Getting good results from an employee wellness program requires a continuing organizational commitment and understanding of what motivates individual employees, wellness expert Brad Cooper told a recent Thompson Interactive webinar. He warned of some common wellness program pitfalls.
One is a “check-the box” approach — such as setting up a biometric screening and distributing a health risk assessment (HRA) without adequate follow-up. “You can get it off your plate” that way, but “by themselves they’re not a wellness program,” said Cooper, the CEO of US Corporate Wellness, Inc. Research shows that “effective coaching is essential”; without it an HRA is “a good screening tool but not a wellness program,” any more than annual standardized testing is an education, he said.
Cooper also warned against a “scarlet letter” approach that focuses on the least healthy employees, which can not only misallocate resources but also elicit resistance rather than engagement. Singling out those “on the wrong track” for health coaching “takes the most valuable component to your wellness program and turns it into a negative,” he said. You want productive coaching relationships to become part of the culture, and that can’t happen if people are embarrassed to admit they even have a coach.
A third common mistake is to over-rely on technological tools such as computer-generated messaging and educational modules. They can be “really cool,” but they don’t account for human nature, Cooper said. This approach “assumes if we put good data in, good information leads directly to application,” but unhealthy lifestyles can’t be chalked up to sheer ignorance, he said. “We know the basics” about diet, exercise, drinking and smoking, but few of us actually follow them all.
The psychology behind this is complex, but a wellness program can improve its odds by accounting for differing personality types and by forming relationships, Cooper said. The message should be repeated and reframed to fit the individual, he added, the way Facebook has succeeded by making it “all about you.”
Cooper spoke in a March 28 webinar presented by Thompson Interactive.