Back in the 1970s, when corporate health promotion was first gaining traction, it was mainly a C-suite perk. Today, these programs are becoming a standard part of employment packages — available to all employees — and good ones are pushing the boundaries of traditional wellness. Here's what's trending.
1. Expanding the definition of wellness.
People are moving beyond focusing solely on their health. They want to be at their best in all areas of life. “That includes nutrition and spiritual, emotional, and financial aspects,” says Amanda Carlson-Phillips, EXOS vice president of nutrition and research. “It’s a broader concept of well-being versus wellness.”
As a result, companies will begin offering a broader range of services designed to improve employees’ lives — not just weight loss or smoking cessation programs. Financial counseling, mental health support, relationship skills training, and similar programs go way beyond the scale and the gym. Is your company keeping up with what’s becoming the new status quo?
2. Emphasizing value on investment.
Companies will realize that focusing solely on health care costs as a metric for evaluating corporate wellness profitability is myopic. The benefits of making employee well-being a priority can’t entirely be captured in a spreadsheet.
More successful recruitment, improved morale, reduced presenteeism (feeling you must come into work even if you’re sick), and increased employee productivity and engagement reflect the VOI that wellness programs can deliver.
3. Integrating services.
An organization may have a number of different external vendors or partners offering a variety of wellness services, from on-site health clinics to the cafe to the gym.
These different vendors have their individual expertise — not everyone can do everything — but companies are realizing that to serve their employees responsibly, all the different players need to be able to communicate and understand what each other is doing.
“Companies are seeking out solutions to help them truly integrate their partners,” says Kevin Elsey, vice president of EXOS’ performance innovation team. “They want vendors who can play well together.”
This will create more seamless interaction for employees with the goal of improving engagement and outcomes. For example, if your nutrition counseling program is emphasizing different types of diets, such as paleo, Mediterranean, or ketogenic, based on genetic testing or other personalized screening, you want to make sure the cafeteria can support those eating strategies.
Or if your health insurance benefits promote body fat testing or bone density screening, the gym staff and nutrition counselors should be clued in so they can encourage workouts and eating plans to impact these metrics for relevant populations.
4. Striking a balance between tech and touch.
In keeping with the times, any new program offering will likely have an aspect of technology included, but “tech alone isn’t the answer,” Elsey says. “The human connection is important so organizations will be looking to the staff — whether it’s their own people or vendors’ support teams — to help leverage the technology to drive meaningful engagement and impact.”
Many companies who are selling wellness programs may be good at developing flashy tech-driven systems, but they may not have the expertise to translate how those bells and whistles will actually help employees make behavioral changes. Organizations are beginning to seek out wellness solutions that can connect all the dots. (See “leveraging data” below.)
5. Modernizing and personalizing nutrition programs — and beyond.
Calorie counts and sodium content are so 2010. “Focusing on things like that can be helpful for some people, but it’s a little archaic,” Carlson-Phillips says. “We have this ability to go outside the traditional medical channels now to test your genetics, how well your gut is functioning, and more. We don’t want to abandon general nutrition science, but people today know so much more about how their bodies work. If I’m not salt sensitive, I don’t care about sodium guidelines.”
As people start to understand more about themselves — their microbiome and genes, for example — wellness programs will be adapting by offering more personalized screening and recommendations versus one-size-fits-all guidelines.
The genetic testing aspect is still evolving but as its potential becomes clearer, many people will want to use it to spur healthy changes or to seek medical intervention, if necessary. Organizations will need staff or partners capable of interpreting the results responsibly and guiding appropriate action.
6. Leveraging data.
Thanks to wearables, people have more data at their disposal than ever. The problem is what to do with all that information.
“There was a craze for data, but it’s becoming clearer that data itself isn’t necessarily the answer,” Elsey says. “What we’ve been missing is the ‘so what’ and ‘now what.’ What does it mean for the individual, and how can we use it to provide insight and focus their attention?”
Companies will be searching for wellness solutions that help employees take that information and make behavior changes to improve their health and performance.
7. Addressing musculoskeletal pain.
According to a 2015 report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, nontraumatic joint disorders like arthritis are among the five most costly conditions for Americans, accounting for $43.3 billion in medical spending. Back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome are two significant drivers of absenteeism and workers’ compensation claims.
“This kind of pain is a barrier to physical activity, focus, and living the life you want, and it’s becoming an epidemic,” Elsey says. “There are vendors out there that are emphasizing movement efficiency and even looking at how they can utilize tech to solve the problem.”
Forward-thinking companies will be eager to find a way to protect employees and nip pain-related issues in the bud.
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