02 Feb DOES WELLNESS WORK?
Congratulations! You’re part of the population that saw the title of this article and the fact that it was written by the Founder and CEO of a “wellness” company and yet you kept reading! I’m not one who is easily offended, but it’s amazing how many people will discredit anything a “vendor” may say because they think we have a conflict of interest and will say or do anything to sell business.
As a person who spends the majority of my time trying to understand challenges within an employer population and ways to adjust programs and incentives to motivate personal responsibility and behavior change, that’s hard for me to understand. I don’t know all of my competitors, but I know many of them, and while I wish they never took a customer away from me or won a bid for new business we wanted, I’ve never met a more respectful and passionate group of people all working towards a common goal. Just like you’ll find a dishonest banker, investment advisor, doctor or any other professional from time to time, you can probably find dishonest people and companies in the wellness arena. But rest assured, it is the exception, not the rule.
Okay, I got that off of my chest. So what then? Does wellness work or not? Of course it does! Except for when it doesn’t. And those other frequent times when it partially does. Good Lord, what is meant by “wellness” anyway? What’s your definition of “success?” Some people will be saved by wellness programs. And for everyone who is, they would certainly call that “successful.” You’ll certainly find people who didn’t benefit from them at all, but for the ones who really engage – they can be life-changing and incredibly rewarding.
Let’s say an employer offers a biometric screening and 100 people participate. They find 6 cases of diabetes that had never before been diagnosed, 4 people with blood pressure >160/100, and 2 people with cholesterol over 400 (who also have significant other risk factors for a heart attack). Was the program a success? Was it a waste of money because 88 people who had no immediate condition identified had to take 10 minutes out of their day to screen and the employer spent $50 per person? If just one of those 12 people diagnosed prevents a heart attack, stroke, diabetes, cancer or some other issue was it a waste? If 5 of them take charge of their life and eliminate their risk factors altogether, but a few years later none of them work for that same employer – was the wellness screening initiative a huge waste of time and money? Some will say “yes, they avoided claims for some other employer and wasted a lot of peoples’ time and money.” They are entitled to that opinion. Many others will see just a bit beyond the trees in front of them and realize the incredible value they provided to those people and to society, not to mention simply being a good corporate citizen.
Companies invest millions of dollars into training their employees on sales techniques, service excellence, software use and numerous other skills, and guess what? Some of them leave the company before they ever use that skill enough to justify the investment made in them. Are these companies better off not training their staff? What if they stay? Can you afford not to train the ones who end up staying? Do you see the point? We often can’t know which employees didn’t need a preventative screening until we screen them. We can’t know which ones will stay at the company for 3 years so the company can “reap the ROI” from the investment into their screening and wellness program until they stay there 3-10 years. If you think that makes the investment a waste of money, then just accept that many people will disagree with you and that there’s no end in sight to this debate.
So let’s say you agree with the premise that wellness is a good idea IF we can prove that people are actually learning of new issues and improving them, and IF we can show you that the tools, resources and coaching being offered are being used and resulting in this improvement. Again, I’m completely perplexed by the assertion that unless a program is embraced by everyone it is not a good idea. It’s getting pretty darn hard to find anything on this planet that is universally accepted by everyone. How many diametrically opposed candidates split the vote in elections nearly 50/50? That means just under half of the population disagrees with the winner! Please recognize that 100% acceptance and compliance with any program is not going to happen and that many who have a bad experience or are critical of the attempt to get them to improve their health will be vocal about it. You cannot assume they represent the majority – they are typically the minority.
What works best then? Great question. It’s unlikely to be a one-size-fits-all solution from a single vendor or partner. A group of high-tech 20-somethings who are into gaming and are in a competitive role will not respond well to blood draws, penalties and some coach calling their house at night, but many will embrace wearables, health challenges and competitions. And 55 year old men who have worked in the same manufacturing plant for 20 years are unlikely to wear your tracker, download your app or like your program on their Facebook page. They do however generally respond to cash. Depending on their wages and other demographics, some will respond to the loss of cash far better than to the ability to gain more. Some will respond far better to a lottery where they can earn many chances to win a huge prize then they will to a guaranteed smaller reward. None of these initiatives are evil and none of them are flawless. Like any other industry dealing with human behavior, we are not going to find a “program” that deals with everyone’s preferences, biases, suspicions, passions, worries and goals. Just try changing your vacation policy or your pension plan and think about the response from your employees. Most employers probably can’t change the FREE food they serve without someone getting upset. It’s FREE!
Over the next few months, I will be sharing specific stories of success and failure. Yes! I said “failure.” There are instances where something an employer tried fell short. Do you realize how much can be learned from that?! We have numerous case studies and examples of employers who have seen tremendous health improvement and cost reduction. What do those who have the most health improvement have in common? What do those who have the least health improvement have in common? Stay tuned and learn more about how you can set realistic expectations, demonstrate value, avoid ideas that seem to be less fruitful and embrace strategies that may be a better fit for you than others.
Don’t forget that the Wright Brothers, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and most everyone else who had a significant impact on people and our planet had to tune out the vocal minority and turn their “failures” into phenomenal success. One thing we know for certain is that there is ample data proving that not offering a wellness program and incentives isn’t going to improve the health of your employees and reduce your cost. We’re in this together and will continue to improve the components necessary to achieve optimal results.