The core – Developing a comprehensive program

Introduction.

The core of the proposed model reinforces the quantitative validity by further utilizing corporate wellness offerings.  Research suggests that companies succeed in establishing a comprehensive program which provides positive returns if they implement three key concepts:  First, corporations should base their corporate wellness investment on evidence (offerings specific to medical and pharmaceutical claims);  second, they should continuously evaluate the program outcome (monitoring system);  and finally, business owners should strive to have nearly 100% of the workforce participate in some kind of corporate wellness offering.  Based on such a three-prone approach, it has been argued, program participants’ needs and objectives will be matched with what is offered now and in the future and thus consequently achieve high utilization rates.  It is important to understand that a company may create imbalances (Devas, 2003) among employee groups if offerings are too short-sighted.  This means, for example, only offering group exercises or a gym facility is not sufficient.  Programs need to provide a multitude of opportunities to provide access for every need (Pitter & Andrews, 1997).  A business constitutes different teams, departments, cultures and ethnic groups, but also occupations, educations, demographics, and positions;  all in all a variety which is more or less reflective of overall society.  The development of a comprehensive corporate wellness program is, therefore, complicated and needs to account for various backgrounds as well.

The task of providing a variety of options to participate in corporate wellness is an on-going activity for a company’s strategic benefit coordinator.  A program needs to motivate throughout and needs to foresee possible pitfalls which might demotivate or even create some kind of disaffection (Sandford, Armour, & Warmington, 2004).  The term disaffection generally describes a social problem, whereas the applicant argues that a business constitutes a social world in itself.  Thus, there might in fact be some kind of disaffection prevalent in those settings.  Sandford et al. argued that disaffection is caused by an uneven distribution of opportunities, consequently fostering social exclusion, which can be the same in a business setting.  Nonetheless, and thus in accordance with Sandford et al.’s claim, executives do not realize the wider implication disaffection can have on a team’s overall motivation.  For example, disaffection might lead to presenteeism which is caused by behavioral health issues.  Consequently, motivating those employees to participate in corporate wellness might not be possible by merely offering fitness programs, but rather by teaching and/or coaching them to change their behavior.  In turn, this argument reflects Blodgett, Schinke, Fisher, George, Peltier, Ritchie, & Pickard (2008) point that development through sport is also a lesson about character development and motivation to improve overall society (in this case: the ‘business society’).  Sport, or better corporate wellness, could be used within corporation to acquire social capital and to learn new skills and capabilities.  Group exercises, for example, can support building team spirit or foster camaraderie.  Similar to Sandford et al.’s claim, teachers (in this case: ‘superiors’) need to understand the positive impact of social relationships through sport participation and foster opportunities, by giving employees a chance to socialize.  In conclusion, finding the right mixture to promote corporate wellness, beyond the sole offering of a fitness facility, is what makes a wellness program comprehensive and mutually beneficial.

Planned course of study.

For this study several actions are planned to create a comprehensive and highly utilized corporate wellness program:  First, and in line with the arguments throughout the former section, a pilot company has to be chosen which has started to invest in corporate wellness.  In contrast to the claims above, the business should, however, have developed a solid business case that has proven the validity of such a program in terms of quantifiable measurements (e.g. productivity, medical and pharmacy claims, ROI, etc.).  It is therefore suggested to identify a company which is keen to execute and implement both the financial evaluation and the further development (investment) in corporate wellness.  Second, in case the company does have some kind of health or wellness portfolio, the researcher would have to analyse its current status and utilization rate.  Third, in cooperation with the ‘to be chosen’ business, a questionnaire should be developed, for two purposes: it shall provide an initial analysis of the likes and dislikes among the company’s employees and shall showcase what a comprehensive corporate wellness program could look like to business owners as well as the workforce (promotional value).

As of now it is suggested to administer a questionnaire with the following content:

Demographics:  This section should analyze demographical data in order to draw conclusions based on this information.  It is recommended to conduct the overall survey anonymously, which should be mentioned in an e-mail to the participating employees.  Additionally, questions about the current health status could be included, though it should be noted that the answers will be based on an individual’s personal perception and thus might be somewhat inaccurate.  Therefore, it is suggested to assess employee’s health more scientifically by using accurate tools.

Personal training:  This section should outline personal training possibilities, based on the understanding that, for example, executives need special hours of operations given their business schedules.  In addition, however, those offerings might as well attract ‘normal’ employees not in favor of group exercise classes or having a negative personal self-image and thus being conscious about their perception among co-workers.  Personal training is meant to take place in the company’s facility or at an external location.  The service itself might include small group exercise classes of up to 4 people.

