Fluffy WellnessFluffy Wellness Programs Won’t Create Population Change

How do you create behavioral change?  That is a difficult question to answer for a single individual, let alone an entire population.  Individuals want to change typically to improve themselves.  Weight, blood pressure, maybe even hair color.  People can select a motive, determine how the improvement will apply to them, set a course and make improvements.  What about an entire population?  What can motivate a group to change? 

There are many reasons a group would want to improve their health overall - reduced insurance premiums, reduced sick days or improved productivity.  However, creating the organizational structure to make that happen can be very difficult without some organizational oversight.  Team leaders and executives want this for their organizations.  Being able to pay less for healthcare and have improved worker performance is at the top of the list of organizational leadership goals in today’s business environment.  Often these leaders turn to “wellness programs” to help accomplish these goals.  What know that NOT all wellness programs are created equally.

‘Fluffy’ wellness programs do a fantastic job of motivating already healthy individuals to continue the behavior they are already exhibiting.  Drinking enough water, getting enough steps each day, monitoring weight or percent body fat.  Organizations apply traditional wellness tools and award those who have previously made the jump to healthy living principles.  Those who need a wellness intervention the most seldom participate, and overall approximately 80-85% of the population do not engage in the program.

To create real population change wellness programs must utilize three key principles: incentives, relationships and cultural alignment.

Incentives – Incentives will ‘bring people to the table’.  You will get their attention to do a task or complete short-term actions.  Incentives are an important part of the equation, but they are not the ONLY part of the equation.  Incentives that are balanced and ongoing where they are enough to be important to the person but not enough to be punitive can move a population to participate in engaging wellness behavior.   A dangling ‘carrot’ helps move people along.

Relationships-  Once individuals have engaged in a wellness program they must be met by real people who genuinely care about them and are willing to meet them where they are.  These individuals, health coaches, help people find their own motivation and facilitate a process of self-discovery for the participants.  Brief, but regular follow up and accountability have true power to help individuals see that they can make necessary change.

Cultural Alignment – If a large percentage of the population are involved in these meaningful relationships, the health of the population will improve.  Leaders can ensure that these desired behaviors are supported and rewarded.  Too many times the culture of an organization does not support the goals the leaders are trying to execute.  Leaders have the responsibility to build a culture where there is accountability.  Are there visible proponents for the change?  Is there measurement of individual and culture goals?  And finally, is there a long-term view?  Changing a culture is slow and cannot be rushed. 

Incentives, relationships and cultural alignment WILL create population change; but it takes strategic planning and the willingness to invest in the group.  These are promises ‘fluffy’ wellness programs just can’t make.  They can get people to perform tasks, but long-lasting change will seldom be sustained.