Towards a Healthier Lifestyle
Writing in the Independent some months ago, Alice Murray made the point that “the main goal of implementing a wellness strategy is to encourage employees down the path to a healthier lifestyle”.
An Impetus to Lifestyle Change
This struck as a really good point, in several ways. Firstly, much of a healthier lifestyle happens outside of a wellness program per se, for example in the form of a person’s nutrition patterns, leisure-time physical activity, personal time for de-stressing, and so on. All the work can’t be done during the program itself. A related but easy to overlook point is that it is the leverage that a program has on the rest of a person’s lifestyle that may create the biggest impact. A wellness program at work can be the impetus that people need to make lifestyle changes, and can stimulate other healthy behaviours outside of program participation.
Information + Opportunities
To do this, a wellness strategy will need to have lifestyle change as its objective. And for lifestyle changes to happen, the program will need to contain some opportunities for working on those changes. Wellness programs frequently provide information through talks, speakers, or health weeks and that is a good start. But to stimulate lifestyle change, programs need to contain more than just information; they also need to provide opportunities for action. Whether that is in the form of access to on-site exercise; stress reduction strategies; healthy nutrition options (where food is involved); health screening or other initiatives, the point is that information alone doesn’t generally result in action. Information plus opportunities do. An impactful program will contain both.
Realising the Benefits
A third and vital part of all of this is that it’s when employees embrace healthier lifestyles that a company is likely to see a strong benefit. This is relevant because a benefit to the company is an appropriate goal, given that the company is generally funding the initiative. Benefits can include people being more engaged, more consistently productive, less stressed, and less likely to leave on account of work stress. These benefits are unlikely to occur unless a person’s lifestyle is aligned with these outcomes. Putting it simply, no wellness program can outweigh what a person does in the rest of their life. Again, a strategy providing information alone is not likely to result in the company seeing the potential benefits.
A person has a huge amount to gain from a healthy lifestyle, and if the wellness program helps to create that for them, the company is highly likely to benefit too. This is where the real Win for both parties can apply.