When Wellness Programs Fail. How to Get Your Organization Back on Track…

There are many articles out there that highlight the negative aspects of workplace wellness programs:

  • They are too costly.
  • They lack participation.
  • Health Care Reform will dictate how these operate effectively.
  • It is not measurable.

And, these are just a few of the excuses, yes excuses, that I hear from clients every day on why their wellness programs are failing or pleads for why they need help. Organizations continue to look at employee wellness as something that they can control and something they can change.   Organizations put their needs and wants in front of the actual people participating in the program.

To accomplish business results you have to move people.


Wellness programs fail because:

  • Programs lack alignment with what people want from the program.
  • Programs lack reinforcement and meaningful rewards for people – don’t just give them cash – give them something that they will remember.   (Think of the Seinfeld episode when Jerry gives Elaine cash, and Kramer gives her a bench that she really wanted.  It is the gift, the symbol, and thought that reflects the friendship and also reflects true recognition of the event.)
  • Programs lack choice and tend to be “one-size-fits-all.”
  • Programs are complex and unclear, and cause fear and confusion with people.
  • Programs do not encourage ownership; they force people into participation and then obtain false information and with that, lackluster results.

It is not the organization that will change behavior.  It is the people within the organization that will change the behavior.  We have placed way too much emphasis on the importance of getting people healthier vs. encouraging them to take ownership to become healthier.

Organizations can help lead people down the path to healthier life.  They can do this is a number of ways:

  • Offer choice in program activities, which in turn, establishes ownership and accountability for that choice.
  • Ensure the program is holistic  (including programs that touch all areas of wellness – prevention, physical activity, well-being, and nutrition).
  • Ensure the program is measurable (activity based vs. self reported) – such as USB upload of a pedometer vs. self-reported steps.
  • Make the program fun, exciting, and inspiring with communications and incentives to reinforce and encourage engagement and ongoing change.

Motivation, inspiration, and behavior change are  individual drives that can be influenced by our peers, families, organizations, and society as a whole.  Do not overthink your wellness program. Design your program with your people in mind and support and reinforce their efforts.   You will benefit tenfold.

1 Comment

  • Nancy says:

    I completely agree! Any kind of change needs to come from the person directly. You can educate people on what is possible but you can’t force them and expect long lasting change.

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