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Published on : January 15, 2014

Wellness 101 – Back to the Basics

Wellness 101 – Back to the Basics

Throughout the 23 years that I have worked in the wellness industry, I havetaken an interesting journey and have enjoyed learning about how to motivate people – what works and what does not.When I first moved into the field, fresh out of college, I went straight into a personal training job.Many of my clients openly admitted, after working with me for sometimes three years or more, that they really knew what they should be doing at that point, but they needed me to be their accountability partner more than anything else.After that, I spent many years running large fitness centers, hiring and training staff to keep 8,000 members using the gym and benefiting from it.

Now, years later, those experiences often make me smile because so many of the lessons I learned still apply today in the world of corporate wellness.For instance, when I would provide a tour for people looking to join the gym, they loved to try out the fancy cardiovascular equipment or think about using our climbing walls.Every January we would see these folks stream in the front door to join, but sadly, by March about 80 percent of them would stop coming in.What those people never seemed to understand was that those fancy treadmills or cool climbing walls never really cared whether they used their memberships or not.This is the same for corporate wellness services and products, which in most cases are meant to be tools, not automated solutions.These tools may look and sound great, but that doesn’t mean they will change behaviors.

Conversely, the peoplewho joined group exercise classes and met new friends or connected with the class instructor, or those who worked with a personal trainer, were far more likely to still be using the gym throughout the year.It was that personal relationship that was so important.We need other people to encourage us and hold us accountable.Successful corporate wellness programs, at their very core, must have human relationships embedded in them.

These days, the wellness space is so fluid that it’s hard to keep up with all the fancy new devices, software programs, incentive programs and flashy websites.Yet I am reminded time and time again when I hear employers talk about how they are not sure they are getting a return on investment(ROI) in wellness that these new products and services are often failing because they are just tools.Like the fancy treadmills, these tools do not care if employees use them or not.How do we see success in wellness and attempt to show employers an ROI?

Employers often ask me if wellness really works.To me, that’s like asking if brushing your teeth really works.Of course it works, but there are fundamental steps you must follow to make sure your teeth stay healthy. In the same way, there are four basic steps every employer must take to implement a successful wellness program.

I can tell you that any personal trainer who is worth their salt will always measure their client’s body fat, waist circumference, cardiovascular endurance and strength.How can a trainer ever understand a client’s needsif they don’t know the client’s problem areas?Employers must do screenings each year to help employees understand their health status, potentially averting long-term health problems that could be costly for both the employee and the employer.Further, the employer needs the wellness expert to go through the overall report after the screenings and Health Risk Assessment (HRA) come back, identifying the areas that will net the best outcomes for wellness programming in terms of mitigating risk.

This may sound crazy coming from someone who works in sales, but I say it proudly when I talk with employers.As a trainer, I could have told my clients to buy all types of fancy heart rate monitors, meal replacement beverages and vitamin packs.But in the end, most of those superfluous gadgets would not do any good and my client would only weigh less because their wallet was lighter.The key to spending money on wellness is to spend it on those things that provide the personal touch.If I had to pick one program that I believe helps motivate people more than anything else, it’s wellness coaching.This is essentially the same as having a personal trainer work with you, and this accountability partner will help you stay focused and engaged.If employers expect that a cool website alone willkeep employees engaged, they’re not likely to see the outcomes they’re looking for.

I can’t tell you how many employers I’ve seen spend big dollars on incentives.Family vacations, T-shirts, gift cards, air miles and many other fun rewards are certainly exciting, but they will generally only attract those who already care about their health.When it comes to those employees who have the most health problems, they look at those rewards as luxuries.Sure, it would be nice to win something, but the work involved is just not worth it.On the other hand, when those employees are faced with doing something in order to keep the cost of their health insurance down, you will notice a total difference.This will drive participation upwards of 90 percent if the premium differential is significant.I admit that this does not necessarily lead to long-term engagement, but you must get people to participate in order to begin working on engagement.

I enjoy asking clients this question when they’re looking to use their insurance carrier for screenings and other wellness programs: “If you had severe knee pain and wanted to find running shoes that would help you, would you go to Wal-Mart and ask a clerk for the right shoe?Or would you go to a store owned by runners who are experts?” Sure, Wal-Mart might be cheaper, but how important are your knees to you? Remember, carriers are not in the wellness business.They often add wellness services to their benefits to appeal to customers, but they are not motivated to actually get employees to participate in the program, because it increases costs to them.On the other hand, a wellness expert is paid to help you and your employees succeed.Use an expert if you are serious about finding success with wellness.
At the end of the day, I think we can all agree that behind wellness programs is a passion to see all people have a superior quality of life and spend many years on this planet with their friends and family.That’s why we must carefully scrutinize the tools that are out there, not oversell, and make sure we understand the differences between true solutions and cool gadgets.

  1. Measure and understand the problem

  2. Don’toverspend

  3. Sometimes people need a kick in the pants

  4. Look for a trainer who’s qualified

About the Author

Paul Elsass lives in Austin, Texas and has spent 23 years working in all areas of the commercial, medical and corporate wellness world, with more than 20 years in sales and business development and 13 years in management.