In the new paradigm, health and happiness will be seen as drivers of optimal performance. Health and happiness will still drive each other and will both be considered precursors for employees performing at their best. Companies who realize this will reap great benefits through higher engagement, retention, creativity, and productivity (1).
Today, there is a wide spectrum of health improvement programs, but few are effective, measurable, and sustainable.
PROBLEM 1 — INFORMATION SHARING
Sharing health information on both individual and aggregate levels is challenging. Better sharing would improve care and efficiency. Technology will be a key part of the solution to this problem.
We have access to a huge amount of information about health, but the volume can be overwhelming. We often assume that the more information people are given, the more likely they are to make the right decisions. Imagine trying to learn about an area where you lack expertise. You’re being inundated with information (much of it conflicting) through multiple media channels. Would that feel overwhelming? Would that lack of clarity perhaps leave you less sure of yourself and more prone to inaction? Companies must create systems that help their employees sift through the deluge of information and break it into small actionable bytes.
PROBLEM 2 — USER EXPERIENCE
Although this article is not meant to dwell on or generalize the shortcomings of company wellness programs, we must first look at how the overall user experience is lacking to see what it could be. Some of these “lacks” include:
Lack of Feedback
Users often are presented programs that call for them to take action but have no or infrequent feedback mechanisms. Having users take action without steady feedback on how they are doing is a surefire way to decrease compliance.
Lack of Accountability
Even those of us who are health conscious often put our health needs last and deal with other life issues such as family or work first. Imagine what this must be like for people who do not share your passion for well-being? People need an ongoing system of accountability to stay engaged; seeing a physician once a year for 12 minutes is not enough.
Lack of Community
Workplaces are communities like any other consisting of shared beliefs, behaviors, and norms. This creates an opportunity to make good health a part of the culture. Creating this social norm will have sustained benefits that include better employee performance, retention, and lower health care costs.
Lack of Integration
Although many companies have great health-related services, there is usually very little integration between them. Users generally self-select into a part of a program and stay there unless they take the initiative to explore other services.
Lack of “Catalyst for Change”
The initial decision to change health behaviors is an emotional one. A match must be lit. Too often, the spark is a significant health issue such as a cardiac episode. Companies need to find a way to create “aha” moments before an acute issue.
Lack of Support Programs
After that emotional “start-switch” is flipped, programs need to be present to help implement the desired change. Getting someone excited to quit smoking is great, but if there is no smoking cessation program to help implement that change, a positive outcome is unlikely.
Lack of Dimensions
Health has to be addressed from multiple dimensions. There are physical, emotional, and mental aspects of health that can build on each other, and all need to be addressed.
WHAT WILL THE FUTURE PROGRAM LOOK LIKE?
- Companies will have an array of offerings that span the entire value chain outside the nonscalable types of acute care (magnetic resonance imaging machines etc.) (Figure 2).
- Employees will learn early on that good health is part of the company culture.
- Employees (overwhelmed with choice) will be matched with a health concierge who will help assess where they stand on the readiness for change scale and then start them in the proper place and guide them through the value chain.
- Manager training will include learning how to foster healthy behaviors in their team.
- Healthy activities that are community based by nature will be built into the work day.
EXAMPLE: THE NEW EMPLOYEE
Bob is sitting in orientation on his first day at a new company. Along with presentations on the company’s history and core business, there is a large section on company culture. Within this section, the presenter explains that maintaining good health is both a cultural norm and a competitive advantage for the company as it keeps everyone performing at their best.
Overwhelmed with the huge number of offerings in health and fitness education, Bob goes with the suggested default path for new employees and opts for an appointment with a health concierge. During this initial meeting, the concierge educates Bob on all the health improvement options available to him and then performs a basic lifestyle and health goal assessment.
The concierge sets up an appointment for Bob with the on-site physician and shares Bob’s information through an electronic health record (EHR). The physician measures Bob’s biometrics and performs an overall physical examination. He observes that Bob’s body fat is relatively high compared with his lean muscle mass and refers him to the on-site exercise specialist and nutritionist, again sharing information through the EHR.
The exercise specialist performs a fitness assessment and recommends a program based on the results. The nutritionist reviews Bob’s EHR, educates him on making healthy choices in the on-site café, and constructs a meal plan and strategy based on Bob’s preferences.
Bob heads off to his new role, where he is quickly consumed by new responsibilities. Bob’s manager observes that he’s not taking time out for exercise and seems overwhelmed. She urges him to take more breaks, such as joining his other team members for their afternoon walks, and suggests that he talk to the on-site wellness coach about stress management.
The concierge receives an electronic alert that Bob hasn’t checked into any of the fitness classes. The concierge reaches out to Bob, and they tweak his exercise plan to better fit his work demands.
At Bob’s quarterly check-in, the concierge is pleased to see Bob’s success in sticking with the updated exercise program. After several sessions with the wellness coach and making adjustments with his manager, Bob is noticeably less stressed and is excelling in his new role. Now exercising regularly and making sensible meal choices, he reports a significantly higher feeling of well-being. The concierge helps Bob establish new goals and again refers him out to the on-site services to help Bob put together an action plan.
Although this vision may sound costly by today’s standards, the efficiencies and outcomes will justify the investment. The challenges currently facing the industry are numerous. However, we firmly believe that companies that embrace an integrated, proactive approach to employee health will not only overcome these challenges but also have measurably more engaged employees and far greater success for all stakeholders (Figure 3).
© 2011 American College of Sports Medicine.
1. Shwartz, T. Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys To Transforming the Way We Work and Live.
Free Press; 2010.