The vendor blog post “Why We Love Patty McCord” perpetuates the cult-like status of an HR exec who made a name for herself blurring the lines between leading with transparency and leading with fear. Early on, the blog post proclaims that great workplace culture “requires companies to show employees they care.”
Another worthwhile read, which lends insight into why the aforementioned exec was fired (falling victim to the consequences of the culture she fomented), is “Working at Netflix Sounds Absolutely Terrifying.” The exec, this article reports, left a legacy of a “harsh, hyper-competitive office culture.” This is the same exec the “great caring culture” vendor says “we love.”
Do the simplistic platitudes that permeate our discussions of corporate culture enable workplaces to cloak ruthlessness as transparency?
Is it enough for a job candidate to “show up” for an interview?
A prominent voice on LinkedIn recently garnered more than 17,000 likes with a post that read, in part:
We just hired a Gen-Z candidate with zero experience. Here’s why… They arrived 10 min early for their morning interview (respect ✊), pronounced my name correctly (major kudos), had a firm handshake, dressed sharp, and brought a hard copy of their resume (I didn’t need it). During the interview they smiled, made eye contact, and were honest about having zero experience (we value honesty). They asked me questions, they wanted to learn, they showed up! To all the hiring decision makers out there, don’t disqualify candidates because they don’t have “experience.”
By all means, don’t discriminate against Gen-Z or any other Gen, or against candidates who don’t have experience if the job doesn’t require it. But be smart about hiring, based on Continue reading »
In 2019, employees filed a class action lawsuit against a prominent employer for allegedly selling out its workers’ 401(k), costing the plan tens of millions of dollars in excess fees and underperformance, in exchange for mega-donations and lavish personal gifts. These shady dealings with employees’ savings were being finagled at the same time financial wellness program promotions admonished employees to “understand their values and get their finances in order.” (Learn more in myFinancialWhatness?article.)
On the other hand, Dan Price of Gravity Payments, who, in 2015 raised his company’s minimum wage to $70,000 per year while slashing his own salary, launched aplanin 2019 to establish the same healthy wage for employees of a new acquisition in Boise, Idaho. Mr. Price has his naysayers, but you’ll be convinced he understandshisvalues when it comes to employee wellbeing — financial and otherwise — after you listen to this interview:
Just when you were getting on board with a plant-based dietcomes a new, supposedly more rigorous analysis by 14 researchers,saying it’s fine (nutritionally) to eat red meat, even processed meats like bacon. The new analysis argued that previous studies were either biased by veggie-lovin’ diehards and food industry shills or simply weren’t rigorous enough.
Browse the nearly 100 blog posts I’ve published onmy websiteand you’ll find no mention ofmillennials— because generational stereotypes have limited validity and are just another way to pigeonhole folks. So, while I can understand the backlash that may have led to 2019’s patronizing #OKBoomermeme,it ultimately serves only to perpetuate polarization.
OKBoomer may lead to someage discrimination lawsuits, or it may just be a soon-to-be-forgotten fad. Either way, it can serve as a reminder for each of us to embrace diversity, inclusion, and connectedness, in all their forms.
In the early going, a typical employee wellness program doesn’t have much impact on healthcare costs, health, quality of life, or job performance. This, based on data from a cluster-randomized study of employee wellness at BJ’s Wholesale stores. (Clusterrandomization means the worksites, not the individual participants, were randomized.) Get the lowdown in my article,The 4 Factiest Facts Overlooked in the Latest Wellness Study Kerfuffle.
But rumors of wellbeing’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. A cluster-randomizedstudyof Gap stores showed thatstabilizing worker schedules led to increased sales and — while it’s no panacea — enhanced employee wellbeing, especially sleep. (Aseparate major studyconfirmed that unstable schedules are strongly linked — more strongly even than low wages — to workers’ psychological distress, sleep disruption, and unhappiness.) The contrasting results from these studies, building on previous research, surely will persuade business leaders to prioritize organizational strategies over health behavior modification products.
