Wellness Programs: What Works?
Wellness Programs: What Works?
The benefits of worksite wellness programs for employees and employers have been discussed over the past five articles. Are you ready to dive right in?
Before you move forward, consider these questions: What should the program actually look like What does the research tell us about best practices? and the big question that is on everyone’s mind, What really works? The short answer – nothing.
Let’s take weight-loss research, for example. No matter which weight-loss strategy is being studied – calorie-counting, point-counting, carb-counting, cabbage soup diet, grapefruit diet, taco diet, etc. – we see virtually the same results.
While you are adhering to “the plan” over whatever duration is chosen, your weight loss chart will usually show a downward slope. However, as soon as you are done with “the plan” for whatever reason (the group is over, life happens, it gets too difficult or boring… or frustrating), your chart starts on a steady incline.
For most of us, this line ends up back where we started, or maybe even higher. This dreaded checkmark is the hallmark of all weight loss programs.
So, what about physical activity programs? While the participant is conscious and engaged, the program works. After life gets in the way, it stops working. What about stress interventions or sleep interventions? Same deal.
Fear not, all hope is not lost.
Here’s what you need to know.
A program is only as good as its duration. I cannot tell you how many times I have said this over the years. Everyone wants to hold a six-week program with some sexy title about losing a bunch of weight. And while it may make us think we are helping, the only thing we are helping is another checkmark.
But guess what? People are well equipped to yo-yo without the help of their employer. The only way to stop the yo-yo is to stack programs back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back as you continue to build a culture of wellness at your worksite. The programs must be engaging and tailored to the needs of your employees. Stick with me through this series and you will have a blueprint on how to do that.
A program is nothing without sustainability. Let’s look again at our 6-week program example. Anything with a time limit that doesn’t have an “out” is a waste of time and money, as it will lead everyone straight back to the top of the checkmark.
There are two effective approaches to sustainability that will be explored in depth at a later date. One way is to build the program with reasonable and achievable elements from that start that can become forever habits. The other approach is to create a program with more challenging elements at first with very specific phases that transition back to what a real healthy life will look like after the challenge.
A program built in an environment that doesn’t truly support wellness is the worst program of all. I see this all the time. If you actually want your employees to be healthy, you cannot also bring in cake and pizza and soda for every party and meeting without having anything green available. If you understand that good sleep, stress reduction, and work-life balance are as important to health as broccoli and exercise, you cannot also expect employees to work through the weekend or pull all-nighters.
So, while most employers start their company’s wellness journey with six weeks of encouraging health here or there, the more important first step is deciding to be congruent in words and actions around the healthy culture you hope to build at your worksite.
As with everything else in life, corporate wellness is an inside job.