How to Create a Corporate Wellness Program with Purpose

Heather Sayers Lehman February 1, 2017

When you think of corporate wellness do you think of teaching people how to make salads, count their steps, and drink more water? That’s the typical paradigm: a program to eradicate fat, one that says, “Your fat is a problem. Your fat is expensive. You need to fix your fat.”

Not surprisingly, this type of corporate wellness program does not entice many to perk up and participate. After all, we all struggle and we struggle mightily — but fat has little to do with the real, underlying struggles. When life is stressful, it takes many forms: kids are sick, fridge is empty, bills are past due, project is late, laundry is piled up, dog puked on the carpet, traffic is overwhelming. Enter the sabotaging behavior (aka self-medicating the stressors of life). This might include emotional eating, drinking, over-spending, gambling, cheating, and more to avoid the discomfort of stress, overwhelm, and burnout. Weight gain might be an outcome of the stress, but it’s definitely not the root cause.

So why do most corporate wellness programs try to deal with an after-the-fact symptom and call it wellness?

In reality, wellness has many different dimensions. When a corporate wellness program is created consciously and with the whole person in mind, it can elevate an employee’s connection to their self, their purpose, and their community. This employee is then able to bring their highest self to work and contribute on a more meaningful level.

The 7 Key Ingredients to a Valuable, Holistic Corporate Wellness Program

Whether you are looking to create a corporate wellness program from scratch or improve an existing one, it’s important to evaluate the fundamental purpose of your program from a conscious perspective. Consider the following seven areas to create clarity and direction as you champion an employee’s quality of life.

1. Intention

What is your intention in offering a corporate wellness program? Are you pursuing wellness to see a major decrease in healthcare costs or are you seeking cultural shifts? Note: If you are looking for a speedy ROI as everyone sheds weight and gets healthy, don’t bother. A corporate wellness program is a long-view approach to health and wellbeing; it’s not a magic diet pill! Instead, ask what you want to see added, deleted, or modified in your corporate culture. Creating a culture that supports emotional, physical, and mental health will attract employees who value the same.

2. Depth

Will you be bold enough to create depth and meaning? Are you ready to go the distance to create solutions that address root causes of employees’ health-sabotaging behavior? What are the real life struggles your HR department sees? There are many vanilla wellness solutions that talk about salads, walking programs, and activity trackers. Help people solve and cope with their real problems and you will have more engaged, fearless, and focused employees.

3. Meaningfulness

Will you be helping employees with their greater struggles? Are you addressing issues that wake them up at 3 a.m.? Do your programs create self-awareness and self-responsibility? Understanding what drives sabotaging behavior – and emotional eating and weight gain – will help make a wellness program more meaningful. Address addiction, communication skills, financial tools, career development, spirituality, relationship issues, healthy communities, emotional coping skills, parenting, grief, and other core issues that can empower employees to take charge of their struggles.

4. Inclusion

How do you plan on creating inclusion and community for all employees? Have you considered individual personalities, learning styles, and lifestyles when designing solutions? Will you offer virtual solutions to the employees who can’t/won’t show up live? Not everyone wants to publicly work on their challenges and not every corporate population struggles with the same issues. You can create a sense of community around something greater than being fit or fat. Make sure all people are included in wanting something better for themselves and each other.

5. Messaging

Does your messaging support your highest intention? Do you keep the various corporate populations and divisions in mind when creating communication of the wellness program message? Are there areas of mixed messaging between your proposed philosophy and actual work environment? If you measure my waist and bring me muffins at every meeting, that inconsistency is going to tank your credibility. Matching the methods of messaging and communication to specific groups and job sites can make sure they are truly hearing you.

6. Trust

Are you creating trust by following through with your program’s mission? Does leadership at every level walk the talk? Are you creating support for issues that cause sabotaging behavior? If you want my health information, what exactly are you going to do with it? Are you going to prioritize wellness one quarter then drop it the next? Building trust within a corporate wellness program is huge. Morale and personal attitudes around wellness will determine engagement. If wellness is more stick than carrot, you will create a skeptical, naysaying, and somewhat hostile work force.

7. Choice

Do not mandate wellness. I can’t think of a quicker way to have your entire workforce give you the bird. Most people are innately rebellious, and you change the game when people have to do something. If my husband started weighing and measuring me because he wanted to “help me with my health,” you bet I’d be eating Snickers bars any chance I got. People will participate if they perceive they have to, but they won’t make meaningful changes in the long-term. In a mandated wellness program, employees won’t be thinking about creating something better for themselves; they’ll be doing as they are told. And you can bet they’ll complain about it to their co-workers when management isn’t looking!

The Power Of A Purposeful Corporate Wellness Program

Before you start throwing spaghetti at the wellness wall, get clear on the purpose of your program. When we are helping employees achieve a variety of goals, imagine how their personal satisfaction, sense of empowerment, and enthusiasm will shift your corporate culture. The rewards of consciously creating a corporate wellness program with purpose are much more momentous than if you focus on fat and health issues. Adding more depth and dimension to your wellness program will free employees to create greater meaning in their personal and professional lives.

Stakeholder Capitalism
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