Japan’s #KuToo movement — from the words “kutsu” (shoes) and “kutsuu” (pain) — arose in response to dress codes requiring female workers to wear high heels, a workplace policy the Health and Labor Minister declared “occupationally necessary and appropriate.”
Similar requirements have ignited protests elsewhere.
Aside from the unabashed sexism these policies represent, even less woke old-school health promoters will be concerned about health risks linked to high heels. According to a report conducted for the UK Parliament, these include:
long-term changes to gait, which cause knee, hip and spine problems and osteoarthritis;
stress fractures in foot bones;
ankle sprains, fractures and breakages due to trips and accidents;
hallux valgus (bunions);
blisters and skin lesions;
enduring balance problems which persist into old age;
The report also cited psychological distress reported by female workers who were required to wear high heels against their will.
Meanwhile, in the US, HuffPostexposeda prominent professional services firm that set us all back with one of its women’s leadership trainings. The training’s handbook insisted that“the most important thing women can do is ‘signal fitness and wellness.’”🤮
It advised trainees to have a “good haircut, manicured nails, well-cut attire that complements your body type.” Then it warns:
“Don’t flaunt your body ― sexuality scrambles the mind (for men and women).”
Read the full HuffPo article and to view the employer’s “leaked” video response:
The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 20% of people live with a mental illness.
Mental and behavioral disorders are the 3rd-leading cause of disability in the U.S. That’s a lot and warrants special attention.
Not everyone recovers from mental illness. Many (here, I don’t have stats, but the 20% figure — and my own observations — suggests this is true), suffer their entire lives with mental illness, and an increasing number of people end their lives as a result. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. We need to help these people.
Mental health and emotional wellbeing, unquestionably, are important for everyone. But in the wellness industry’s well-meaning enthusiasm for covering everyone under the mental health umbrella, we must be sure not to marginalize the large portion of people experiencing mental illness.
If we do communicate that there’s no difference between someone with a common disabling mental illness — like PTSD, bipolar disorder, and anorexia nervosa, as well as severe depression and anxiety — compared to anyone else who may be going through a tough stretch in an otherwise smooth-sailing life, we risk perpetuating mental health stigma rather than alleviating it.
“Maybe you just want to keep your personal data private without having to pay higher premiums for the privilege.”
The article “Everyone Cheats On Fitness Trackers“ makes some odd assertions, like, “This is seen as a win-win for insurers who want you to live longer, so you earn them more money.” But once the article gets going, it raises valid points and describes some amusing scenarios, like
“Making health a game of points means employees game the system right back, though they don’t all have hedgehogs.”
People ask me, “Yeah, but how small is the proportion of employees who cheat in step-tracking programs, and why should the majority of participants, who are honest, have to suffer the consequences?”
Experience suggests that the proportion of cheaters is not at all small (the headline of this article says “everyone”), though the construct of “cheating” is not always straightforward.
Employers are getting serious about HR Analytics (aka People Analytics). At the same time, many of our wellness industry colleagues demonize data, often cloaking their anxieties behind advocacy ofhumanization.
We’ll hear wellness leaders denigrate data because, for example, “it reduces people to numbers” (which could be the slogan for the International Society of Dataphobes).
But if we let our fears, insecurities, or aversions get the better of us, resisting data as a primary language of business, we’ll get left behind in a world where employers, even their HR departments, increasingly see the promise of analytics. Continue reading »
Wellness thought leaders, under the guise of “wellness isn’t just about physical health,” brush physical health aside as if it’s no longer our concern. We’re all about connection, humanization, and collaboration.
You know those organizational inventories we recommend for other dimensions of wellbeing? Before launching a physical wellness program, for example, we conduct audits of workplace factors that influence physical health, like pretty stairwells, healthy food in vending machines, and so forth. Before launching a culture-of-health strategy, we assess the current state of the organization’s culture, using criteria like “Is wellness mentioned in the company’s mission statement?” and “Does the CEO visibly model wellness behaviors?”
