I don’t think workplace wellness as it’s practiced today has much of a future. If you’re studying workplace wellness or plan to make a living trying to get people well at a workplace, I’d strongly suggest a plan B (suggestion below). Plan B is going to be much better.
The term and the practice of “workplace wellness” will go away completely. If you use that term five years from now, nobody will know what you’re talking about. Give or take a couple years, either way.
Wellbeing is a better term, but I think we’re all getting a bit “welled” out. Wellness might come to mean taking certain prescription drugs or vitamins, eating certain foods, or getting screened for disease at drug stores and other provider locations. The commercial product marketers are muddling the meaning of wellness. I think it will disappear from workplaces as a program element.
3 Reasons Why Workplace Wellness Will Go Away
1. Claims of healthcare costs savings due to wellness programs have been demonstrated to be erroneous. Thus, wellness never has, and never could have, reduced healthcare costs. That makes its stated reason for existing bogus.
2. Even if you believe (incorrectly) that wellness does lower healthcare costs, changes in healthcare coverage will result in it becoming mobile. Both political parties have strong areas of agreement on decoupling healthcare coverage from employment. Your healthcare coverage will follow you wherever you live or work. Most employers will have little interest in your healthcare costs.
3. The clinical focus of current wellness programs is running into privacy and discrimination issues. People in workforces subject to invasive wellness programs are revolting. Penn State is just the beginning.
Note: There may be some savings in managing chronic diseases, but disease management (DM) is not a wellness program, in my opinion. The potential DM savings, although significant in terms of the ROI of the programs’ costs, are limited because they’re based on loss reduction. They don’t directly add to the growth metrics of the business. I do think onsite clinics at larger employers is a growing trend.
What About Healthy Workplace Cultures?
There is a lot of talk about “healthy workplace cultures.” Very warm and fuzzy. Although we probably can tell a healthy workplace culture when we see it, how to reproduce one on any meaningful scale isn’t clear yet. I suspect it’s tied to the good, old-fashioned idea of great leadership within the core functions of the business.
If people enjoy where they work, they will be healthier and more productive. We’ll start hearing a lot more about job satisfaction, happiness, career satisfaction, fun, and enjoyment of work.
Shortage of Skilled Workers
As much as we hear about unemployment, the huge problem is there are not enough skilled people to fill the jobs available at growing businesses. There will be brutal competition to attract and keep skilled people.
Skilled people will also start their own businesses to build the culture they want around them. And also to become as rich as Midas. We’re in another cycle of new business formation. As these 21st century entrepreneurs build businesses of the future, these emerging leaders will provide many new and great examples of how to treat employees and support communities.
Note: I am a “glass-half-full” kind of guy. And it’s not because I see the world through rose-colored shades. I can even hang in there with old, jaded, cynical, big-city journalists in piano bars. My optimistic tendency is rooted in the fact that optimists have consistently been right about the power of our economy. And pretty much everything else. Day-to-day things are almost too terrible to bear. Over a decade, though, somehow life is much better than it was.
Telecommunication will be Huge!
The winter of 2013-2014 will probably give this trend a big boost. Letting employees work wherever they want, when they want, and to a large extent how they want (as long they are accountable for results) will be the secret “recruiting sauce” for many in the service sector.
There will be less commute time on the roads, reduced office space expenses, less down time, and no office politics. Work will be more outcome-based, collaborative, faster, and with higher quality. The coming metrics will back up all of this. This trend is going to drive workplace sociopaths and bullies to distraction. Who shall they prey on?
As we spend more time outside buildings, we’ll spend more time connected to our communities.
Employees will fill the vacuum left by the absence of office camaraderie by engaging in new and healthful social interactions in their communities. All the thousands of grassroots events and programs going on around us will be natural ways for us to plug in and be part of life where we live.
Movement will be a key medium for connecting people. Event announcements will be centered on a verb that requires us to do something active, and those events will have social connections. The key will be to put people together in self-sustaining groups.
Other attractive benefits that will draw skilled talent include:
- A Paid Time Off (PTO) policy that does not include sick days.
- Subsidizing continued education.
- Support and flexibility to meet work and home (family) issues.
- A reasonably clear career track.
- Benchmark rewards like paid sabbaticals.
- Retirement vehicles like 401(k) plans, etc.
- Some type of profit sharing or bonus for good results.
- A conscious balance between clear direction and autonomy.
- Specific understanding of why someone’s work is valuable and appreciated.
- Career and life counseling/coaching.
So What is Plan B for Wellness People Today?
Look for ways to get people together and moving. Within a workplace, connect people to one another via an event. Within the community, connect workplaces together in supporting existing community events.
Think of yourself as an event planner, community collaborator, and social coordinator. Here’s a draft of a job description. “Using movement and social interaction as a medium, we connect people (and their families) to one another, and then to their communities, thus making their work more meaningful and satisfying. We help make your organization and mission attractive and satisfying to the talented people you need to be successful.”
What shall we call it all? What shall your job description or title be? I don’t know the answer. I didn’t know what Google® was the first time I heard it. Maybe something silly like that will do. If you can connect people, get them moving and interacting in almost any type of activity (think of the arts too, not just exercise), and learn how to tap into the richness of where you live, you’ll have plenty of work. That is a lot better than what workplace wellness is today.
Let me leave you with this thought:
“Once organizational health is properly understood and placed into the right context it will surpass all other disciplines in business as the greatest opportunity for improvement and competitive advantage. Really.”
Patrick Lencioni, “The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything in Business”
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.