05 Aug Unintended Consequences

“Our healthiest employees hate our wellness program”

Amidst all of the growth and business success we’re celebrating at Bravo Wellness, we aim to never lose sight of the simple fact that our customers hire us to listen to their unique circumstances and to work with them to bring creative solutions.

I’m often teased because one of my most favorite places on earth is standing in front of a whiteboard with a fresh dry-erase marker in my hand, anxious to “dig into the weeds” and solve problems. One of the “weeds” or issues Bravo has been able to solve for employers with existing wellness programs in place is the concern from their employees who feel the company wellness program is unfair to the already healthy population.

For example, many employers have implemented programs that offer a premium discount or a Health Reimbursement Account deposit to individuals who complete a series of health challenges, log a certain number of pedometer steps or complete five telephonic coaching sessions, regardless of the individual’s actual results or improved health.  An employee who doesn’t use their pedometer and hires a personal trainer instead of the company’s telephonic health coach may not qualify for a penny of the reward even though they dropped 20 pounds and ran a marathon.

The rub comes when they hear their co-worker share how they earned a $500 incentive for recording their steps and making some phone calls while they continue to smoke and gains weight. Enough is enough! Shouldn’t we recognize what people accomplish instead of what methods they chose to help them get there?

Do you pay your highest sales commissions based on who is most organized or who sells the most new business? Does your call center measure success by decreasing hold times and improving satisfaction ratings, or by measuring who used the most features on their phone? Imagine a hospital that measured success based on the number of seminars their doctors attended instead of the number of patients successfully treated.

The tools and training are important but no business can afford to mistake activity for productivity. Likewise, no business can afford to mistake health program completion for health improvement. Don’t be afraid to insist that your team maintain their good health or improve upon their health risks in order to earn a reward. Solid communications are key but rest assured that the vast majority of employees understand and appreciate this approach and in fact, are often offended by anything less.

Personally, I’m a big fan of health coaching, especially those programs that offer personalized meal planning and offer stress management solutions that get to the root causes. I just don’t think it’s fair to reward program completion when the goal was personal health improvement. The new Affordable Care Act wellness regulations provide great flexibility and guidance to reward participation, improvement and outcomes. Carefully designed programs will provide resources to help everyone succeed, but will also provide rewards to everyone who achieves improvement – even if they chose a path you didn’t create for them.