We should do the same with our ever-popular financial wellbeing strategies. Before launching strategies to promote savings, budgeting, debt management, and retirement planning, let’s assess Continue reading »
Gruesome. A worst case scenario that exemplifies why it’s not enough to view psychological safety as encouraging risk-taking and authenticity. We have to use what we know about workplace psychosocial risk factors — like organizational injustice, job insecurity, and social isolation — to prevent psychological injury.
Click on image or here to read the New York Times article, “35 Employees Committed Suicide. Will Their Bosses Go to Jail?“
This week, CBS News, CNN, and other major outlets blared headlines and articles — most accompanied by photos of office workers collapsed face-down on their desks — claiming that burnout had officially been recognized as a disease. The news spread like wildfire but was almost completely unfounded. Continue reading »
This is based on a response I wrote to an astute new leader of a wellness industry organization who was asking, “What should be next for the organization to move wellness forward?”
Broaden the base. Reach out to professionals trained in fields other than exercise, nutrition, and HR. Especially, bring in folks trained in the relatively fast-growing field of I/O Psychology, who have a deeper, evidence-based understanding of wellbeing and also tend to be well trained in analytics. Speaking of which…
Train wellness professionals in analytics. HR finally seems to be getting serious about data, and wellness will be left behind if we don’t have stronger competency in this area. We don’t need to be data scientists, but we should be able to direct analytical work and speak the language. I’ve been studying statistics, business analytics, and advanced Excel, and it’s already added value for my clients.
Help us understand the wellness needs of employees. Because wellness in the US has been market driven, we give most of our attention to what purchasers (employers) will buy, rather than what employees want. Unfortunately, these are rarely the same thing.
Help identify and then advocate for where wellness fits in an organization. As long as we’re tucked away in benefits departments, we’ll be undervalued and weighed-down by healthcare cost-reduction fantasies.
The BJ’s Wholesale Club study wasn’t the most important employee wellness research published last month. Let’s look at the Workplace Health in America Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC asked about companies’ employee health promotion programs. 2,843 respondents completed surveys — targeting whoever in the company was most knowledgeable about its wellness offerings — from a variety of employers.
Health Circles is a structured process in which employees hold facilitated meetings over a course of time to identify what’s holding their health back and what can be done to improve it – with an emphasis on job design and the psychosocial health risks at the workplace.
This excerpt from a webinar (hosted by Lumity) describes a multi-year, controlled study of hospital nurses and aides at a hospital Continue reading »
Not to be missed: Bruce Daisley’s brilliant interview with William Kahn, widely credited with coining the concepts of psychological safety and personal engagement at work. To whet your appetite for the entire interview, here’s a taste: Continue reading »
There’s no need to be either frustrated or complacent with low engagement in whatever you offer employees. Download the free ebook, Now We’re Talking!, written by Jozito’s Bob Merberg and published by HES, to learn how it’s done.
It’s not just for walking clubs and smoking cessation programs. For example: Everyone’s talking about mental health, and lots of employers name EAP as their main mental health at work intervention. But EAP utilization is typically 4% or less (sadly, 7% is often considered good). When I oversaw EAP for an employer, utilization averaged between 14% and 18%… because, once we had excellent program pieces in place (integrating it with wellness, absence management, and other functions; implementing proactive EAP outreach to at-risk employees rather than just passively waiting to be contacted by those in crisis), we communicated about it: All the time. Everywhere.
Download the ebook and get started achieving the participation, engagement, and results you’ve always wanted.
When job burnout was first described by Christina Maslach et al, it was specific to caring professionals. Eventually, it was found that it can occur in all occupations and across all demographics. Physician and nurse burnout has been the hot topic the last few years, though a recent meta-analysis pointed out that there’s little that can be concluded about physician burnout because of the level of variation in definition and measurement (a lot of people disagree with this).
Studies have found that pervasiveness of Electronic Medical Records plays a big role in physician burnout. This makes sense, as it can be connected to several of the known burnout antecedents, especially autonomy/control, but also unsatisfactory social interaction and values conflict.
What wellness vendors sell, and what employers buy, often contrasts with what employees want. Over the course of my career, I’ve heard directly from more than 100,000 employees via surveys and face-to-face interactions, and this is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned.
