Wellness plans have been all the rage for a number of years. Their ultimate goal is to reduce employer costs, while creating a more productive workforce. Otherwise, employers would have no interest in them. So how well are they doing? My personal experience working with many companies that either use or implement these programs tells me that it’s a mixed bag. Attempting to change long-standing health habits isn’t easy. Here are some of the challenges as I see them:
- It’s a top-down idea. Anytime a wellness program is thrust upon employees it feels like manipulation, whether the program benefits them or not. How can you make it their idea, too?
- Many employees don’t like being penalized for their personal habits, while their work habits are just fine. “I put in 50 hours a week, produce twice as much as anybody around here, and you’re going to make me pay more because I smoke a few cigarettes?” Tough case.
- Penalties only generate more stress. There’s talk about expanding the types of penalties available under wellness programs. Now people will be stressed about their finances, as well as about their health. Rather than giving employees incentives toward good conduct, it might lead them into even more destructive conduct.
- Leadership sets a bad example. An owner once complained to me about how expensive his healthcare was. An obese man, he then took me past the free vending machines in the lunchroom that provide his employees with candy, chips, and soda. How well do you think a wellness program will work at his company?
- Make it a team effort. Healthy employees are, on average, better employees. They’re more productive, have lower absenteeism rates, and fewer medical expenses. Aren’t these the type of workers you want? Encourage them to provide an example to the rest of the workforce. Less fit workers will respond far better to someone they work with every day than they will to some wellness trainer. Give healthy employees incentives to get three other employees to go to the gym with them on a regular basis. There’s no law against doing that.
Wellness is a great idea whose implementation is still at the early phases. To make our wellness programs more effective, we’ll need to do a lot of experiments.