellness practices that have no evidence of effectiveness (and with my thoughts and experience thrown in). In other words, these are 4 approaches you should NOT take when building a wellness program.

A one-size-fits-all solution. I hear it all the time – “I can’t tailor activities to so-and-so’s department. They need to participate in our wellness activities.” Or wellness vendors that offer turn key solutions that sound like an easy fix. Or brokers who want me to tell them EXACTLY what I would put in place with an employer before meeting them or their employees.

Although some industries have some similar traits, the culture of one company is always different from that of another. Think about the different companies where you have worked. Were any of them similar? Mine weren’t. Even within a company there’s a unique culture to each department. So, how can a one-size-fits all solution work? It doesn’t.

Per the article, all worksite wellness programs should be tailored to employees’ needs and wishes, as well as each organization’s unique culture.

Wellness programs that are composed of random and often unrelated activities. This means a health fair here or a walking challenge there but no connection to a set of goals and objectives. A strategic approach is much better at yielding population health improvements and cost savings.

A strategic approach makes complete common sense but the majority of employers don’t see worksite wellness as a strategic imperative. It’s often thought of as an HR program that’s nice to have but many employers don’t take the time to figure out what they are trying to accomplish.

Because I’m such a believer in a strategic approach to worksite wellness, I’ve created this free download of 10 Steps to an Impactful Wellness Strategy to help guide you.

Simply administrating health risk assessments with biometric screenings does not produce long-term health improvements. This applies even when a brief follow up counseling session happens. Turns out, the counseling session has to be at least an hour in length, although it can be broken up over multiple sessions.

A question to consider is – what are you trying to achieve from offering a heath assessment and/or biometrics? If you are trying to measure the health of your population and evaluating which programs are working, then these activities can help you with that goal.

If you are looking to produce long-term health improvements, then by itself, there’s no evidence health assessments or screenings will reach that goal. Unless you are willing to add coaching in with them, I’d consider what purpose these activities are serving in your wellness program. This is especially true given the expense of screenings.

Trying to start a wellness program when there are low levels of trust between employees and management. Again, this is common sense but is crucial to the success of your wellness program. No onsite fitness center, Fitbit or healthy meal can make up for a dysfunctional work environment.

A poor work culture will trump a great worksite wellness program every time.

My hope is for wellness practitioners to promote worksite wellness approaches that work instead of encouraging employers to throw money, time and energy at activities that have no broad value proposition for employee well-being.

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