Why off-the-shelf wellbeing offerings don't work


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Bespoke initiatives, effective marketing and senior buy-in are key to successful health and wellbeing strategies

Despite being in the news every day, despite more government efforts to educate, and despite orchards-worth of free fruit being given out by companies, the latest studies point to a further decline in the nation's health.

Clearly some companies don’t think this is their role. Thankfully though, an increasing number do recognise the correlation between performance and wellbeing and are doing something about it. This is positive news for all. Unfortunately, despite very good intentions, the approach taken by many is often far less effective than it should be.

And that’s because businesses have become too focused on the things they offer and have ignored the execution. They think the job is done when they’ve hosted a wellbeing day, bought a dozen Nutri-Bullets, or persuaded Dave from accounts to co-ordinate a running club. Such initiatives are no doubt well-received at the board meeting, on employment contracts, and on Twitter feeds. But how many people are actually participating? How many can HR point to who are performing better at work because of them? And how many have kept it up and not lapsed into old regimes?

Going forward, organisations must obsess more about the execution as the mechanism to get more people on their programme and create lasting behaviour change. Here are four provocations to consider:

Coaching is the language of change

There are two types of people: those who make good choices and those who don’t. We see a lot of health and fitness initiatives being offered to those who are already healthy and fit. But what about those who aren’t on top of their regime? They are the ones with the lowest motivation and are less likely to participate. Yet they are also the ones more likely to be signed off sick, suffering stress, or not consistently performing to their potential.

Forming new habits requires regular and ongoing support. As a society we’re not short of intelligence for living healthier lives, but we’re generally useless at habitualising it in our day-to-day. Having a specialist in your organisation who is tasked with this as a KPI is transformative for both participation and follow-through.

The power of personalisation

Everyone has different vital stats, different genetics, different goals. We're all weird and wonderful in our own way.

Think about your own company. You will probably have anxious new grads, returning mums, stressed new dads, people with diabetes, those who find solace at the bottom of a pint glass, those who live close by and others who have a horrendous commute. All working under the same roof.

And yet corporate wellbeing initiatives are usually off-the-shelf affairs. For a health strategy to work every single person needs to be acknowledged as unique.

Lead by example

Instilling a healthy culture requires emphatic leadership. There is no point inspiring good behaviour if you aren’t enabling it too. Burning people 12 hours a day while simultaneously offering them free gym access gives off mixed signals at best. At worst, it disenfranchises. And then all of a sudden your people are a flight risk.

Giving people the chance to get healthy on their terms but on work time requires explicit permission and the endorsement of key people within the business. Having vitality as a company KPI, seeing the boss running at lunch, and providing free kit are all demonstrable actions that fuel healthy culture.

Hear me now

Promoting your programmes has to be more considered and done more strategically. Your brand marketing teams wouldn’t throw out campaign adverts with different messages and branding. Same goes here.

If you want to engage employees and drive positive sentiment toward the company you must be more creative and find novel ways of getting your message out to employees. That round-robin email entitled ‘Wednesday Yoga Class’ probably isn’t working.

Similarly, companies should do more to sweat their success stories to fuel their employer brand. There’s a chance your company is sat on a rich vein of marketing fodder for your brand to exploit.

Simon Humphris is cofounder of 9toLife

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