The Future of Corporate Wellness – Where will we go from here?
By Valeria S. Tivnan, MPH, M.Ed., Director, Population Health and Well-Being at EBS, a UBA Partner Firm
I am proud to say that I have been involved in corporate wellness since the mid-1980s. Helping employees live healthier and happier lives, as well as supporting employers with best-in-class tools to improve their cultures, have been my passion and purpose. I have witnessed and worked on corporate wellness since the time when physical health was the most important aspect of workers’ health. I cannot say I have worked with wellness since its inception, though. Corporate wellness has been around longer than many people think. To predict the future of wellness, we must understand its past.
Writings about the effects of work exposure on workers and how to improve workers' health and well-being can be found as early as the 1700s1. Later, the industrial revolution brought many health issues to workers such as working 14 to 16 hours a day, low wages, and very poor working conditions2. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of health in the 1940s as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” opened our eyes to the concept of health and wellness as a more complex one3. In addition, the work of Halbert Dunn in 1959 helped the word “wellness” circulate more widely in the public health field, but it was the CBS 60 Minutes program with Dan Rather in 1979 titled, “Wellness, there’s a word you don’t hear every day,” that created curiosity about what corporate wellness was at that time – emphasis on physical health4. Corporate wellness has evolved since then and many studies have been published leading to a wealth of knowledge on best practices, return on investment (ROI), value of investment, risk reduction, health improvement, and more. The March 2017 edition of Health Affairs was dedicated exclusively on the relationship of work and health, and health and work highlighting important recent studies on wellness. Wellness has moved from physical health to thriving in other dimensions such as emotional, financial, spiritual, social, and intellectual health. In addition, many theories on behavior change and behavior economics have been adopted in wellness programs and its incentive designs. Wellness has changed from a “nice to have” to a “must have” benefit, but it must be done right and implemented consistently in order to provide positive results that align with your company’s goals.
I don’t have a crystal ball or special powers, but I believe the future of wellness lies in the following:
- Millennials in the workforce will demand more sophisticated technology.
- The traditional health risk assessment will be replaced by a more holistic kind – check out the True Vitality Test from The Blue Zones. (The UBA Health Plan Survey finds that although 72.5 percent of wellness programs include health risk assessments, their use has been declining, dropping 10.5 percent in three years.)
- Wellness will be part of all successful companies’ business objectives – the Chief Wellness & Well-being Officer’s ultimate goal will be to build a culture of health, self-responsibility, and emotional balance. Wellness will be an important piece of this. For great examples of companies ahead of our time, check out Dr. Ron Goetzel’s work at the Institute of Health and Productivity Studies at John Hopkins School of Public Health.
- Non-traditional workplace environments will replace the health-damaging sitting and sedentary work environment of today.
- Wellness will be more integrated with benefits in general, but more specifically with high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) as a way to help employees fund them.
- ROI will no longer be the focus, and instead it will be part of a long-term business strategy.
- Wellness will have a wider impact overall where employees will thrive in the workplace and bring their health improvement skills to their families and communities.
We now know how to deliver wellness that positively affects cultures and population health. We don’t need any additional studies. All we need are brave and open-minded companies to embark on the journey of optimal wellness and well-being. This journey is full of trials and errors, but also full of self-discovery and growth that can build very profitable companies filled with employees who truly engage at work and thrive every day. Who is with me in this journey?
Download our free (no form!) special report, “2016 Trends in Employer Wellness Programs,” for more information on wellness components trending among employers, especially the increase in telephonic coaching and the decrease in the use of health risk assessments.
For complete health plan design and cost trends by industry, region and group size, download UBA’s 2016 Health Plan Survey Executive Summary.
For comprehensive information on designing wellness programs that create lasting change, download UBA’s whitepaper: “Wellness Programs — Good for You & Good for Your Organization.”
To understand legal requirements for wellness programs, request UBA’s ACA Advisor, “Understanding Wellness Programs and Their Legal Requirements,” which reviews the five most critical questions that wellness program sponsors should ask and work through to determine the obligations of their wellness program under the ACA, HIPAA, ADA, GINA, and ERISA, as well as considerations for wellness programs that involve tobacco use in any way.
- Carnevale F. Prefazione. In Carnevale F, ed. Ramazzini B. Le malattie dei lavoratori. Roma: La Nuova Italia Scientifica; 1982:9–37.
- Benson, Sonia, and Jennifer York Stock. Development of the Industrial U.S., Almanac. New York: UXL, 2005. Print.
- "About WHO," The World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/about/en/
- "Wellness Resource Center with Dan Rather on 60 Minutes." YouTube, uploaded on July 4, 2008, https://youtu.be/LAorj2U7PR4.