The wellness industry may have reached a point where we, the professionals with the most vested interest in the field, need to claim our leadership of the industry and demand that wellness programs be led from within each individual organization. We can and should separate wellness from the grasps of those parties who don’t truly understand wellness or who are working to make wellness a monetized commodity. We would like to think that the wellness industry is established and professional enough to be directed by our own dedicated professional leaders, rather than lassoed by service providers who may have access to clients, but no vested interest in the long-term future of the industry itself. It seems like the wild west in wellness and we need to reclaim it, cast a sustainable vision, and provide credibility.
We have heard many stories from enthusiastic wellness professionals working within large insurance firms or benefits agencies recounting their frustrations when their own internal insurance sales people would direct clients' wellness decisions without any regard for the expertise or opinion of an actual worksite wellness professional. These sales people would come back to their respective offices and tell their internal wellness consultant that they sold the “Safeway" wellness plan and that they now needed to go implement it for the client. Most of us know what this is referring to, but in essence, what this means is that these wellness professionals were told to implement an outcomes based wellness program on behalf of clients without any regard for culture. Why? Because the broker (who has no vested interested in wellness) either read about it or heard about it and then went ahead and sold it to their client as the next greatest thing to save health care costs.
Such stories are all too common. When will we all as a community stand up and say something? When will we have a support system for wellness professionals who are consistently being told to conduct wellness efforts in a way that is contrary to what should be done?
Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.
This motto especially holds true in regards to wellness programs, incentives and creating healthier cultures in workplaces. There are times when consultants have to do as they are directed by their employers, but to what extent? At what point should we recognize that the effects of collectively "doing as we are told", rather than doing what is most effective and supported by research, is harmful, short sighted, and hurts the future of the entire industry?
Let’s address some of the common wellness “players”.
Wellness Vendors: If you are a provider you should take pride in the fact that you make and sell the tools and instruments employers may utilize to create healthier workplaces. Understand that you are providing a product(s) and that you should not also be serving as their internal “wellness director” or consultant because eventually you will experience a conflict of interest when the client needs a different vendor or service that you can’t sell them. We need good products and programs to help facilitate client goals and objectives.
Consultants: If you are a consultant, you should be acting as a partner to clients and helping them with strategy, culture, policy, vendor choice, integration and implementation. You should NOT also be selling them products or taking commissions off of products you “sell” or recommend.
Insurance Agents & Brokers: If you are an insurance agent or broker, stick with what you know and/or invest heavily in making wellness a legitimate part of your business not a “value add” that adds zero value, dilutes the industry, and confuses customers.
Insurance Companies/Providers: Provide your groups help as you can, but most importantly give them access to relevant and timely data that can help them create a healthier workplace and address topics that are impacting productivity. Avoid saturating your clients with wellness and giving it away for “free”. Free isn’t typically valuable and when a wellness consultant has to manage 100 different client wellness programs, they aren’t doing anything for anyone that provides any value.
Wellness Practitioners: Stand firm to what you know and operate within the guidelines of clearly supported industry research and theory. Don’t let the other "players" push the wellness industry around. This means not being afraid to tell clients that what is being recommended by “others” may in fact not be in their best interest from a health & productivity perspective. This also means not being afraid to try new things and accept small failures in your progress and journey towards creating healthier workplaces.
Organizations & Businesses (the actual client): If you are a business and third parties are giving you wellness services, ask them long and hard about their experience, and, if they have a “wellness consultant” on staff, ask about their experience. You want someone with at least 10 years of direct corporate wellness experience providing you high level consulting. (See Malcolm Gladwell’s, “Outliers” … 10,000 hours to become an expert). If a benefits agency says they have a wellness provider they like to use, don’t be afraid to ask how much they are receiving in compensation from the wellness provider for the referral or how much they are marking up the price of the item. A good consultant won’t come to you with a product first, they will discuss with you your organization’s goals, outline a strategy and then they will have some providers that they can bring to the table. The business strategy and goals guide the programs and the vendors, not the other way around.
Health, wellness, and productivity professionals should be ready to stand up to the zealous purveyors of wellness crap and those who utilize the industry for their own ends--which could be anyone out of the list above. This also means calling out and/or holding some of the generally accepted players within our own industry more accountable.
Most of the great solutions do NOT include the “traditional” wellness repertoire of services. We need to decide if we want our industry to be introduced and led by those with no long-term vested interest in the industry's success…or be led by our own community of leaders. We need to establish a vision for a better future for wellness professionals that does not include groveling within the confines of vendors and providers who utilize wellness for the marketability and buzz-worthiness. Let's focus on optimizing potential that will impact lives, jobs, communities and potentially the economy as a whole.
As we mentioned above, there are many important "players" in the industry. We love bringing just about all of those players together on common ground at the Wellness Underground Workshop where barriers are broken, ideas are shared and we all learn a little more about each other and how to play together in the same sandbox. We still have some seats left and at the time of this blog post, just 37 days left to grab a remaining seat!