How many times have we heard that phrase “evidence based,” when it comes to workplace wellbeing issues? It’s like you’re not allowed to put on a webinar or conference without using that term every other sentence. I just searched the phrase “evidence based wellness program,” and got 1,650,000 hits. That’s true. Try it.
The pointy heads on both sides of contentious issues keep saying things like, “the data shows” or “the evidence suggests.” Two PhDs, diametrically opposed, 180 degrees apart, and both claiming the evidence “clearly” supports their positions. Ha!
“There’s lies, damned lies, and statistics,” – Mark Twain
It’s enough to make a C+ student’s head blow up. That’s why I am a big advocate of critical thinking. You have to sort through these things and come to your own conclusions.
That’s not to say some of us will conclude that the evidence suggests gravity does not exist, as we stand firmly planted on the Terra Perma. Better to come to the wrong conclusion with full responsibility, than blindly following any talking head.
Darrell Huff, author of “How To Lie With Statistics” (1954), said, “correlation does not imply causation.” He obviously wasn’t here to see the 2013 Boston Red Sox sprout beards, and then start knocking the cover off the ball. And if you ever go skydiving always put your right leg in the jump suit first. It’s good luck, what the hell. But don’t jump to the conclusion that your wellness program gets a 7 to 1 ROI without thinking about that a little.
So What is a Person of Average Intelligence to Believe?
I’ve had some great mentors in my days. Wonderful teachers, coaches, and colleagues. In me, they saw potential. If they could explain something to me so I could understand it, they knew they were hitting a home run at somewhere very close to the lowest common denominator. “KISS” means Keep It Simple for Shawn. Ever wonder why the HOPE Health Letter® is so easy to read and understand? Now you know. KISS.
Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way to determine what to believe (or not) in the bizarre and whacky world of workplace wellness:
1. Is what they are saying possible (realistic)? Is it probable (could happen but not guaranteed)? Is it plausible (likely to happen)? You need to answer yes to all three to buy in. If you go with less than all three yesses, you’re experimenting.
2. How does the person advocating for a position or a sale make money? Just be aware of this most basic of agendas. It’s OK for people to make money. I always like transparency in pricing. If you can’t figure out how much a vendor, advisor, etc., makes from you, if it’s complicated, then it’s “probable” you’re getting screwed.
3. If ROI (return on investment) is brought up as an important element and compared to the cost of the program, it means three things to me:
a. We’re paying so much in cash that we need to justify it in cash savings. Bad omen.
b. We’re not measuring things (that are mostly non-revenue metrics) that contribute to advancing a healthy culture. Wrong goal.
c. We’re not thinking long term. Not strategic nor sustainable.
4. Does the proposed program or action, by design, treat employees and other stakeholders with respect and dignity? If any extrinsic incentive is involved, it does not. Here’s how to flush this out a bit: How would you feel if your most cherished, loved ones were recipients of the proposed actions?
5. Think of the wisest advisor and advocate you have. Your grandpa, an aunt, a parent, or a cherished friend. What would that person want to ask about the proposal being put forward? Wisdom often comes in the form of fundamental and simple questions. What questions might a grade-school or high-school student ask? Why would anyone want to do that? So what? Why do you do it that way? Why would anybody care? Who would actually do that? Simple questions are your protective rocky shoals.
I do care what the evidence shows. But evidence and data need to be questioned, held up to the light, tested, challenged, and then carefully considered relative to your needs.
Shawn is the President and Founder of Hope Health. For over 30 years, his work has focused on bringing clear, easy-to-read and watch health messages to the public via workplaces. He bills himself as the “Best C+ Student in the Wellness Biz” because, as he says, “I like to challenge the notion that there is no such thing as a stupid question.” Shawn is on a mission to tie workplaces into their surrounding communities to share resources and ideas in an effort to improve the health of all Americans.
You may reach Shawn at sconnors@HopeHealth.com or 800-334-4094.