5 Common Reasons Corporate Wellness Programs Fail…Avoid The Pitfalls!

December 7, 2013

It seems every company has a “wellness program” these days! However, the contents and details of these programs vary dramatically, and I will make an educated estimate that less than 1 in 10 of these programs actually produce any measurable results. In fact, MOST of them are actually a cause of stress, demotivation, and LOWER productivity!

The good news is that most of these issues are easily resolved with a few simple guidelines. Here are my top 5 reasons why most corporate wellness programs are doomed to failure from day one.

Support for Wellness from the C-Suite is EssentialSupport from the C-Suite!

It all starts with the CEO and high level leadership. Human nature is to follow by example. Any program your company introduces is only as effective as the endorsement, value, and goals that top level management places in it. It is even more imperative when we are talking about lifestyle changes. There will be very little long-term continuity and engagement without people seeing the senior executives “walking the walk”. I can’t count the number of well meaning programs that I’ve seen get scuttled over the years by pre-historic thinking executive teams who either don’t believe in health and wellness, or believe that this is something “people should figure out on their own”.

This step is so crucial that our staff at FRESH! provide the CEO with the motivation and tools necessary to be active in supporting their corporate fitness and nutrition initiatives. We maintain a working relationship with top management throughout the program with updated progress reports and evaluations.   When consulting with companies, we usually say that if senior management cannot or will not give the full blessing to a wellness program, it is rarely worth starting one.  It can be damaging to a business to send a double message to its employees. Executives must be consistent in their recognition of needs, their belief in the solution, and take regular steps towards showing the company that they are “bought in” to the process of change.

Lifestyle changes can be difficult for many people to make.  We work with you and your employees to identify barriers to success, and put proven strategies and programs in place to repair and prevent a large number of common health risks and conditions.

Information is useless without ACTION!

Turn Plans Into ActionThis is the number one reason there are so many stressed out, frustrated, overweight, and unhealthy people out there!  After 20+ years as a health and wellness professional, I can truly say that making this one change will transform your life.  Take ACTION!  Even imperfect action will lead to better results than doing nothing!  We’ve all seen it (and perhaps experienced it) from the personal side.  We know we need to exercise regularly and eat healthy…we just don’t do it consistently!

From the corporate side, this is an important point that has a critical impact on your bottom line.  It’s also an area where virtually every company fails spectacularly!  Information is everywhere.  Sure, some of it is better than others, but the fact is, it isn’t being used.  Look at your EAP provider.  They probably provide access to every resource and bit of information on any health and wellness topic you can think of.  However, I want to ask you a few important questions…

  • Is this information being used regularly?
  • Is it eliciting positive and measurable change? (I’m willing to bet the answer is a resounding NO!)
  • The next question is critical…WHY NOT?

It’s probably because the information is not

  • Accessible
  • Constantly in front of people
  • Relevant
  • Engaging
  • Motivating
  • Tracked for effectiveness

An effective wellness program solves all of these problems.  There are relevant, hands-on, engaging, and trackable programs in place for the key demographics and red flags in your company that you want to address.  These programs are constantly changing, and managed by qualified, motivating, and on-site professionals who are passionate about helping stimulate ACTION and positive change in the healthy habits and behaviors taking place in your organization.  Take a good look at the last “wellness” related initiative that you ran.  Does this look like what you did?  If not, that’s likely a primary reason why it failed!

As an organization, creating this Action and positive change has PHENOMENAL benefits to your bottom line!  Think of all the people in your company who are sick, stressed, overweight, unhappy, or depressed.  Do you think they are performing at peak productivity?  Are they engaged and properly representing the interests and image of your company?  Do you think these negative traits and conditions are contagious?  You bet they are!

