Is Worksite Wellness ‘Stuck’?

May 7, 2016

Or is there merely a gap between research and practice? Or, is there just a huge groundswell to maintain the status quo? Or perhaps a little of both? There certainly seems to be a ‘stuckness’, at least with certain worksite wellness program elements.

It’s time to reconsider current approaches to worksite wellness that seem stuck despite arguments for change.

The ‘stuckness’ includes,

  • Programmatic components;
  • One size fits all approaches;
  • Quick and periodic competitions (such as weight loss);
  • Annual biometric screenings for insurance renewal; and
  • Use of extrinsic motivators – carrot and stick incentives – to ‘encourage’ participation.


Consider redesigning wellness beyond these elements to instead focus on a culture of caring. Our research indicates that culture enhances or detracts from employee well-being and health behaviors. In other words, the work environment, climate and culture of your organization matter regardless of –in fact more than – any wellness initiative, and depending on the organization, can either undermine or support your wellness efforts.

Consider this quote from a recent EBN Post, “… If I offer you health and wellness programs, and diet and exercise assistance, but I do not change the conditions in which you work, I am fighting a losing battle.” (Jeffrey Pfeffer, School of Business Professor of Organizational Behavior School of Business,).

Why remain ‘stuck’ when there is an entire spectrum that matters for health. Here are a few considerations to help get unstuck and begin redesigning worksite wellness:

  • Make the switch from extrinsic motivators to creating an environment that encourages intrinsic motivation. Carrot and stick incentives have not (and WILL NOT) be successful at enhancing sustainable wellness for most individuals. However, an environment that enhances motivation will have amazing as well as sustainable results.
  • Assess the organization climate and level of employee engagement. The results will tell you more about employee wellness than any cholesterol, BMI, or exercise/weight loss challenge ever could. Actually, stopping wellness initiatives and instead focusing on enhancing positivity at work WILL enhance well-being for all. This forms the foundation for a motivational environment.
  • If you make no other change, ditch weight loss competitions regardless of the seeming popularity and widespread promotion. Such competitions are for example, The Biggest Loser, Dump the Plump, Belly Busters, and more. Instead, consider long-term strategies that are sustainable and incorporate strategies that address stress, and promote well-being and resiliency specific to employee and organization needs.
  • Shift from wellness initiatives tied to insurance and benefit plans, to employee initiatives that are aligned with your business mission and goals. This is where the real employee benefits, profits and values lie and is the best reason for getting unstuck! What is best for the organization IS what is best for the employees (and vise versa). Both want a great place to work. This alone influences every other reason to get unstuck. If you can’t make this change, then at least separate wellness initiatives from benefit plan requirements.
  • Align wellness with other initiatives to put the human element of the workplace front and center. Consider ways to foster a sense of belonging, community, respect, purpose, value and positivity. This is an authentic approach to employee wellness that is supported within the culture and leads to vitality, flourishing, and thriving! Mentor leaders and employees alike on pro-social relationships, a collaborative spirit, emotional intelligence, and establish a zero tolerance for incivilities.
  • Breakdown any existing silos between wellness, safety, organization development, human resources and other valued partners. Sharing knowledge and building collaborative partnerships are necessary to create a great place to work and cultivate employee wellness.


These are just a few ideas, but provide a foundation to get ‘unstuck’ and begin the redesign process that not only enhances well-being, but increases energy, engagement, vitality AND also fosters a great place to work!

Other thoughts and ideas?