What does your wellness program look like? Are your leaders embracing it or looking for justification to cut budgets? Forward-thinking leaders who know wellness works, but are not seeing it successfully operate in their workplace, realize the need to cultivate a culture of wellness. Wellness must evolve, expand and become a part of how things are done at work.

A graph featured in the 2013 RAND study contains the following data: “51% of employers offer a wellness program; of those, 65% conduct an HRA (health risk assessment), 49% offer clinical screenings, 55% have a fitness program, 59% have smoking cessation programs, 49% have weight/obesity management, and 56% have disease management interventions. In most cases, all employees are invited to participate in screening activities, but eligibility to participate in lifestyle and disease management interventions are based on risk factors identified through screenings and health conditions identified through medical claims data, respectively. Rates reflect employees who were determined eligible for each program component.”

Basic knowledge of statistics reveals a lot in this data. First, there are no controlled data points. Half of employers do not even offer a defined wellness program. Of the companies that do offer programming, there is not any one significant program that is consistently used. The program with the highest percentage of usage is a self-reporting tool that also lacks consistency within the questions being asked. How can success be measured when there is not a clear statistical baseline? I do believe the RAND study is valid, but what we must understand is that the programs can be administered and be successful without getting a return on investment.

We cannot expect change to occur in behavior if the environment at work and at home are not supportive of change. Your goal may be to reduce health care costs, but your measurements may be skewed due to the health care costs that cannot be attributed to a person’s health. Examples include accidents, genetic makeup (some people are just born with it), multiple pregnancies, misdiagnosis and medication mismanagement.

Simply put, you really want something a little simpler: employees who show up to work every day healthy enough to perform the tasks that are expected of them. The healthier they are, the more productive they will be.

Consider these five points:

Point 1: Organizations are still trying to figure out how to constructively develop analytical data that proves that healthier employees are more productive. They also do not understand what to measure and how to measure it. Consider simplifying your metrics – absenteeism, retention, productivity and prescription drug utilization. You will be surprised what you can learn from the prescribed drugs your employees take. I bet you may consider investing more heavily in an employee assistance program after you do the analysis.

Point 2: Health care cost reduction is a driving force for leaders to make wellness a priority. The issue is that in the next two to five years, those costs may continue to rise due to the administrative cost of health care, community rating and the fact that many of your employees with years of unhealthy lifestyles prior to your wellness initiative are too far down the path to be helped – even if they are involved now with wellness.

Point 3: Organizations expect major behavioral changes in employees from participation-only-based wellness programs that have zero influence on the health and well-being of employees who need assistance (the at-risk). If you don’t change the environment and continue to tolerate “health as usual,” there will not be a significant impact.

Point 4: Organizations are trying to “fix” their $10,000 per person health care issue at their workplace with $100 per person remedies. That means the organization needs a 50:1 or better ROI to see any significant impact. RAND says wellness programs have about a 1.5:1 ratio, which is still excellent. Name a sales executive who wouldn’t agree to that ratio level of growth.

Point 5: Offering a good strategy for changing the health and wellness of employees from an environmental and intolerance perspective will require an organization to change its culture. Companies need to understand that if they want healthier employers, they will need to create a culture that attracts healthier employees from a recruiting and retention perspective.

These five points have scientific evidence to back them up. But leaders must be ready to disrupt their current culture and understand that participation-only wellness programming without accountability and environmental changes will not make a significant impact. Leaders need to focus as much on the cultural and intellectual side (organizational health) of business as they do on the data side of the business equation (organizational intelligence). It’s hard work and will take time. The Wellness Council of Indiana can help.