While leaders may challenge each other on strategic business initiatives, I rarely hear them disagree about this point: Success depends on the quality and commitment of your people.

Given how hard it is to get a vast majority of business leaders to agree on anything, I'm often surprised by an important opportunity many miss when considering their wellness programs.

Too often wellness programs are started as just another way to reduce heath care costs. Certainly, this is a terrific outcome that good wellness programs will help deliver. However, this focus may not only sell the wellness program short, but it also misses the “soul” of the program.

Here's what I mean:

A picture of the average American employee today starts to define the real problem. Fifty-eight percent of employees have an undiagnosed or untreated chronic condition. Sixty-three percent have not seen a doctor in more than 5 years. Nearly a third (30%) are pre-diabetic and 33% are obese.

Further, chronic conditions remain a key cost driver. A 2012 Aon Hewitt Health Care Survey found that a list of eight risks and behaviors (poor diet, physical inactivity, smoking, lack of health screening, etc.) drive 15 chronic conditions (i.e. diabetes, coronary disease, back pain, etc.) that account for 80% of the total costs for all chronic illnesses worldwide.

Addressing these cost issues is straightforward, and I’ve seen plenty of companies do it well and too many others do it poorly. It all starts with focusing on the greatest key for success – your people.

Also see: Wellness ROI is much more than just health costs

High-performing companies make wellness a strategic initiative, create comprehensive programs that address both healthy and sick employees, ensure their wellness programs are outcomes-based and health-contingent, focus on meaningful change, and consider wellness an investment that drives greater productivity and reduces costs, rather than an expense.

High-performing companies also define the “soul” of their wellness program by doing seven key things:

  • Engaging everyone (spouses too)
  • Customizing the program to their company’s culture
  • Keeping it fresh – continually introducing new programs
  • Using incentives to reward health improvements
  • Rewarding employees for meeting a personal health goal
  • Communicating often and clearly
  • Creating wellness champions

So what’s the key to determine whether your wellness program has a soul? Just answer these simple questions:

  • Is your wellness program strategic to the company?
  • Does your program improve the company’s ability to compete?
  • Is it sustainable and is a multi-year strategy reviewed annually?
  • Does it engage everyone?
  • Does your program have measurable results?
  • Does it have the proper incentive design?
  • Is it fun and motivational?

If you can answer yes to these questions, then you’re truly focusing on your company’s greatest strength: your people.
Charlie Estey is executive vice president of Interactive Health, a provider of work site health management solutions designed to engage employees in the management of their health through early detection and identification of risk factors.

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