By Chuck Gillespie, executive director, Wellness Council of Indiana

What is driving the success or failure of your workplace wellness initiative? Employees often mention items like being pressed for time, inconvenience, lack of awareness about the program and privacy concerns. I see two character traits missing in such a wellness strategy: priority and trust.

The articles in this edition of It’s Good to be Well contain tips to help focus your efforts on three important items that can lead to better participation, better outcomes and sustainable success:

  1. Make your wellness efforts a critical success factor that drives customer satisfaction, operational productivity, recruitment, retention and individual performance – as well as the reduction of specific controllable health care claims costs.
  2. No matter how wonderful a wellness program you provide, you won’t see interest or sustainable success if your employees are unaware of it due to an absence of communication.
  3. Health improvement strategies start with the belief that your employees are trustworthy and will do the right thing if presented with the right thing to do.

Measure what matters
The United States workforce is usually ranked as one of the most productive in the world. In addition, Americans trails only Korea when it comes to putting in the most hours per week, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. There is a pride in running lean and getting more done with less, yet those same individuals (Americans) who are more productive than almost any other workforce on the globe are obese and lacking in quality of life. These are rankings that are easily accessible and noted.

When there is a 60% turnover rate among your workforce and employees are leaving for only 50 cents per hour more due to their financial health, would it not be prudent to consider wage increases to cut your turnover rate in half? Savings likely would occur due to decreased training expenses, increased production experience and reduced recruitment costs alone. At the same time, you’re helping to boost employees’ financial well-being.

Measuring wellness or the well-being of your team requires a bigger-picture view than just health care costs. Think turnover rates, recruiting strategies, absenteeism, performance evaluation and the health of your employees. Health improvement strategies should begin with planning, measuring and training – more so than programming and event logistics. Measurements also should reflect performance management as much as they do health care cost reduction.

Implementing the right communication strategy
Fifty percent or more of your project management time and efforts involving wellness programming should be focused on communicating to your staff and leadership. Most employees have very little understanding of the benefits available to them. I remember a company I worked with that touted its outstanding tuition reimbursement program (and it was excellent). Then I asked a simple question: “How many employees use it?” The reply was a staggering zero! If no one is using a benefit – no matter how exceptional – they likely have forgotten about it. By the way, two subsequent emails to staff over three weeks resulted in five application requests for tuition reimbursement.

Additional examples of a strong health improvement strategy include paid wellness visits to your doctor, dress code, flex time, retirement matching funds, employee assistance programs, paid time off, free parking, and safe office space and training. But are you constantly reminding your employees of these benefits? Any comment similar to, “They know they have these benefits because we discussed them at open enrollment or at a staff meeting two months ago” is not a communication strategy. Coca Cola wants you to see its brand or hear its name at least 13 times per day. You may have a long way to go with your communication strategy and employees are letting you know via surveys.

Being a trustworthy employer
The following quote came from a marketing research piece that really made sense to me: “Today what truly matters is ethical and philosophical quality – from the bottom to the top – in every respect, across every dimension of the organization. Modern consumers, business buyers, staff and suppliers too, are today more interested than ever before in corporate integrity, which is defined by the organization’s ethics and philosophy.”

The best way to confirm that buyers of your service or products feel they are working with an ethical company is to be an ethical company. The best way to ensure that you’re an ethical company is to have an environment and workplace culture that oozes ethics from your employees and leaders. Good sound ethics and philosophy enable and encourage people to make “right and good” decisions, and to do right and good” things. It’s about humanity and morality, care and compassion, and being good and fair.

Profit is okay, but not greed. Reward is fine, but not avarice. Trade is obviously essential, but exploitation is not.

I’ve seen some highly-sophisticated workplace programs and business structures that would make a Ph.D. student’s dissertation look like a third grade report on what they did over the summer. I’ve worked alongside and consulted with organizations that have every potential offering for their employees that should make them the “poster child” for any survey or ranking related to top places to work, but they have struggled to find success.

There are plenty of products and services available for employee engagement, productivity, recruitment, recognition, training, health and wellness. I would go further and share that each one of these programs and services are likely to be a great concept or solution that can help you with your challenges. However, until you measure the right things, communicate as much as possible and have a code of conduct that ensures your employees can trust your organization, all of the outstanding programs in the world will not help you change the environment to a culture of wellness.