Q: Can workplace wellness programs save our workforce? A: Possibly, but only when correctly designed.

March 13, 2020

Recently Dr. Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business, told The New York Times that most wellness programs have “limited if any effectiveness.” The problem is that he is correct.

Employers the world over continue to seek ways in which they can bolster their competitive offers to talent while simultaneously providing meaningful benefits to their current employees. Part of that comes in the form of workplace wellness programs that promise the moon: huge savings in healthcare costs, massive boosts in productivity, and crazy ROIs. But like we said, Dr. Pfeffer is correct.

Most workplace wellness offerings are superficial in nature. They look great: seamless, sleek, high-tech, and “effortless.” But their usually shallow scope means they can’t possibly solve the much deeper institutional problems faced by many companies. As Dr. Pfeffer described in his book “Dying for a Paycheck” and in one of our webinars, the psychological effects of the workplace are taking a massive toll on us. Employers know this and want to help their employees. The resulting demand for workplace health solutions has produced a wide offering of programs that tout a range of approaches and the best new science. The article also described the lengths to which some programs are going, including meditation, sound baths, “energy consulting,” and hypnotherapy. While many of these approaches can help, they remain a bandage on a wound inflicted by long hours, high pressure and constant stress. That combination can’t be alleviated by meditating before a meeting (although we will be the first to tell you that meditation can help individuals manage stress).

A better approach is to present employees with a comprehensive program that can include things like meditation and mindfulness, but also emphasizes more readily accessible activities like physical activity and exercise as well as a healthy educational component to help people learn the backstory behind their journey to health. Just look at what Bob Chapman, CEO, has done at Barry-Wehmiller. Bob and his company have done an outstanding job of creating an all-around healthier workplace and Vitality is proud to have played a small role. Bringing fun into the workplace, embracing the realization that business can be a powerful force for good in the world, and taking responsibility for the human beings whose lives have been entrusted have been even more critical to the positive results for Bob and his team.

We’ve been doing this long enough to recognize when a company is simply trying to frame itself as being a health promoter by offering only an extremely light wellness offering to its employees. That is why we agree with our friend, Dr. Pfeffer. Most workplace health programs are in fact limited. Most companies fail to address the real issues at hand. As such, those programs can only scratch the surface in helping individuals. We understand that helping people choose healthier lifestyles requires a much deeper commitment and that’s why we are committed to making 100 million people healthier by 2025.

The problems we are facing in the workplace are hurting us. We know superficial solutions can’t do the job, and we are committed to going deep to help people improve their health.

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