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3rd Key Observation – The Other 16 Hours (Part I)

Wellness in the Workplace 2.0

What Got Us Where We Are Today…Won’t Get us Where We Need to be Tomorrow

10 Key Observations from Thirty-Five Years in the Field


3rd Key Observation…

The Other 16 Hours – Health Promotion’s REAL Challenge (Part I)

presented for your intellectually driven consideration, your emotionally driven engagement, and — most important — your viscerally driven action


Of the five sectors that influence objective health and subjective wellbeing (see illustration, below), the worksite—as a primary and singular focus—ranks at the bottom of importance when it comes to lifelong impact.  Please understand that rank-order separation is razor thin and I am speaking in relative terms when I say the REAL challenge.

When it comes to facilitating and promoting objective health and subjective wellbeing all sectors are critical and there are challenges regardless of the venue or vehicle.  Government policy, worksite culture, school curriculum, home environment and individual choice each present challenges and opportunities.

However when talking about maximizing whole person health, each spoke must work in consort with each other if we are to have significant and meaningful change.  The spokes are both independent as well as highly inter-dependant contributors to personal happiness and social contribution.

For the purpose of a short essay, I’ll simply refer to “Worksite” as one sector and lump the other four into what I’ll call “The Other 16 Hours.”  Longer dissertations on the subject can be found in my past writings.

Worksite Health Promotion (Wellness)

First, a definition:

well·ness, \ˈwel-nəs\: a dynamic objective and subjective progression toward a state of complete physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.  Incremental improvements can occur from pre-conception up to and including a person’s last breath

– msamuelson, the health & wellness institute

At least, that’s how I defined “wellness” during my tenure as the Founding CEO and President of the Health & Wellness Institute.  My guess is that each person reading this essay has their own variation.  At any rate, now you know what I mean when I use the word.

Using this definition, wellness at the worksite—by extension—is

any activity, policy, attitude, and physical plant circumstance that facilitates a person’s progression toward complete physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of harm

And, yes, I know, COMPLETE actualization is not likely to happen for most of us in this lifetime.  It is the continuous progression of incremental (mostly small) improvements that we seek to achieve…and, particularly important to the Joe Friday CFOs, measure.

So, how are we doing?  Ah, yes how ARE we doing?

Short answer:  As an industry in toto, nobody really knows.  Let me pull three quotes from The Art of Health Promotion publication, January/February 2010, “Best Practices in Evaluating Worksite Health Promotions Programs.

If you have read this article, I encourage you to read it again.  If you have not read it, read it.  In fact, if you don’t subscribe to the American Journal of Health Promotion, I encourage you to do so.  Pretty hard to be in this industry or to intelligently comment on worksite health promotion without keeping up with the research.

Here are four important highlights found just on the first page, alone:






The article defines areas that need measuring in order to determine overall program success.  They include:

  • Engagement
  • Satisfaction
  • Health Behavior Change
  • Biometric Health and Clinical Impacts
  • Population-Level Health Risk Reduction
  • Productivity Impact
  • Health Care Cost Impact [cost of illness or COI]
  • Return on Investment [ROI]

It goes on to talk about best practice models, programming criteria, expected outcomes, evaluation protocols and how to use champions, evaluation, and budget placement to sustain (gain) stakeholder support.

Like I said, great article.

Okay, back to the question:  When it comes to worksite wellness programs, how are we doing?

As a former school teacher, let me break this down:

  • overall, it isn’t clear what constitutes best practice in evaluation
  • purchasers differ in their expectations of what these programs will/should do
  • researchers note wide variations in wellness program results
  • lots of people are doing something but most efforts are rudimentary and/or incomplete
  • we (as an industry) lack common standards and definitions needed to know when we have a victory

I’m a pretty easy grader so I’ll give equal weight to both effort and execution.

B-/D = C-

And…here’s the disturbing news…from my perspective this is the highest scoring sector of the five.

Next:  Part II –  The Other 16 Hours (Wellness Outside the Worksite)

Stay tuned…


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