Using an unscientific approach, I’ve summarized some of the differences below. Continue reading »
When skillfully incorporated into a broader strategy, external recognition for wellness programs has the potential to be a win-win, serving both the employer and the employees.
In keeping with my recent theme of providing practical tools and tips for wellness managers who do the hard work of creating and operating employee wellness programs in complex corporate environments, I’m pleased to share this post I wrote for one of my clients.
I’m pleased to provide these practical tips for wellness vendor management, one of the most demanding roles of employee wellness managers. Some of these — six tips for implementation and oversight, eight for selection and contracting — may be more relevant to larger corporations, but many are applicable to a spectrum of organizations and a variety of non-wellness vendors. They can help make a manager’s job easier, while eliciting higher levels of performance from vendors. Continue reading »
I agree with the position paper, Behaviour-Based Safety Programs, recently published by The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF). An employer’s primary role in employee wellbeing is to protect employees from Continue reading »
A new year, a new opportunity for an employee benefits trade publication to randomly drop into an article a chart that makes less sense than a child’s finger-painting. (For legit. A finger-painting can’t be wrong. The chart is blatantly wrong.) Continue reading »
Science For Work summarizes research-based evidence that can guide business management decisions, with emphasis on industrial and organizational psychology. Their recent post, Why You Should Consider Fairness When Designing Your Change Management Process, exemplifies the well-researched, practical, and engaging content this non-profit organization provides. The topic, organizational justice, can be difficult to comprehend by well-being professionals for whom organizational behavior is uncharted territory. But Science for Work does a fine job breaking it down. See their infographic (below) followed by my two cents, then head on over to ScienceForWork.com to learn more.Continue reading »
California mandates that publicly traded companies based in the state have a minimum of one woman on their boards of directors by the end of 2019. If the new regulation survives anticipated legal challenges, representation will increase: By the end of July 2021, companies have to have at least 2 women on boards of 5 members; at least 3 women on larger boards.
If states can require corporations to place women on their boards, how far are we from Continue reading »
In 2018 aHuffington Post article,Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong, went viral, debunking myths about obesity and weight loss. It argued that the “war against obesity” has really been a war against obese people, fostering a culture that encourages fat shaming and alienates overweight people.
2 Slices of Bacon Daily Shortens Life by a Decade?
Ioannidis illustrates his point by describing the real-life implications were we to assume studies of individual foods are legit:
…eating 12 hazelnuts daily would prolong life by 12 years (ie, 1 year per hazelnut), drinking 3 cups of coffee daily would achieve a gain of 12 years, and eating a single mandarin orange daily would add 5 years of life. Conversely, consuming 1 egg daily would reduce life expectancy by 6 years, and eating 2 slices of bacon daily would shorten life by a decade, an effect worse than smoking. Could these results possibly be true?
Ioannidis blames researchers’ failure to properly account for confounding factors:
Relatively uncommon chemicals within food…may be influential. Risk-conferring nutritional combinations may vary by an individual’s genetic background, metabolic profile, age, or environmental exposures. Disentangling the potential influence on health outcomes of a single dietary component from these other variables is challenging, if not impossible.
He also blames selective publication of studies that proclaim a correlation between a food and a health outcome over studies that show no correlation. And he throws shade on nutrition advocates…
Expert-driven guidelines shaped by advocates dictate what primary studiesshouldreport.
Ioannidis didn’t even dig into the type of academic misconduct described in the first story on my Top 10 list, Mindless Cheating.
The Good News
But there’s a valuable learning — making this Number 9 on my list of Top 10 Wellness Stories of the year — we can take from all these stories. The lessons from Ioannidis’ article and Huffpo’s obesity article are essentially the same.
Pursuit of continuous improvement in the promotion of employee well-being demands skepticism.
We have to maintain idealism to believe we can do better. My New Year’s resolution is to cultivate even more optimism in the pursuit of measurable progress, knowledge, and improvement.
No amount of exercise will make a difference if you sit 8 hours a day.
The risks of trying to get all your exercise into one day per week outweigh the potential benefits.
