Employee wellness professionals are driven to offer more: more activities, more services, more apps, more ways of doing the same thing.
Don’t do more. Do less. But do it better.
The relentless accumulation of wellness program… well, stuff… almost always backfires, leading to an unmanageable hodgepodge of activities. If it’s too much to manage, it’s surely too much for employees to navigate… or even care about.
I focus here on employee well-being programs, but I’ve seen benefits, HR, and learning and development departments get lost in a sea of overexuberant output. Any function should stay alert to the risk of overwhelming itself and its customers — internal or external.
Program Hoarding Backfires
The energy and creativity that go into launching a program often get channeled to the next best thing, while yesterday’s offerings are left to languish.
A benefits director, for example, once proudly showed me their company’s intranet page listing 35 perks and programs. Some were so long forgotten that the department published a brochure called Secret Benefits trying to resuscitate them. The concept was clever, but an employer compelled to promote secret benefits simply has too many benefits.
As it turned out, several links led to Page Not Found errors; one was supposed to display discount tickets to see the local minor league baseball team, though it had moved 3 years prior. A link to an “interactive resilience program” led to an outdated video, undoubtedly drawing potential participants away from the costly, state-of-the-art resilience app the company had just launched.
Another employer I know implemented, with some fanfare, discount gym memberships through a vendor. Despite an adequate intranet search function, employees were unable to find the details amid dozens of other offerings. The wellness team and HR representatives complained they couldn’t find the information either, even after hours searching and asking coworkers.
Obsolescence can be a consequence of doing too much and risks sinking the entire well-being strategy. When potential participants stumble across outdated information or unsupported programs, they get discouraged and stop engaging… as leaders are left wondering why utilization is low.
Why So Much Stuff?
The most common causes of program excess:
- Program strategists feel obliged to offer something for everyone — employees with varying interests, needs, knowledge, and job types, as well as leaders seeking return on investment and increased productivity. This is a noble but often unattainable goal.
- Wellness managers participate with counterparts in organizational planning sessions where they share their goals for the coming year. If these peers (or their boss) believe more is better they end up competing to own the longest list, fearful of looking like underperformers.
- Somewhere along the line, we decided that well-being is divided into 5 or more dimensions (physical, mental, social… you know the drill) and got the idea — reinforced by an outcry for comprehensive programming — that it’s an all-or-nothing deal. If you just address physical and mental health, this thinking goes, you don’t have even half the dimensions covered, so pile more stuff onto the to-do list to cover all bases.
Solutions aren’t complicated:
- Focus on quality instead of quantity. State more goals using words like “improve,” “replace,” “integrate,” and “promote,” and fewer with words like “implement,” “increase,” and “purchase.”
- Secure the resources — including staff, funds, and your team’s reserve of energy — to sustain excellence. Can’t get the resources? Revisit expectations (your own and the organization’s).
- Promote and refine your programs even as you develop new ones.
- Be clear about your organization’s mission and goals along with your well-being strategy. Assess whether a new offering fits before committing to it.
- Systematize periodic review of every communication you publish — print or electronic.
- Consider building your well-being program like a well engineered machine, installing parts that have finite lifespans with target dates for taking them out of commission. You can implement a New Year, New You program, for example, intending to run it annually for 3 years. After that, replace, revamp, or eliminate it.
You’re not obligated to offer most programs indefinitely. If you haven’t taken a look at a well-being activity in more than a year, consider the Marie Kondo approach: Ask whether it sparks joy or has a purpose for the organization, for you, or for employees. If the answer is no, be grateful for its service and retire it.
Bob Merberg is an independent consultant with 20+ years in managing employee well-being programs. He specializes in helping employers increase engagement and health outcomes through innovative programs, communication, workplace environment, and organization development strategies. Bob’s well-being program evaluation results have been featured at wellness conferences and in various media outlets.