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Why Don’t Traditional Wellness Programs Work? And What To Do About It

Posted on 02/15/2017

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Lisa WendorffBy Lisa Wendorff, marketing communications specialist

So, why don't traditional wellness programs work? Laura Putnam, CEO and founder of Motion Infusion, answered this at the Jan. 24, 2017 Alliance Learning Circle event in Madison, Wis. 

Putnam discussed the pitfalls of traditional wellness programs and gave suggestions on how to transition wellness programs into workplace well-being movements.

“In a traditional workplace wellness program, less than 20% of a population is participating in the program to make an effective change,” said Putnam.

Most Americans know that they shouldn’t smoke, should eat healthier and should exercise more. Wellness programs educate people how to do this. However, many participants fall back into unhealthy habits soon after a wellness challenge ends.

Programs are boring, movements encourage people to make lasting changes. “People want to be part of a movement. They want to be a part of something bigger. They want to be a part of a revolution. This is what inspires people,” encouraged Putnam.

How can I create a well-being movement at my workplace?

Start a movement. Build the movement. Make it last. Sounds simple, but what’s the best way to do this? Putnam offered advice on how to make this happen.

Starting a Movement

Become an agent of change. Shift your mind-set from expert to agent of change. “Your number one job is persuasion. You want to get people to join your movement,” said Putnam. Speak from the heart to make an emotional connection with your well-being movement. Then, support it with statistics. Employee stories (or testimonials) about your well-being program are important. Stories are more memorable than statistics.

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Imagine what’s possible. “Fear is not motivating,” said Putnam. When your organization is open to possibilities, your workplace culture will transition from just surviving, to thriving. Find ways to infuse health and well-being into your corporate culture. Consider outdoor walking meetings instead of sitting in a conference room or organizing a community volunteer opportunity for staff. “In the words of Peter Drucker [international business consultant and educator], culture eats strategy for breakfast,” said Putnam.

But don’t forget that well-being encompasses much more than just physical health. It is connected to productivity, teamwork, innovation – even safety. Well-being is much bigger than just savings on health care costs.

“A great way to sell wellness is to talk about net productivity,” said Putnam. Management is always searching for ways to increase organizational net productivity. Point out to them that net productivity will increase when staff are encouraged to take mini timeouts along the way. These timeouts can be in the form of fun wellness opportunities which will recharge staff and increase their net productivity. Provide your staff with the opportunity to live up to their full potential.

Buliding a Movement

First, you should launch a campaign to generate good feelings.

Why? “A positive mindset actually opens up our thinking and allows us to think more creatively,” said Putnam. A positive mindset and positive thinking are necessary to make and sustain a healthy lifestyle change.

Putnam illustrated this by asking the audience to, “… name three good things that have happened to you today.” “When you do this daily for six weeks, you will rewire your brain into a more positive mindset,” she explained.

When you launch your well-being movement, be sure to reach out to every department within your organization to create a diverse team to move your movement forward. “Every voice counts,” said Putnam.

Also, empower your senior leaders and managers to be champions of your well-being movement. Why? “They will set the tone,” said Putnam. When team members see their leaders involved in workplace well-being activities, participation rates will climb.

Utilize stealth language. “This may become your secret weapon when it comes to increasing the impact of your ability to promote health and well-being in your workplace,” said Putnam.

Identify non-traditional opportunities and use them to build wellness into your corporate culture. If staff tend to shy away from initiatives labeled as “wellness,” use terms like energy or sustainable engagement.

Putnam suggested staff meetings, safety training, onboarding training and team development as potential opportunities to add in some wellness activities. Adding a group stretch to the beginning of your department meetings or welcoming new employees with a company-logoed pedometer are a couple of examples.

Sustaining Your Well-Being Movement

"Create the conditions in which people are more likely to motivate themselves,” said Putnam.

People will make healthier choices when their workplace culture includes the conditions for them to motivate themselves.

Incentives have long been a staple of wellness programs. Are incentives a good idea? “While incentives will get people in the door, they will never keep them,” said Putnam.

What should you do to sustain your newly created well-being movement?

Stop telling people what to do and instead ask them more questions. Ask big questions to encourage people to start drawing the information from themselves.

Questions such as:

  • There’s an epidemic of stress, why do you think this is happening?
  • How can we start to address the topic of mental health in the workplace?
  • What do you think about this topic? Is this good or bad? Tell me more.

And always make your well-being activities fun. Because we are creatures of culture. And culture is the framework of every organization.

Infuse well-being into your culture by designing targeted nudges and cues. “Nudges are any kind of environmental prompt that makes well-being easier. And cues are cultural prompts that normalize well-being,” said Putnam.

If the goal was to get people to move more, you might:

  • Place a sign next to the elevator saying, “Walk away from the elevator and consider taking the stairs instead.”
  • Have bicycles and helmets available for employee break time.
  • Set an employee walking break. Everyone is invited to attend a group walk at the same time each day.

“Think about how to integrate well-being into the fabric of business as usual,” said Putnam, “and start a movement, because your people are literally waiting to be part of that movement.”

Learn more

 

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