What is a Wellness Program Anyway?

Let’s imagine that it’s a perfect world. You’ve been given free reign over your company’s new wellness program. You have full management support, a big budget with no strings, enthusiastic employees and a corner office (you can dream – right?)

So now what?

I’ll blame my experience in software for my tendency to want a list of requirements before we answer that question. When you’re creating something – most anything – it’s hard to make the right decisions if you don’t know what the final product really must do.

So what does our wellness program have to do?  That depends on who you ask. Without going into a long discussion about the business folks verses the health and wellness folks and the pros and cons of each, I’m going to list a few likely requirements from each camp.

Here are a few thoughts from the wellness folks:

  • Our wellness program should reach as many people in our audience as possible
  • It should improve their “wellness”
  • It should improve company morale

And here are a few from the business folks:

  • Our wellness program should save us money
  • Or reduce turnover
  • Or reduce sick time
  • Oh – and you have to prove it.

The good news is that you’ve already got your support and money for this year. The bad news is that the business folks are the ones who will likely decide if you get to have it again next year.

So how do we address these requirements?  Well, from a high level, we have to show that our program makes a difference.  That means that we need to show an improvement in some area between the start and finish.  So we’ll have to take some sort of measurement at the start and at the end. And we need to do something to make an improvement – we’re not sure what yet – but something. Keep in mind, these changes will take time, so plan on watching for change over a long timeperiod.  

Ok – I’m just going to blurt this out. I’ve been trying to build the suspense and supporting evidence and all that stuff – but it’s killing me.  A basic program really needs three things; an assessment (baseline measurement), an intervention and an analysis of the outcome. 

The assessment part gives us our baseline and helps us look at what we really may want to change. Some people use a Health Risk Assessment (HRA) at this stage to help them decide what to address. This is a good tool, but I’d suggest that you look beyond the standard HRA items and think about things like absenteeism. How many days did your company loose to the flu last year?

That brings us to the intervention part (and, no, I’m not talking about the ones you see on reality TV). This is the real meat of the program – the part where you can really make a difference. Sure, if you use an HRA for your assessment, some people are going to see their recommendations and make some changes. But most of the time, that’s simply not enough to help someone change a behavior. And not everyone in your population is going to need (or want) the same thing. The number of choices you have here goes beyond the scope of this post, but we’ll discuss it in the near future.

Finally, we want to understand how we did with our program. Our analysis of the program should include another measure of whatever we used for our baseline. So, for example, be prepared for another round of HRAs or another trip to accounting for the absentee numbers. And be prepared to answer some questions about how successful we were.

I know we’ve been through a lot here – and some of it very quickly – but I promise we’ll go into more detail (and hopefully discussion) as time goes on. Until then, I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions!

Be well.


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