If you’ve heard the Bravo story or read my past blogs, you may recall me sharing an incident that occurred in kindergarten that burned a profound principle into my being. I was happily coloring a picture when suddenly the crayon I was using snapped in half. I took it to my teacher and said, “Ms. Morrow, my crayon broke.” She replied, “No it didn’t Jimmy.” Confused I showed it to her and said, “Yes it did. Look!” She tenderly replied, “Crayons don’t break Jimmy. People break crayons. Now take responsibility for breaking your crayon and I’ll gladly give you a new one.”
Something clicked that day. Was I a victim of life’s challenges? Or was I a person who looked for someone else to blame before looking in the mirror?
When I’m asked to consult on a client’s wellness program design and confirm that their goals will lead to demonstrable health improvement and cost reduction, there’s a common ingredient that surfaces; the inclusion of a meaningful reward linked to personal improvements and achievements. I’m by no means suggesting that such an incentive is what I would call a comprehensive and effective wellness program when used in isolation (in fact it’s not even compliant to do so). But when a meaningful reward is linked with a reasonable and achievable goal, evidence-based interventions to help people succeed, strong communications and a supportive culture, it seems to be the difference between just showing high participation and showing real health improvement.
Inevitably, when I share my kindergarten story or present the idea of withholding an incentive from someone who may have used available tools yet failed to achieve health improvement, someone will say, “But what about when it’s really not their fault?”
What if the crayon was truly defective? What if you’re just “big-boned” or genetics cursed you with a slow metabolism and high cholesterol? Is it really fair to ask those people to take responsibility?
This reminds me of another life lesson. I found myself in a dire situation. You see the company I worked for went out of business and suddenly closed its doors on all employees. As the sole bread winner for a family of six with no money in the bank, no college education and few marketable skills, the odds were stacked against me. While others cried with me and helped me look for who to blame, one good friend just said, “You’re right Jim. It’s not your fault—but it IS your problem.” Life is not fair. Everything isn’t equal. As the famous saying goes, “You can’t always control your circumstances, but you can absolutely control how you respond to those circumstances.”
As an employer, I can tell you that the employees who have this mentality are typically top performers. As a father, I’m filled with pride as I watch my adult children overcome obstacle after obstacle because they don’t waste a minute sulking about who to blame.
When thoughtfully designed wellness goals and incentives inspire individuals to achieve or make progress toward their personal best, my biggest hope is that this mindset transcends their physical health and inspires them to do the same in their careers, relationships and other areas of life.
Does this mean a universal standard is appropriate for everyone? Absolutely not. But everyone can consult their own provider to determine what health improvements are most important for them and how much progress is reasonable for them to achieve in a year. I have found that such wellness program designs are a very effective way to inspire change and maximize investments into employee benefits. And who knows. Learning to overcome obstacles and achieve improvement may impact them for generations to come.