“If selection bias really is driving the apparent benefits, then the incentives often offered for participation essentially redistribute wealth and resources upward, from the sick to the healthy and, by extension, from lower-earners to the more affluent.” – Megan McArdle, The Washington Post
The Washington Post published a piece in August with the title “Your Workplace Wellness Program Probably isn’t Making You Healthier” (*gasp*). They found that earlier research published in Health Affairs suggested that “medical costs fell by $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs, while the cost of absenteeism declined by $2.73.” You mean to tell us this isn’t true? Well not exactly. Enter selection bias. If you were offered a wellness program back in 2010 when the study was first released, you were most likely a higher-wage employee. Research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics proves that. And generally if you are making more to begin with, studies show that you’re typically more invested in your health and wellness. So these studies: skewed. Social Darwinism at its finest. Wash Post goes on to write about the latest experiment out of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign which offered six randomized groups of benefits-eligible university employees various cash incentives to complete a wellness program and left a seventh group as the control. Researchers concluded no significant effect in 37 out of the 39 wellness-related outcomes measured in comparison to the control group. And the two with significant effect? An increase in how many people thought management cared about health and safety and an increase in how many people received a health screening. Big whoop.
So what now?
We’re not saying abandon every company with a corporate wellness program. We’re not saying don’t partake. Work wellness is at the forefront of everything we do. But there are a few things you can do to make your corporate wellness program work for you.
Know that it exists – we hope it does. It sounds like a no brainer, but a study out of Rand Corporation found that out of the 85% of United States companies (with over 1000 employees) that offer wellness programs, only 60% of employees at these companies knew their company had a wellness program. Of that 60%, 40% actually partook.
Wellness is mind, body, soul. Simply focusing on losing 10 pounds by the end of week 4 isn’t going to motivate you to shed those lbs. Health starts inside and moves outward. Use the “why exercise” to consider why you want to reach these goals. “Because I’ll get penalized if I don’t” is not a good motivator for sticking to a goal. If that’s your corporate wellness program – run away and don’t look back.
Think of your wellness program as an “in addition to”. Supplement your corporate wellness program with other positive changes in your life. These don’t have to be fancy weekend yoga retreats or wellness seminars. Try small changes like switching out soda for fruit infused water or packing almonds in your desk to snack on throughout the day. Try meditation in the morning when you first wake up or taking a 15 minute walk after dinner. You don’t have to be all in right away. Ease into it.
If you don’t have a corporate wellness program
You’re not alone. Stay on our blog to find the things you can do mind-body-soul to live your best worklife. Some of our favorites from last year?
Bullet Journaling: “My workday used to be a borage of notebooks, apps, sticky notes, and bells. Now, I have everything that I need in one notebook. Most importantly, my stress level has come down a notch, and all the things that used to swirl around in my head have a home, on a spread, in a collection.”
Saving: “A 2016 survey from the Federal Reserve found that 47% of Americans could not afford a $400 emergency, meaning that nearly half of all respondents would have to either borrow the money, sell something to come up with the cash, or not pay the expense at all.”
Staying Healthy: “The most heroic act you can do is keep your germs to yourself.”
In-Office Yoga: “We brought in yoga expert MaryJoanna Grisso to give you the best exercises out there to boost your energy, get you through the 3 p.m. wall without caffeine, and decrease your stress, all from the comfort of your office.”
Building Better Habits: “The most important thing to remember is this: change is hard, and it’s not for lack of willpower that you’re struggling.”
our favorite wellness programs
Some of our favorite corps that do mind-body-soul wellness right:
Kaiser Permanente: It seems natural for a massive nationwide healthcare company to have a health-focused approach to their employees. Kaiser Permanente takes this mantra to the next level, where healthy practices are incorporated into the lifestyles and work days of every one of their over-100,000 employees. In particular, the company encourages employees to use their “Go KP” program, which tracks personal wellness, fitness, provides recipes and ideas for group fitness classes. Most of the KP offices have on-site fitness centers and cafeterias serving local and sustainable food. To round it off, the healthcare company offers competitive medical benefits and family leave.
Zappos: The shoe emporium sets itself apart with the enrichment of its employees before they are even hired. A part of the hiring process with Zappos is a “culture fit” interview, which carries as much weight as any professional accolade or resume bullet point. All employees go through the same training program and are instilled with the same company core values, many of which are employee centric, such as building and establishing honest relationships. After hire, the first 3-4 weeks are spent in the call center, learning how to attend to customer's needs. Upon completion, employees are offered $3000 to leave the company. They want you committed to the goals and culture, not just the paycheck. According to Fast Company, between 10-20 percent of each department’s resources must be allocated to team building activities, such as Easter egg hunts, cook outs and other family events.
Asana: As a Silicon Valley startup, Asana takes health focused benefits to the next level. In addition to employing a full-time chef onsite who cooks three meals a day for the staff, employees are given on-site yoga and personalized coaching. They also are invited to regularly attend Conscious Leadership workshops to "deeply explore their zone of genius".
J.M Smucker: A name synonymous with your childhood peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Smucker’s has consistently made a name for themselves as an employee-centered company. Growth, education and employee development initiatives are a few of the ways Smucker’s works for every employee every day. For the employees interested in going back to school, Smucker’s boasts a 100 percent tuition reimbursement program for both undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Quinn Emanuel: This global law firm, headquartered in Chicago, IL, gifts their employees with a $4,000 stipend to spend one week working from anywhere in the world. Though they have to work during normal business hours, they are paid extra to do it from a beach or exotic location.