Are Your Employees Fine or Are They Flourishing?

In a competitive job market, employers must put an emphasis on investing in their employees to retain the best talent. An essential part of this effort should include supporting overall human flourishing through a modernized approach that will result in sustainable benefits for all.

Do you think your company would measure its financial performance bi-annually?

No way. Companies evaluate components of their business performance on a daily basis. And yet many corporations treat the well-being of their employees with far less urgency, sometimes as infrequently as annually. If you’re handling your wellness program like this, studies show you shouldn’t even bother.

Luckily, a new approach to measuring well-being, along with the latest technology, offers the opportunity to quit wasting money on risk-focused, sporadic, and outdated wellness programs to instead make a real difference in the lives of employees and the future of companies. Even better, these programs support human flourishing and human performance in a way that employees will actually use and enjoy. (And one that doesn’t let 12 months slip by without realizing things could be better.)

Let’s start with what might be wrong about traditional wellness programs.

A recent study regarding workplace wellness programs researched 33,000 workers at one retailer. It showed that while wellness training seemed to have a positive impact on health behaviors like exercise, employees didn’t actually score better on health metrics or health care spending, even after 18 months in the program.

“There was a lot of hope that workplace wellness programs would reduce health care spending and absenteeism within a year or two, but we do not find such returns”

Study co-author Katherine Baicker, dean of the University of Chicago Harris

School of Public Policy

Considering that more than half of small firms and 82% of firms with more than 200 employees offer some kind of wellness program, this failure affects too wide a swath of this country’s economy and health to ignore. So let’s look at some of the common shortcomings, and how technology and a holistic approach to well-being are enabling us to create more flourishing workplaces.

In a Harvard Business Review article detailing the debate over health programs, the authors stated, “To us, it’s similar to asking whether reviews, training programs, employee assistance services, or other company initiatives are effective for both worker performance and the bottom line. The honest answer is that some are successful while others fail. And most of the time this comes down to how they’re designed and executed.”

Here’s how to design and execute a program that works, based on the latest research and technology. It comes down to two areas: a focus on human flourishing as a pathway to human performance and upgrading to an action-oriented measurement system from the 21st century.

A Focus on Flourishing

In the same way that the positive psychology model is replacing the mental health model focused on the disorder, it’s inspiring a wellness shift away from a focus on the negative and toward a focus on positive outcomes. Even though we call them “wellness programs,” most of the solutions that are being delivered are primarily oriented around health risk. They must become more inclusive.

Beyond wellness, more people are using the term flourishing, inspired by Harvard’s flourishing index. According to Tyler J. VanderWeele of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “The term flourishing used for thousands of years and literally meaning ‘to grow’ or ‘to prosper,’ represents a powerful way to view health in its fullest sense.”

This program focuses on five universal domains:

  • Happiness and life satisfaction
  • Mental and physical health,
  • Meaning and purpose
  • Character and virtue
  • Close social relationships

As they explain, “Each of these is nearly universally desired, and each constitutes an end in and of itself.”

A sixth domain, financial and material stability, is also considered as a factor that enables people to reach the goals above.

This theory is fairly new, published in a 2017 paper called “On the Promotion of Human Flourishing,” in which VanderWeele describes his idea saying, “Flourishing itself might be understood as a state in which all aspects of a person’s life are good.”

We at Aduro, where I serve as VP Healthcare Product & Strategy, incorporated Harvard’s Flourishing Index this year to measure employee well-being and human performance, because when we ask our users what they want to focus on for improvement, only half want to focus on health and fitness. From our own data, we know the issue of “wellness” is bigger than fitness.

For example, an employee can be a non-smoker with low BMI, but if he’s depressed and worried about money, he’s not going be bringing his full self and mind to his work.

“Engagement and productivity are driven by several dimensions of well-being, and physical health is just one of many factors,” said Harold L. Paz, M.D., M.S., Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for Aetna, which recently partnered with Harvard for a research collaboration around flourishing.

We know from our own data that when we ask people whether they’re motivated to take action to improve their well-being, 85% say yes. People want to be a better version of themselves. It’s just not necessarily about sit-ups or smoking.

“A patient cares not only about physical health and test results ‘within normal limits’ but also more broadly about being happy, having meaning and purpose, being ‘a good person,’ and having fulfilling relationships,” writes Dr. VanderWeele. “Additionally, population studies indicate that the domains related to psychological well-being are not only desired as ends but also shape physical health. For example, meta-analyses have indicated that purpose in life is associated with reduced mortality risk… as is life satisfaction. Conversely, loneliness and social isolation are associated with increased mortality risk.”

Continuous Feedback Loops

Would you like to take an hour out of your busy day filling out pages of questions about your health while contemplating what might happen 10, 20 or 30 years down the road? No, you probably would not. We know this about human adults. When emails are piling up, there’s not always time to focus on the chance of something that might happen in the future.

If you measure health with too much time in between inputs, your employees will have to fill out long surveys and deal with data that perhaps should have been acted on months ago. (Ever gained 15 pounds in three months? It’s very possible.)

As in the population health management model, you want to create a system that regularly measures to what degree your population is flourishing and delivers real-time feedback loops paired with personalized interventions to that population, then monitor the impact. The technological advances of the last few years now allow us to provide this cycle in a more agile framework, leading to more frequent measuring that can be done quickly and easily, in a continuous cycle.

If you want to join the leaders of wellness and create a modern and effective well-being program, make sure you’re using the newest technology, more frequent measuring, and measurements that are less intrusive to a worker’s day. That’s what a modern approach to well-being should be built on.

How to Know If Your Program is Modern

Over the last couple of decades, we’ve gone from infrequent data collection via forms to continuous active and passive data collection using the latest mobile apps and wearable devices. Third-party partners have sprouted up to help you navigate it all.

At Aduro, for example, we took the antiquated system and started measuring with what we call pulses, many times per year. We use passive data collection to monitor mindful minutes, steps, and progress. And, we deliver the insights that come from this more continuous system to provide ongoing feedback loops that help people and organizations flourish so they can perform at their best.

What questions can you ask to identify a modern program?

  • Growth-oriented: Is the program oriented around risk-reduction or growth in flourishing and performance?
  • Continuous loops: Does the technology platform enable you to continuously monitor your population and use that data as an input to drive programming that better meets the needs of your population?
  • Comprehensive: Does the program deliver a comprehensive set of programs across all areas of flourishing in a single, simple and intuitive experience?

A true investment in flourishing will provide a sustainable return from enhanced performance and happier and more productive work culture. And if you’re competing for talent, you’ll attract more quality employees. Millennials are looking for growth and development opportunities. Throwing a ping pong table in the break room is not going to cut it.

An investment in a health program is really a technology investment in human flourishing for long term sustainability. If you’re not seeing it that way, you, your business, and your employees are missing out.

To learn more about Aduro’s approach to measuring employees flourishing, download our summary: Flourishing, a New Way to Measure Employee Well-being.