For employers looking to engage in wellness programs, benefit managers must move beyond empty promises and outdated programs that waste time and money, says one expert.

“We fall back on what’s comfortable because the uncomfortable can be too unsettling,” said Rosie Ward, a founding partner at workplace consulting firm Salveo Partners recently at the Society for Human Resource annual conference in New Orleans.

Employers face two types of challenges: technical and adaptive. Technical challenges can be solved with known solutions while adaptive challenges cannot rely on existing knowledge and resources.

“The single biggest failure of wellness is because employers are treating the adaptive challenges like technical problems,” Ward said. “We want that quick fix. We want that magic bullet. And we want to avoid that discomfort.”

When it comes to health and wellbeing, the majority of the challenges we face are not technical, they’re adaptive, she adds. “If we know what’s wrong with ourselves, why aren’t we doing it?”

She points to studies that show health behaviors only accounting for about 25% of the employee’s health. “Just giving someone a device and say “let’s have a walking challenge,” that’s not what [wellness] is about and why workplace culture matters.”

Ward says fixing wellness programs are similar to the steps taken when building a house.

The first step is surveying the land, which Ward explains is probably the biggest takeaway for employers looking to build their wellness plans.

“When we look at data, so much of how we use data is siloed,” she says. “My suggestion is bring all of that together. Bring all your experts together and look at it all at once. You’re going to see themes and it will get you away from that ‘whack-a-mole’ concept.”

Once these themes are recognized — for example, nightshift workers at a certain location, an increase delivery of soft drinks and increase obesity — employers can start to integrate meaningful efforts and not have patchwork programs.

“Once you have a sense of your current state, you can move into creating a blueprint and plan in a different way,” she says, and as daunting as it sounds, start asking people for input. “People participate in something they’re a part of.”

Once those plans are in place, “frame your house,” she says. This is where you align you climate to your culture. Followed by wiring the house and making sure the support systems are in place to help employees face change head on and face adaptive challenges better.

With everything is in place, the time for decorating comes into play, and Ward advises employers look at every single wellness program or resource in place and evaluate if this program supports being a human being. For a litmus test, Ward suggests asking these questions:

· Does it support autonomy? Do I have a choice of whether or not I participate in the program? Do I get to choose which ones are relevant to me? Do I get to think for myself?
· Does it promote mastery? Do I have to opportunity to grow, learn and be challenged to get better at something?
· Does it help me have a great sense of purpose?

“If you can answer “Yes” to all three, keep it and promote it,” she says.

This leads to the final step, maintenance. “Use your data in a spirit of continued, quality improvement,” she said. “Culture is not static, it’s a journey.”

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