Wellness Professionals: Step Out of your Comfort Zone in 2017

It seems the wellness industry is progressing, albeit a bit slower than I’d like (patience is not my strength). There’s more questioning and more challenging of practices that used to be considered “best practices”. Thought leaders and heads of leading wellness organizations are calling for movement away from check in the box programs consisting of mainly Health Assessments and screenings.

Despite this, there’s a disconnect between the movement towards the future and being stuck in the way we always do things. The status quo wellness program is still rampant among employers. Just go to any wellness award luncheon and they all start blending together by the 3rd award.

Being in corporate America for the last 8+ years, I’ve experienced the difficulty in challenging the status quo. I often got the question “who else is doing it” when I brought up a new idea.

This can happen whether you’re the lone person trying to make a difference or when working among a team of health professionals.

Getting a new idea implemented can be difficult despite mountains of research in your favor. If you could only rely on research, then required annual physicals and using incentives to change health behavior wouldn’t be widespread in the industry. Emotions, comfort and how you present it play big parts in getting a new idea adopted.

I wrote this article for the wellness professionals that work within companies, broker/benefits offices, health plans, etc. and are ready to challenge the status quo but may not be ready to completely buck the system. Or maybe you are ready to completely change your approach but work in an organization that aren’t ready to change.

It’s one thing for me to write what I believe in…..I have no employer, so I don’t have to ask permission to get an idea passed or express my feelings when my employer may not agree.

It’s wellness professionals, out there doing the work, having the hard conversations, trying to be the lone voice in a larger environment that can progress our profession forward. For those of you ready, here are a few ideas to challenge the status quo and think differently in 2017:

Read books or listen to podcasts outside of your expertise and implement one idea/tactic/strategy. I’ve been interested in non-wellness books for quite a while, with Switch and Made to Stick by Dan and Chip Heath, being two of my personal favorites, along with Influence by Robert Cialdini. These books helped me change my way of thinking and better communicate my idea or initiative.

Since I’ve moved out of the corporate world and onto my own, I’ve gotten into Marketing and Entrepreneur books and podcasts. People in these realms just think differently and we can apply this outside the box thinking to our work. I just started the new Tim Ferriss book, “Tools of Titans” and he listed 17 questions that changed his life. Here are two that can apply to wellness professionals:

“What if I did the opposite for 48 hours?” Think about some of your normal routines and ways you approach employees. Try doing the opposite just for 48 hours and see what happens.

“What if I could only subtract to solve problems?” Instead of throwing programs, money and one more thing for employees to do, see what you can do with subtraction.

Reading outside of the health promotion professional has also been suggested by some of my podcast guests, such as delving into books on organization development, leadership and business strategy.

Not a fan of reading? Try a podcast. There are a ton out there on a wide range of topics that are completely free.

Reading or listening is just one part of this suggestion. Acting on what you learn is the second part. It’s no use ingesting new knowledge if you’re only going to keep it to yourself.

Just for one initiative, don’t use incentives. The research is clear that incentives are only effective for single tasks, like taking a survey or showing up for a lunch and learn. Incentives aren’t going to change people’s behavior. There are a lot of factors involved in changing behaviors. Giving someone a gift card or premium contribution is a simple solution to a complex challenge.

We know this but why do we continue to offer them? It’s safe…comfortable….status quo. We know we’ll get artificially inflated participation and that sounds impressive, especially if you’re having to report these numbers to someone who doesn’t get the difference between participation and engagement.

If you offer incentives then take them away while doing nothing different, I can almost guarantee your participation will decrease. I get it…it’s scary and uncomfortable to only have a few people show up to your carefully planned event. But if you do this enough, you’ll not only find out what your employees truly care about but you’ll also be forced to get creative to engage more people.

Don’t trust your ideas as the best ones. Of course, everyone’s going to love my idea, right? We tend to think our ideas are amazing and there’s no way they could fail. We tend to be myopic when it comes to our ideas and rarely seek outside input.

Instead of going full force with your idea, ask questions to strengthen your idea. (You can see I like asking questions.) I got these questions from Tamara Kleinberg, Founder of LaunchStreet.

  • What would you do to strengthen this idea?
  • What do you need to see/have me say for you to love this idea?
  • What holes do you see and how you would you fill them?

Asking these questions makes people come up with new thoughts and ideas instead of just nodding and smiling that yours is a good idea. Someone telling you an idea is good is not the same as people helping you shape the idea and/or having them clamor to get involved after the idea is initiated.

 Hug your Haters. There are always people who could care less about the wellness stuff you’re pushing out. They may even see you as a nuisance to getting their work done. Go meet with them and see why they’re not participating. You may be introduced to a new topic they do care about or hear more about what’s really going in in their work culture.

When you are facing someone who doesn’t agree with your point of view or idea, openly ask and listen (for real) about their point of view. Most of us have a hard time listening to differing opinions because we automatically discount what they are going to say before they even start.

Make your employees lives easier. Most employees have a lot going on while they’re at work, not to mention family responsibilities. Yet, we like to pull them away from their work or their personal lunch time to give them more information (and usually don’t even feed them). Let’s make employees lives easier.

Instead of the common lunch and learn or wellness events, weave wellness messages into existing meetings. Train managers throughout the organization to lead wellness efforts (it doesn’t always have to be you leading the efforts). Give employees a month off of wellness programming and communications. Just like Tim Ferriss suggests, subtract instead of add.

If these suggestions seem too much for you, at the very minimum, keep this Mark Twain quote in mind:

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” 

The wellness industry needs more people questioning the way we’ve been doing things. Every small step you take can bring the industry to a more effective and progressive place. After all, the workforce has changed significantly in the past 30 years but we’re still approaching employee wellness the same.

My challenge is to try one of these ideas or make waves in your own way.

Here’s to forward progress in 2017!