Group exercise classes:  This section should outline group exercise classes, which might take place either in the company’s facility or externally and can be with or without equipment (e.g. 5K training, yoga, Pilates, triathlon training, outdoor activities, etc.).  It is suggested that classes are held twice a week and that no more than 15 individuals participate.

Programs:  This section should outline possible programs which could be held over a specific period of time, for example, 6 to 12 weeks.  The overall objective of these programs is not the exercise itself but rather a behavioral change and continuous motivation of employees.  In contrast to group exercise classes, the commitment is more long-term, could be tracked, or even incentivized.

Interactive workshops:  This section should outline possible educational, interactive workshops.  Workshops might be conducted via web, on-site, or both.  The interaction might either be through online chats or active participation.  Those offerings reach beyond the general definition of corporate wellness, but the applicant would like to claim that workshops – such as ergonomics, exercising with limited equipment, healthy cooking classes, posture, core, injury prevention, running 101, etc. – will help to attract people to other, more long-term offers.  It is argued that exposure to information and research will create a desire and better understanding and consequently lead to behavioral change.

On-site seminars:  Similar to the last section, this section should outline possible on-site seminars administered and/or executed by external institute or speakers.  On-site seminars, in contrast to interactive workshops, are one-time lectures given by experts in the respective field.  The idea is to create an awareness of different areas of health.  One might consider the various factors which can cause stress: for example finances, romantic problems, life transformations, etc.  It is argued that an employee will not engage in an active lifestyle if those more deeply rooted issues are not addressed.

Personal counseling:  The applicant believes that personal counseling should be part of an overall corporate wellness initiative.  In particular, if a company decides to reimburse or incentivize its employees for participating in health offerings, it is recommended to include such a section to create a complete picture of different needs and objectives.  One aim of corporate wellness programs is stress reduction, whereas stress can be caused by several means and thus personal counseling can help to counter the negative impact of those life situations.

Expected outcome.

It is expected that the proposed course of actions will provide a better understanding of a specific company’s workforce needs and wants.  However, it should be noted that this task is an on-going one and it is suggested to integrate a questionnaire in frequent employee surveys.  As noted earlier, motivations and interests may change over time and further, because some offerings are targeted at changing behaviour, an adaptation will become necessary.  It is also anticipated that the correlations between demographics and likes and dislikes will provide insights of the correlations between age, occupation, level of education and interests in physical activity.  In particular, it will be valuable to learn if there is a connection between one’s positions and the expressed need for personal counselling.

Anticipated problems and alternative strategies.

The core problem, as it had been outlined before, is the identification and selection of the ‘right’ company.  The researcher needs to find the right balance between interest to invest and reluctance to do so, even in light of financial positive outcomes.  For example a young, generally healthy start-up company might not provide insights which are expected from this research.  Similarly, a company in which corporate wellness has been an unknown for decades might not be representative either.  However, even if a company wishes to invest in corporate wellness, an initially constructed business case will be based on assumptions given a lack of evidence.  It will, therefore, be the task of the researcher to support those assumptions with valid evidence from former studies.  As a matter of fact, implementing a comprehensive program is a long-term process, because it is largely based on a behavioural and cultural change.  An individual’s perception of an active lifestyle and a company’s values of it go hand in hand and can’t be changed overnight.  Thus, one needs to find ways to create short-term wins and has to give proof of a steadily increasingly healthy, more productive workforce, while being financially stable.

Research to date has not been able to find answers to overcome disaffection and consequently social exclusion (i.e. unwillingness to participate).  This is possibly further intensified by already healthy and fit participants who might reinforce a negative self-image of some more ‘body conscious’ employees.  This might be particularly true for group exercise classes were one is exposed to the critical judgment of one’s co-workers or, even worse, superiors.  Those factors could as well create an inaccurate assessment of the current health status of the workforce, in particular if self-reported.  One solution could be to offer a scientific methodology through a 3rd party provider, which would firstly, be anonymous and secondly, provide data important for an individual beyond the walls of his workplace.

In conclusion, the researcher needs to find ways to promote corporate wellness as part of an overall cultural movement.  The final part of this proposal will further analyse ways to create management buy-in and to make executives follow their own lead (lead by example).  Changing an individual’s behaviour, it is argued, must be embedded in a cultural development, so that one can identify himself with the values his company promotes.  Group pressure or rationality might not be the right tools for change; an active lifestyle, where one has daily exposure to, and which is lived rather than talked about, might be a better motivator and determinant for long-term success of corporate wellness.