We: It is very progressive for many companies to provide wellness programs for their employees, but many companies still do not. What benefits have you seen in productivity with companies who do have wellness programs in place?
Graham: The effect of wellness programs is becoming clearer as early adopters begin sharing data after a few years of programming. Typically, it takes about 3 years to get a program off the ground, so it’s important for the company to understand that a wellness program is a strategic tool that will take time to build momentum. In general, when an employee is eating well, sleeping well, and engaging in physical activity on a regular basis, that employee will be more present at work and better able to tend to the task at hand. That seems like common sense, but what isn’t always common sense is the way the employer can contribute to those ends. This is where excellent programming comes into play. Some companies are able to measure positive changes over time in the following areas and attribute those changes to workplace wellness: fewer workplace injuries, fewer mistakes (in a hospital setting, this one is crucial), fewer unplanned absences, and (easiest to measure), fewer and smaller medical claims. This list represents measurable hard dollar savings for the company, but they aren’t the only ways a wellness program can benefit a company. Others include reduced turnover, and improved employee engagement and morale. These outcomes are considered soft dollars, but are nonetheless very important to the success of any company.
We: What takes place in initiating one and keeping it going?
Graham: Initiating a wellness program is different at every company, but one common necessity is upper-level buy-in. It’s important for at least some of the executive staff to be on board and to understand the value of a wellness program in order for it to take off. From there, the management needs to buy in. This process can take a long time, but when it starts to happen, the program takes flight, and you can start to see the culture shift.
Practically speaking, we launched our Wellness Program with a Wellness Fair that promoted all the services we would be offering. We gave out prizes, had vendors come and provide free CAIM services (acupuncture, chiropractic, somatics, sound healing, etc.), and generally hyped up the program so that people would be excited to participate.
Keeping it going is all about communication, good quality programming, a little healthy competition and team challenges, and (again) leadership support. Communication needs to take place on every available front. In our case, I send out email communications, post to the intranet, mention events on the wellness blog, post paper fliers, and encourage the leaders to communicate to their staff. We also have a wellness committee who represent the program and spread the word.
We: Some integrative health professionals would probably see you and admire your professional success. What is one piece of advice you’d give to others in similar fields who really want to succeed in it?
Graham: Because there’s such diverse work available in the wellness field, I’d encourage people to keep their minds open to opportunities across all aspects of the industry. Getting in the door is hard in any industry these days, and having a wellness-related role on your resume will open the door to future opportunities – or give you enough experience to venture out on your own. That seems like generic advice, but wellness is a pretty small world, so once you’re in the field, you will meet people and get yourself networked in the community.
I’d encourage people to be creative with the tools they have and take advantage of resources like LinkedIn and social media to market themselves as an expert and do as much virtual networking as possible.
We: In your practice, what technologies do you take into consideration with clients (wearables, fitness apps, etc.)?
Graham: I don’t endorse any particular products at this time, but I do encourage my clients to invest in some sort of activity tracking device. It’s a good point of reference for them to know exactly how much they’re moving, which is often a bit less than how much they thought they were moving. I’ve had clients choose to use calorie trackers while working with me, but that was their choice and isn’t necessary for everyone. I do encourage a food journal for coaching clients, which I request via email.
We: Do you see any advantages with your clients who use health apps, and wearable devices?
Graham: Clients who use activity trackers tend to hold themselves more accountable to daily activity than those who don’t.
We: Do these new technologies make a positive difference in wellness programs?
Graham: At a corporate level, absolutely. Employees respond to receiving free things, especially if they’re as useful as an activity tracker. We utilized a simple device to track activity for a team challenge we did last year, and the response and effectiveness of that program surpassed every other program we’ve launched through wellness at my current company.