Benefits of physical activity like better sleep, reduced anxiety, improved cognition, reduced blood pressure, and improved insulin sensitivity take weeks or even months to appear. You can’t expect immediate results.
If you answered “True” to any of these statements, and they are typical of the kind of advice your wellness program participants receive, it’s probably time to update your knowledge. Check out the 2nd edition of Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Its release is 8th on my list of Top 10 Wellness Stories of 2018.
Did you miss the full list of Top 10 Wellness Stories? They are:
We’re often advised not to compare our lives to what we see from our friends on Facebook and Instagram. The theory goes: People tend to expose on social media only the best, happiest facets of their lives, and comparing our own ordinary existence to the world-traveling, fancy-food-eating filtered glimpses we get of Continue reading »
This is the 5th in my Top 10 Wellness Stories of 2018.
Not long ago, I attended a panel discussion in which an audience member asked the panelists what their organizations were doing to address mental health. No one had anything to say other than, “We offer an EAP.” A wave of ick swept over the room as the tragedy of this truth dawned upon us — the panelists and the audience.
These readily make clear that countries like Canada, European Union members, and Australia are far ahead of the US in their action planning, and I’ve previously written about Japan’s aggressive approach.
Will the US learn from other countries and develop an evidence-based agenda to address mental health in the workplace (and beyond)?
I’m optimistic and predict that evidence-based solutions prevail.
Worldwide, a yearning for civility blossomed in 2018, and workplaces were no exception.
In addition toChristine Porath’spresentation at SHRM, civility surfaced on the agenda of major wellness conferences, and a prominent midwest health care system launched, withsome fanfare, an introductory “Choose Civility” e-course. Continue reading »
I’ve writtenad nauseamabout the University of Illinois Workplace Wellness Study, so allow me to just explain why I’m optimistic about where it’s heading.
This evaluation of an employer’s fledgling wellness program gave wellness critics a rationale to declare employee wellness a failure. The evaluation data, which showed almost no positive outcomes during the program’s startup, is only preliminary anddoesn’t say what critics say it says.
Even if you’ve never heard of Brian Wansink, you’ve probably been affected by his research.His studies,cited more than 20,000 times, are about how our environment shapes how we think about food, and what we end up consuming. He’s one of the reasons Big Food companies started offering smaller snack packaging, in 100 calorie portions. —Vox
Wansink led many headline-grabbing studies of eating behavior, showing, for example, that people eat less when food is served on smaller plates and that pre-ordering lunch leads to healthier choices. His work unleashed many employers’ nutritional wellness strategies, especially “making the healthy choice the easy choice.” Continue reading »
If a job has high Motivating Potential, the jobholders are more likely to feel their work is meaningful, to exhibit high levels of motivation, performance, and job satisfaction. If a job has low Motivating Potential, jobholders are more likely to exhibit negative outcomes, like absenteeism, turnover, and sluggish performance.
Take a test drive of the Job Diagnostics Survey (learn more about the Job Characteristics Model, Job Diagnostics Survey, and Job Motivating Potential in my previous post). These 15 questions generate a “Motivating Potential” score — High Motivating, Moderately Motivating, or Low Motivating — for your job. You’ll get the results instantly, along with brief insights into the components of the score and how to design jobs that are motivating and supportive of employee well-being.
Note: This survey is still in development and is available for demo purposes only. The original Job Diagnostics Survey was designed to produce relevant aggregate data when completed by multiple employees. Its creators cautioned against having just one individual complete it to assess a job.
Job Motivating Potential
Please answer all 15 questions. Be as objective as you can in deciding how accurately each statement describes your job — regardless of whether you like or dislike your job. For the first few questions, some of the answer choices don’t have statements beside them. Choose one of these “unlabeled” answers when your sentiment falls somewhere between two statements.
A New York Timesarticle recently revealed that the company has protected, arguably even rewarded, executives accused of sexual misconduct. It described one exec who “often berated subordinates as stupid or incompetent.” The company “did little to curb that behavior.”
