THE BLOG
07/25/2013 01:57 pm ET | Updated Sep 24, 2013

There's No "U" in Corporate Wellness

Companies are increasingly recognizing the benefit of investing in corporate wellness programs to reduce employee healthcare costs over time. The increased awareness of the cost savings resulting from corporate wellness programs is certainly commendable. However, many companies turn to word-of-mouth corporate wellness programs rather than relying on evidence-based programs. It is important for those in charge of corporate wellness within a company to remember the health interventions that work for them as individuals might not work for other employees unless evidence-based. There is no "U" in corporate wellness!

While employees in charge of corporate wellness are an essential part of overall employee wellness, their personal health challenges and choices must not be the driving force behind a company's corporate wellness program. For example, a human resources employee in charge of corporate wellness may have successfully achieved weight loss by following a popular diet. Obviously the employee believes in the effectiveness of the diet and may incentivize other employees to follow the diet as part of the company's corporate wellness program. Unfortunately, diets don't work in the long term with most participants regaining the weight lost within six months to 1 year after losing weight. If the human resources employee would have simply looked at the studies, he or she would have been aware that diets do NOT work and search for a more evidence-based nutrition program, like visits with Registered Dietitians, to include in the corporate wellness offerings.

At Family Food, we constantly encounter businesses using corporate wellness nutrition programs based upon fads and contradictory to well-established nutrition and scientific research. Often, programs are implemented by the business because an employee knows the founder of a trendy nutrition program or an employee tried a program and it worked for them so they assume it will work for the rest of the employees. The one employee now becomes the poster child for the program leading management to continue funding it while the rest of the employees are left feeling inadequate and helpless that the program did not work for them or produce sustainable results.

Or, consider the employee who is exceptionally passionate about his or her health and wants to inspire other employees to become healthier. The human resources employee is thrilled to have someone willing to help with corporate wellness and allows the eager employee to implement health initiatives at the company. The employee enjoys running and creates a team for an upcoming 10k race. Only five employees sign up since most of the employees prefer other forms of physical activity. Unfortunately, the efforts are in vain as the corporate wellness program has limited reach.

Obviously the previous examples demonstrate a poor use of company money. While the intention to fund corporate wellness is praiseworthy, the lack of employee health care cost reduction as a result of using non-evidence-based programs will lead to diminished support for wellness programs over time. A negative cycle is created of funding corporate wellness to address high employee health care costs followed by lack of desired results so funding is cut and employee healthcare costs remain high. A waste of money with no results.

If companies and their stakeholders simply approach corporate wellness in the same way that they approach deploying capital towards other projects by first researching and assessing the most effective solutions, money spent on corporate wellness programs is well worth the company investment. An evidence-based corporate wellness program increases the program's effectiveness and provides a return on company investment. The chances of experiencing a reduction in employee health care costs increases only when the corporate wellness program is evidence-based.

There is no "U" in corporate wellness. Human resources would be more effective by embracing a broader perspective to corporate wellness, preferably one that originates beyond their own biases and personal interests. After all, there is a "U" in us and the ultimate goal is for us all to become healthier and lead more productive lives.