Time for corporate wellness to focus on what matters

Wellness plans have become table stakes for companies who want to attract and retain employees and promote healthy choices. Within this movement, a deeper trend fully took root in 2016: “total well-being.”

Not only are companies realizing their people are their greatest asset, but an employee who is fully well (not just physically healthy) can yield massive returns on investment in productivity and in the impact on fellow team members. While rooted in traditional health care benefits, the focus goes beyond physical health to help employees become more resilient, define their life purpose and elevate their overall performance.

After eight years in corporate wellness, this shift is proof wellness is maturing as an industry. But in this process, it is essential that improved physical health remain a foundational measurement of success. A focus on total well-being does not shield us from demonstrating a measurable return on investment when it comes to employee health, especially when rising costs are still a major concern.

We don’t know a lot about what the future of health care looks like under the new presidential administration, but we expect Donald Trump to favor more of the performance metrics we’ve seen recently. Court rulings on wellness lawsuits, proposed legislation and updates to wellness regulations in 2016 all indicate that the bipartisan support for corporate wellness is likely to bring it to the forefront as a strategy for driving down health care costs.

This will bring corporate wellness on a collision course with the data-driven ratings in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements and the dawn of outcomes-focused entities like accountable care organizations. If providers and payers are being held accountable to focus on prevention, quality and controlling costs, it’s only a matter of time before individuals and the companies they work for are encouraged to do the same.

The challenge facing the wellness industry (and those companies invested in wellness) as we move forward is that we have a responsibility to demonstrate improved health. A shift to include more holistic elements such as financial wellness, sleep programs, stress management and career counselling is necessary to support individuals on their journey. However, health care costs are a serious risk for the economy and a focus on well-being cannot afford to separate its impact from measurable physical health improvement.

Companies need to take a critical look at their wellness initiatives and determine what they value most and whether they are seeing measurable progress. Results matter. And we should all ask ourselves, “If people aren’t getting healthier physically … can they really be well?” The future of wellness (and health care for that matter) may depend on how we answer.