A screenshot the exec’s ex-wife included in a lawsuit, according to the Times, showed an email he sent to another woman: “You will be happy being taken care of,” he wrote. “Being owned is kinda like you are my property, and I can loan you to other people.”
In our quest for a psychological-safety poster child, we may need to conduct a better search.
Pay attention to the science-backed workplace mental health frameworks that are taking shape outside the US, like those in Canada, Europe, and Australia.
In the US, the messaging of vendors and consultants tends to drown out science. Last year, for example, data from a meta-analysis — which included more than 120,000 research subjects — showed that job strain (the combination of high demands and low control at work) may lead to clinically diagnosed depression. This is consistent with a lot of other research that points us toward employer strategies for the primary prevention of mental health problems. But psychosocial risk and primary prevention are missing-in-action when we look at mental health resources made available by US employee wellness professional organizations and their vendors/consultant partners, .
Mental health crises — just like physical health crises — are mission critical, but this doesn’t mean we can’t prevent them before they happen and, what’s more, aspire to create workplace environments in which employee well-being flourishes.
Canada’s “Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace” is a compelling example of a social strategy to promote mental health in all its stages — emphasizing primary prevention. Find out more about Canada’s Standard and other science-backed workplace mental health strategies on the Jozito mental health resources hub.
Does your Employee Assistance Program proactively address workplace mental health? Are they reaching out and screening employees — like those out on disability, or who have recently given birth, or are dealing with grief, or who have a chronic disease — who are at risk for mental health problems?
In 2013, Carol Harnett and Fran Melmed interviewed Bob Merberg for their CoHealth CheckUp podcast (which is no longer in production). They asked him to discuss a “great idea that didn’t work out.” In this 2-minute answer, he talks about a positive psychology intervention designed to help employees cultivate happiness.
Mental Health First Aid at Work – operated in the US by the National Council for Behavioral Health – is a training program that teaches employees how to identify and support a co-worker (or anyone) who may be experiencing a mental health or substance use concern or crisis. Continue reading »
This free e-course from Canada explains psychosocial risk factors, using interactive workplace scenarios and videos that help learners understand the application of their new knowledge to mental health at work. Continue reading »
Especially useful for tips on how managers can identify and respond to signs that an employee is struggling and how to reduce stigma around mental health problems, The People Managers’ Guide to Mental Health is a production of CIPD (UK’s organization of human resources professionals) and the UK charity, Mind. Continue reading »
ICU (as in, “Identify, Connect, Understand,” and “I see you”) is an awareness campaign designed to reduce the stigma associated with mental health and foster a workplace culture that supports emotional health.”
A unique website from the Health in Construction Leadership Group, seeking to raise awareness by addressing the stigma of poor mental health and improving positive mental well-being in the construction industry. Continue reading »
Canada’s voluntary Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace exemplifies a nationwide strategy to promote the psychosocial wellbeing of workers, with emphasis on primary prevention. Continue reading »
A lot of questions remain about if and how these programs work. We have observed results for only the first year of our intervention. We are continuing to collect data to evaluate effects in the second and third years.
The University of Illinois study rolls on as the researchers demonstrate they are eager to uncover the truth and not just confirm over-simplified pre-existing notions about whether wellnessworksordoesn’t work. Notice that they called their paper, “What Do Workplace Wellness Programs Do?” rather than using a title that declares the issue put to rest, like, say, “Workplace Wellness Doesn’t Work.”
Ultimately, they may very well find that the Illinois programdoesn’tyield the desired outcomes (potentially a real kick in the pants for Aetna, one of the researchers’ “collaborators”). Or that it does. If we knew for sure, there’d be no point in the study.
Personally, I’ve never had any reason to believe a wellness program would reduce an employer’s health care costs. But,so far, there isn’t anything in this study I’d cite to support that opinion.
Randomized Controlled Trials vs. Observational Studies
One of the most interesting things about the study is its design. It’s a randomized controlled trial (RCT) — a rare sighting in the world of wellness — and the researchers compared their findings to what they would’ve concluded if their data came from a an observational study (the kind that almost all our healthy lifestyle guidance is based on — from “physical activity is good for you” to “don’t inhale too much asbestos”), potentially explaining, as Aaron Carroll argues in his column, why some wellness studies show that wellnessdoeswork. Or, as one of the Illinois study’s principal investigators wrote to me in a private correspondence, “Methodology matters.”
