Why Your Wellness Program Isn’t Working

You’ve done everything right.

Having an engaged workforce is part of your company’s mission statement, and, as an HR leader, you believe healthier, happier employees are more productive. So you made a business case to senior management to invest in wellness.

It took some time—and a lot of effort on your part—but you finally got their buy-in. You took your newfound budget and worked with external vendors to create a robust wellness program, including reasonable incentives and friendly team competitions. Then you rolled it out to employees through a multi-media communications campaign.

Success! Well…not quite.

You’ve got this great wellness program, but not everyone’s participating in it. And you’re not seeing the decrease in absenteeism and drug costs that you’d hoped for.

Maybe it’s just a matter of time before you’ll see an impact from your wellness program, or maybe you need more communication with employees so they understand its value.

Or maybe there’s a bigger issue: Your workplace culture doesn’t support it.

According to a 2015 Sun Life Financial/Ivey white paper, “there must be strategic alignment of health promotion with the core business processes to attain successful participation outcomes and positive health results.”

Getting support and buy-in from company leaders is a critical first step toward achieving that alignment. But the reality is, executive support won’t mean much for the average employee if it doesn’t cascade throughout the entire organization.

And wellness isn’t just about blood pressure and exercise…it’s about mental wellness, too. The link between physical and mental health is too strong to ignore. For example, CAMH says people living with chronic physical health conditions are twice as likely to experience depression and anxiety.

How can you tell if there’s a gap between your organization’s wellness vision and employees’ day-to-day experience? Here are a few sample questions to ask.

  • Does your wellness strategy address physical but not mental health issues (e.g., stress, anxiety and depression)?
  • Is there a high rate of staff turnover for non-financial reasons?
  • Does your organization promote work/life balance yet have front-line managers who expect employees to be on call 24/7?
  • Does your company offer generous vacation time but subtly discourage employees from taking it, either through a “we can’t do this project without you” approach or with the sheer volume of work that will be waiting for them when they return?
  • Are employees required to participate in wellness initiatives on their own time (e.g., during their lunch hour)?

If you notice a gap, how can you fix it? Setting the tone from the top is important, but it’s equally important to ensure managers understand it’s really okay to follow that lead.

Encourage people to disconnect when they’re on vacation—they’ll return far more refreshed than if they’ve spent most of their holiday staring at a screen. Even Richard Branson says when he’s spending time with his family, he puts on an out-of-office alert and leaves his phone in another room.

Also consider how you might customize certain aspects of your wellness approach to your particular employee group. Not sure what their needs are? Ask them. You probably won’t be able to do everything, and you’ll still need to make some strategic decisions. But it’s a good place to start.

Having a wellness program that checks all of the boxes is valuable, but it won’t be enough to engender true long-term change. You also have to walk the talk.

One thought on “Why Your Wellness Program Isn’t Working

  1. Lizann Reitmeier December 23, 2015 - Reply

    Your are so right, Alyssa. Alignment between the program and employees’ needs is crucial. It is also important that employees have a method of understanding where and how the program meets their needs. Wellness should be baked into our day, not another thing to heap on the already-high pile.

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