Workplace Culture

Don’t Let Wellness Panels Grow Fat and Lazy: Experts

By Ladan Nikravan

Feb. 11, 2014

Knowing employees spend more than 2,000 hours annually at work, many organizations have realized it makes good business sense to keep them healthy.

But according to Bswift, a provider of software and services designed to streamline benefits, human resources and payroll administration, while 85 percent of large companies and 81 percent of smaller companies have wellness programs in place, only 44 percent of these programs have employee participation rates topping 50 percent.

One of the key aspects of a successful worksite wellness program that engages employees is a committee that focuses on its creation, implementation and maintenance.

Committees provide opportunities for management and employees to be involved in the program’s development and promotion, ensuring initiatives are visible to the workforce and sustained over time.

While the tendency is to recruit the most qualified committee members and hang on to them for long periods of time, Dean Witherspoon, president and founder of Health Enhancement Systems, said that to get employees on board, companies need wellness committees that don’t last.

‘Don’t allow anyone to serve more than six consecutive months.’
—Dean Witherspoon, Health Enhancement Systems

Witherspoon, whose company creates employee wellness campaigns, suggests organizations limit the size of a committee to 20 people broken into four teams of four or five subcommittee members that tackle a specific project, which can be completed in three months or less.

“You should disband the committee when the project is complete, and don’t allow anyone to serve more than six consecutive months,” he said.

He also recommends limiting individuals to just one term in any two-year period. It’s a model inspired by Tony Schwartz of consultancy The Energy Project. He suggests intense bursts of work followed by time off for rest.

“Sprinting toward a performance goal is preferable to treating performance like a marathon, where there’s no end in sight and the approach is to work continuously without stopping,” said Arden Pennell, director of faculty and content at The Energy Project. “Sprinting, or working fully fueled for distinct amounts of time with a clear finish line, enables us to give it our all. With a sprinting approach, when we’re working, we’re really working. And when we’re renewing and refueling our energy, we’re really refueling.”

For a committee that demonstrates the fuel necessary to engage employees and accomplish the tasks at hand, Witherspoon suggests hiring for passion, which he said is often a greater predictor of volunteer success than background. “More than anything, look for energy,” he said.

Employees may already know wellness initiatives demonstrate that their company is committed to leading them to better health. A well-informed wellness committee that brings together a variety of talents and perspectives while enhancing the credibility of the program is also important, they added.

Ladan Nikravan is a Workforce associate editor. To comment, email Follow Nikravan on Twitter at @ladannikravan.

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