Even when methods are about as good as can be, we probably should never trust a single study with high confidence…Take, for example, the randomized controlled trial (RCT). It’s reasonably considered the gold standard of social science methods. When you read the results of a well-conducted RCT, does that mean you can take them and run with it? Not so fast. They may not apply outside the population studied.
The Illinois Wellness study is and will continue to be important. It has the potential to deliver actionable insights into the value of incentives; the profile of employees who tend to engage in wellness programs; the types of programs that are and aren’t effective; and, ultimately, the behavioral, health, financial, and productivity outcomes we can expect from comparable programs.
For the university, theiThriveprogram is a good start — more thoroughly thought-out than most new programs. (Thanks to the study’s transparency, a large employer seeking to launch a wellness program could use the study’s published material to develop a program template — though I’d recommend skipping the incentives and the screenings, and adding longer-range plans for a more comprehensive strategy.) But that’s what it is — a start.
In a non-study situation, smart leaders of a “comprehensive” program, seeing that Year 1 activities had no effect on anything, would undertake a quality improvement process and make adjustments accordingly. After all, if there aren’t any behavior changes in Year 1 — and environment, culture, and work design aren’t even on the radar — there’s no reason to expect health, financial, or productivity improvements in the following years.
I admire the researchers’ refraining from sensational conclusions based on their Year 1 data. Now, it’s up to thought leaders with a media platform, and up to us — those responsible for applying research findings to our programs — to exercise the same restraint.
This was a randomized controlled study of an employee wellness program. To date, the study results have shown no improvement in health behaviors, health care costs, or productivity. To date.
You can read the full study paper published on the Bureau of Economic Research website. But if you’re not one to wade through a swamp of statistics, check out the study’s very own website for info, updates, and bar charts galore.
Does Feeling Valued Count?
Rather than cherry-picking the facts, allow me to just suggest questions to consider as you learn more about this study:
What does “doesn’t work” mean, anyway? Work to do what?
The study found that the number of program participants who believed their employer was committed to their health and safety increased significantly as an effect of the intervention. Is this important?
In the study paper, how many times do the researchers make the claim that has captured the imagination of Dr. Carroll and many others in the business and health care media, that “wellness doesn’t work”? (You can cheat by using your browser’s “Find” function. Or take a guess. It’s somewhere between -1 and +1.)
Was the study published in a peer-reviewed journal?
How many employers, and how many different kinds of wellness strategies, were included in this study of the University of Illinois wellness program (called iThrive)?
Let’s say you’re running a program for a global manufacturing company or a tech start-up. How comparable is your employee population to the employees at University of Illinois?
A Comprehensive Wellness Program
iThrive is said to be a “comprehensive” wellness program. In my mind, a comprehensive wellness program might include some behavioral programs, cultural strategies, environmental strategies, and, most importantly, organizational strategies that promote healthy work.
Is this a comprehensive program? You be the judge. The core activies and strategies of iThrive:
Biometric health screenings
Health risk assessments
Participation in “one of several activities in the fall and then again in the spring.” Activities included classes on chronic disease management; weight management; tai chi; physical fitness; financial wellness; healthy workplace habits; a tobacco cessation hotline; and an online, self-paced wellness challenge.”
A “Post-Intervention” Time Warp?
Screenings were conducted from August 15 to September 16, 2016.
Health risk assessment was conducted from September 8 to October 4.
Fall wellness activities were held October 10 to December 16.
Spring wellness activities were held January 30 to April 25, 2017.
“Post-intervention” healthcare utilization was measured for the period August 1, 2016 through July 31, 2017.
Thinking carefully about this timeline, what changes in healthcare utilization patterns would you expect during the first year of the program?
Keep these questions in mind. And I hope you’ll pose a lot more of your own when you read about future findings from this and other studies.