3 Game-Changing Wellness Trends

Use of personal data and customized programs could help elevate employees’ work performance.

By Alexander Alonso, SHRM-SCP March 27, 2018
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3 Game-Changing Wellness Trends

​I must get at least six or seven calls a week asking me about the “next big thing” in wellness programs. The sheer volume of questions is affecting my well-being, but here’s my best take.

The topic is riddled with myths: Some say wellness programs drive employees’ attitudes toward their jobs and careers. Others claim they reduce health care costs. My favorite myth is that they yield improved business outcomes.

While companies that have robust participation in wellness activities are indeed likely to have better organizational outcomes than those that don’t, is that really because of employees’ improved health? The answer is no.

Rather, wellness is a part of defining culture and articulating an organization’s values—a healthy workforce among them. For employees, the programs drive a greater understanding of the company’s culture by linking the culture to their personal outcomes. After all, good health at its core is about workers’ quality of life.

Looking forward, here are some trends that will help us define the environment in which we work:

Enhanced biometrics. The future of wellness lies in real-time measurements, which means we need to capture more than just health care utilization or participation rates and move beyond Fitbit devices and step contests. That’s why some new programs measure workers’ vital statistics, including blood pressure, blood oxygen levels and more. That’s the focus at TotalWellness, an Omaha, Neb.-based company that provides wellness services to employers. Does this approach represent a blurring of personal and professional lives? Perhaps. But it may also enable companies of the future to use biometrics to create a better workplace.

Management beyond maintenance. For decades, many organizations have used in-house clinics and health care providers to monitor and maintain workers’ basic ability to perform their duties. Today, employers are leveraging those tools to optimize employees’ performance and quality of life. Imagine your doctor working to help you achieve your career objectives! Until now, that likely has happened only within professional sports teams. Soon the concept will be coming to an employer near you.

Engagement. Many leaders are seeing the potential of biometrics to drive employee engagement and productivity. Take ITA Group, an employee engagement and wellness services provider based in Des Moines, Iowa. The senior team there recognizes that every wellness program plays a role in shaping the employee experience. Using health data to enhance workers’ lives will yield the biggest gains in organizational outcomes. The practice of driving engagement through personalized wellness programs based on employee preferences and marketing data is already upon us, and it’s one of the next big things in this area.

Much of the return on investment in wellness programs remains untapped. The first step in recognizing the potential lies in focusing not on who participates, but on which employee wellness preferences and engagement variables correlate with the outcomes you desire. Think about the traditional coffee break. Does that daily sugar intake lead to increased productivity and engagement? Maybe. Just ask your co-worker, the one who always has a caramel macchiato after trainer-designed workouts. Is she more engaged and focused on productivity? Are you using personal information to customize her experience? Doing so could help you build a better organization—all you need is the data. 

Alexander Alonso, SHRM-SCP, is chief knowledge officer at SHRM.

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