In a recent HBR post, “In Defense of Corporate Wellness Programs,” doctor and entrepreneur Rajiv Kumar took on the doubters about the value of workplace wellness programs. But as designers and researchers who have spent the better part of two years creating a system of healthy living for a huge national populace, we think he didn’t take his defense far enough. Not only are wellness programs valuable for the organizations and their employees, as his data states, they are our biggest hope for fixing a national health crisis.
“Companies are a microcosm of society and an important and unleveraged setting for health improvement and risk reduction,”
How have they done this? Here are three approaches we discovered that appear to be key
Put it in Surround Sound
The best wellness programs bring the built environment, company policies, and leadership messaging under a single mission of wellness. When USAA’s Enterprise Medical Director Dr. Peter Wald joined the organization 12 years ago, he found many discrete resources for wellness — mini gyms, cafes, and health experts – already in place. Once he tied them under the mission of prevention, putting health in “surround sound,” as he likes to say, the program took hold within the organization. Safeway redefined its core business from “a grocery company with a wellness program,” to “a wellness company that happens to sell groceries,” and the program took off. The CEO, along with the leadership team, ensures that health and wellness are kept top of mind, and leaders work hard to tie all wellness activities back to a broader company strategy. Safeway made large capital investments in a state-of-the-art fitness center, a preventative-care health center, and health-focused cafeterias to support the organizational mission. Creating a seamless wellness experience has resulted in participation rates of over 80 percent.
Keep it Personal
When health is made personal and put in real-life terms, people discover the value that health can hold in their lives — and that provides the strong call to action. Johnson & Johnson, which has one of the longest-standing wellness programs in the country, understands that people don’t strive to get healthy because it’s the right thing to do in some abstract sense. “Health is usually a means to an end,” says Adam Glauberg, Director of Global Health Services at Johnson & Johnson. The individual wants to be there for family, to get off diabetes medication, to perform better at work. If the company can tap into those personal motivations, it can better communicate the value of health. J&J uses a platform called “Energy for Performance in Life,” a training program designed by the Human Performance Institute division of Wellness & Prevention, a Johnson & Johnson company, to teach employees how to maximize their energy to improve their performance both at work and at home. The program is designed to be less clinical and more lifestyle-oriented than many health-oriented interventions. Making the program more relevant to everyday life dramatically increased the number of people engaging in it; it has now reached 90 percent employee participation.