Now, imagine what your company would be like if even a fraction of these people transformed their health, fitness, and lifestyle to be

  • Rarely (if ever) sick
  • Full of energy, happy, and passionate about coming to work each day
  • 30-50% more productive
  • Engaged and contributing members of the organization with a passion for helping others succeed

Do you think it would benefit their loyalty, engagement, effort, productivity, and excitement, if your company was responsible for providing them the opportunity? (That’s a rhetorical question!).  Of course!  Unfortunately, most companies think of health and wellness as something people should “do on their own”.  Other than providing some bland, generic resources, or cookie cutter boring events, employees are left to figure it out on their own.  Even many companies with fitness centres fail to link the fitness centre to the the overall wellness program at the company.  “Hey, we put in a fitness centre, employees should be grateful for it!  It’s there for them if they want to use it.”  We know from the health club model that this philosophy is broken. (despite being so prevalent)

People who are dealing with addictions, health issues, and stress suddenly see a light at the end of the tunnel when they have direct access to approachable on-site resources. They feel empowered and hopeful as they take action filling in their answers. There is a renewed sense of energy.  This is even seen during the initial wellness surveys!

That is another reason it is so critical to have CEO support. Many companies bring people to that point of hope and renewed vigor and then do nothing about it by letting programs slide, or not following through with initiatives.  The let down is huge. Again, the executive team is not on board, it’s not recommended to even start the process.  My question to the executive team would be “WHY are you not on board, when the upside is so high, and the risk so low?”

Need help?  This is what FRESH! does for companies like yours!

The Wellness Audit

Wellness Audit

With any goal, you need to determine a starting point, before you can know if you’ve made any progress.  Most companies just implement random programs and services without any concept of WHY, what they want to accomplish, and no framework to evaluate progress.  A big part of this initial process at FRESH! is to work with executives and key stakeholders to determine the current status of wellness at your organization.  Using your input, we add specific questions to our standard needs assessment form so that you get a complete picture of your business and employee needs, desires, and components on the path to healthy change.   Here are some other important components of a thorough wellness audit:

  • Evaluation of key demographics and risk factors within the organization (sometimes this is done in conjunction with your EAP provider)
  • Direct measurement of strategic health indicators for employees or randomized samples from various departments
    • Not everyone knows where his or her health currently stands. Studies show that 5 in every 100 employees have undiagnosed Type 2 Diabetes (just one of MANY examples). Finding the baselines is essential to setting the goals and measuring the results. We will provide this resource and coordinate with department heads so your workplace disruption is minimal.
  • Survey results from people at all levels of the company on their work and lifestyle related  habits, behaviours
  • Candid feedback on company culture, past experiences with health and wellness, and suggestions for future implementation 
  • Determine the most important areas that need to be addressed
    • What does management see as the key “Red Flags” for your business?
  • Outline the expectations for results from key stakeholders, and employees
  • Specify the results that need to be accomplished to meet and exceed these expectations
  • Are the proper resources and systems in place to collect and track the necessary data
  • Choose the top 2-3 most important and relevant KPI’s to track
  • Establish the timeline, protocol, and stakeholders for collecting and reporting this information

This may sound like a lot of work and effort.  It’s true, a proper and comprehensive wellness audit takes SOME time and resources, but not as much as you may think.  Many companies get bogged down with “paralysis by analysis”, or “death by committee”.   At FRESH!, we like to help clients understand the importance of planning and collecting information, but our goal is to assess strategic data, and take the first implementation steps as soon as possible.  Wellness is an ever evolving and iterative process, so one of the most important things is to get started quickly!

With any sustainable business, a solid foundation for future success must be built.  This is where the planning and strategy come in.  Successful companies always keep this goal in mind when designing, implementing, and evaluating any new (or existing) program or initiative.  It’s just smart business sense!

Lack of Budget or Resources – “Sounds great, but we have no money”

No BudgetThis is always an interesting one.  Some companies have no line item in their budget for wellness, but many companies have purposely chosen to create a wellness budget.  That’s great, but often I have to stop from laughing when I hear how much they’ve been allocated.  I’ve had a company of 300 people tell me that their annual “wellness budget” was $500.  They spent it on stress balls and a bowling night that 15 people showed up for.  As a company owner, I wouldn’t spend $500 on stress balls and a bowling night, so it’s no wonder why so many wellness programs fail to get funding (read more about this in the next section).  Other organizations billions of dollars in revenue, and thousands of employees, but spend even less per employee on wellness.

