Perspectives

A path forward for wellness

Identify your objective

Looking into results from a 2015 Deloitte employer survey on health & wellness, it’s possible to see some gaps in the planning process between what we want and where we’re heading. And those gaps can apply to any size company, public or private.

A path forward for wellness

October 3, 2016

A blog post by Michael Maniccia, specialist leader, Deloitte Consulting LLP


“If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it.”

Abraham Lincoln crafted this axiom in his “House Divided” speech to frame the most crucial crossroads in our history. But this wonderfully concise guide to strategic planning can help us shape our decisions in business or personal situations as well. Looking into results from a 2015 Deloitte employer survey on health & wellness, it’s possible to see some gaps in that planning process between what we want and where we’re heading. And those gaps can apply to any size company, public or private.

A startling disconnect

Our survey found that while the majority of responding employers were planning to expand or maintain their current wellness programs, one in four were going to scale back or end their program. Why so many bucking the trends? Another response gives a good hint: While 93 percent indicated that wellness programs were important to recruit and maintain talent, 66 percent indicated that their programs were viewed negatively by their employees. This is a startling disconnect between objective and outcome that I think has its roots in incomplete strategic planning.

We began a recent webinar on wellness with the same question that we typically ask employers at the start of a wellness planning process: Identify the major objective in your wellness program from among three options:

  • Talent (attraction, retention, motivation)
  • Medical Cost (medical benefits, disability, workers’ comp)
  • Productivity (performance and efficiency)

The polling group in our webinar split into thirds for each response. In conversations with organizations, often they begin with one driving concern, but the more you explore their objectives, the more they end up like our webinar group, seeking success on all three points. Seldom is an employer focused on one of these priorities to the exclusion of the others.

Match program design with priorities

That can create problems, however, if program design isn’t similarly balanced across the different objectives. Employers who prioritize cost savings often gravitate to an outcomes-based approach and significant “takeaway” incentives. They often reduce their funding unless employees meet hard targets for biometrics like weight and blood pressure. But this approach can have an autocratic feel to employees and undermine the Talent and Productivity objectives.

This door swings the other way as well: A company whose priority is attracting and retaining talent may nonetheless have a CEO or CFO who expects to see a positive return on investment. If the program is set up to invite and measure participation but lacks the metrics to deliver evidence of savings, program success will likely remain unproven to key stakeholders.

So it is possible to design a program to meet one objective, while finding yourself at cross-purposes with another value you hoped to deliver. Then, like that quarter of the employers in our survey, you may be at risk of losing the program—and along with it the objective of a healthier population. This is particularly unfortunate as health promotion catches an innovation wave of behavioral economics and “nudge” techniques, the integration of high-tech tracking devices, and mindfulness bridging the mental and physical health realms.

Advance—rather than retreat

To land yourself with the employers who are advancing rather than retreating, here are a few basic steps for a program that is more likely to prove sustainable and ready to take advantage of the innovations and advances as they emerge:

  1. Define your priorities, including secondary priorities you are not willing to sacrifice in pursuit of the first.
  2. Balance your program design to match your balance of priorities.
  3. Define the metrics you will use to demonstrate success.
  4. Get aligned with organizational leaders before you begin so that all are clear on the objective, how you will achieve it, and how success will be measured. 

This should allow you to know where you are, where you’re going, what you’re doing, and how you’ll do it.

Did you find this useful?