Commentary: Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing the procurement processes for many employers that were looking for health and productivity programs. These employers, searching for the best wellness program for their unique needs, represented millions of lives. What’s emerged from that data is a key predictor of wellness program success. This factor is paramount for an employer to understand about itself before thinking about spending a dime on a wellness initiative. This key predictor of wellness program success is the corporate culture

What we’ve come to realize as a fundamental truth is that you can have a strong culture without a wellness program, but you cannot have a great wellness program without a strong culture. Trying to institute a wellness initiative in a poor corporate culture is like making dinner with rotten ingredients. 

Also see: 8 signs your workplace culture needs a reboot

So what should a company do to assess their culture before starting a wellness program?

1. Self-reflect. Take a look in the mirror and understand what the culture of your organization is. Do employees like coming to work every day? Do they feel valued and challenged? Is there trust amongst your employees? You get the picture.  Most companies that have a great culture are keenly aware of it and make a concerted effort to keep it great. Very few companies that have a poor culture know they have a problem. 

2. Engage employees. If you’re having a hard time understanding your own culture or what you can do to make it better, ask employees. Just having their voice heard will be a great first step to improving the culture. You may be surprised at what you hear from them. Often times their suggestions (process improvements, tools for the job, desired benefits/perks, etc.) will make them more productive, as well as happier and more engaged. 

Also see: Progressive companies take fresh look at what wellness really means

3. Make necessary changes. None of the above points matter if the employer is unwilling or unable to enact the changes their employees’ desire. Empty promises or suggestions falling on deaf ears are sure ways to accelerate a cultural downward spiral.

Once you understand your current culture and the desires of your employee population, you can confidently take the next step of implementing a wellness program that aligns with those findings. The elements selected for your wellness program should let your employees know you’ve heard their voices and care about their well-being. Targeted initiatives that speak to those needs will continue to reinforce a positive corporate culture. Remember, wellness doesn’t only apply to physical health and well-being. More than ever, employers are implementing wellness programs that address an employee’s emotional health and financial well-being, to supplement more traditional programs like tobacco cessation programs and fitness challenges. 

Be sure to understand your culture and strive to integrate your wellness strategy with your culture. Otherwise you may be building a wellness program on a foundation that won’t be able to support it.

Joe Miller is the President of the Wellness Research Institute. You can find Joe on Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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