While there is no magic number for how much to spend on wellness (total, or per employee), it really depends on your culture, values, what you want to accomplish, and how well you understand the financial and organizational benefits that come from having a company operated by healthy, happy, fit, engaged, and passionate people.

Creating this isn’t rocket science, it just takes a commitment to adjusting company culture, mindset, and expectations surrounding health and wellness.  The proven fact is that proper employee wellness programs consistently generate from $3-$8 for every single dollar invested by a company.  Contrary to this fact, most organizations view health and wellness as an expense rather than an investment.  Now, if you are buying the equivalent of stress balls and bowling nights (nothing against bowling) and expecting it to transform your organization, then yes, that’s an unreclaimable expense.  However, a proper wellness plan is not individual services, events, or challenges.

Wellness plans must combine Education, Activity, Strategy, and Key Metrics into a customized and sustainable plan for each organization.  When properly implemented, any CFO will be happy to CREATE a budget or FIND MONEY to invest in health and wellness.  An important point to consider is that wellness plans are scaleable.  It does not require spending gobs of money up front.  It’s about taking a long term view, outlining a strategy, and building on that plan each year with targeted tactics.

People always ask “how much does it cost?”  This is next to impossible to answer, because “it” means many different things to different companies.  I’ve seen companies take a great strategic start to wellness with as little as a couple thousand dollars per month.  This is less than the cost of a part time admin assistant!  On the other side, I know companies that spend millions of dollars each year, but have no tangible results to show for it.

To find out what type of plan would work best for your company, give us a call.  We are happy to meet with your executive team to discuss the options for your organization.

Your program is run by internal volunteers or a single (overworked) person

OverworkedIn so many companies, wellness programs end up causing frustration, disengagement and lost productivity!  Wait a minute…are wellness programs supposed to do the opposite?!

Yes, wellness programs should benefit all of these things, but a large number of programs are coordinated by volunteers who have “real” jobs to do, or by a single person who is hopelessly overloaded in the position.  Volunteer wellness coordinators are often well meaning and passionate people, but they have to do the wellness initiatives on their own time, or take away from the hours dedicated to their actual role in the company.  This often starts out well, but when things get busy, balls get dropped (usually on the wellness side).  This leads to lack of consistency in performance of the employee or program, frustration from the volunteer and program participants, poor engagement in programs and the company in general, lost productivity, and ultimately decreased profits.

A single person dedicated to wellness can be a great resource in some small companies (there are also downsides to a single person which I won’t go into in this article), but most of the companies who have a dedicated person are large companies with hundreds or thousands of employees.  Even the most passionate and motivating person is the world can do and implement so much without support.  These people are ideally situated as a supervisor of the overall program, and responsible for coordinating a wide range of volunteers, third party providers, and consultants.  Unfortunately, this is rarely the case.  These people end up being a “jack/jill of all trades” in a sorely underfunded program (think of the stress balls and bowling, but on a bigger scale).  Consequently many of these people end up losing their passion and the entire program suffers.

To have engaged and passionate people end up becoming frustrated and disengaged costs the company enormously in the long term.

The ideal situation is to look at your company size, gauge your level of commitment and investment, then work with a consultant to determine the best solution.  This could include

  • Part-time consultant/service provider
  • Complete outsourcing of entire wellness program
  • Hybrid solutions consisting of in-house employees and outsourced talent (full or part time)

Hopefully the points mentioned above help shed some light on your company, the wellness initiatives that you’ve done in the past, and the plans you have for the future (you DO have plans?).  At FRESH!, our goal is to help your company be the best at what you do by ensuring that your people are healthy, fit, happy, engaged and productive.  The results are proven to produce amazing results.

Contact us to set up a meeting with your executive team where we can discuss the options that are best for your company.  Just email (info at fresh group dot ca)

Yours in Health and Wellness,

Tim Borys
CEO
FRESH! Wellness Group

 

 

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