What Wellness Can Learn from Occupational Safety

Many of us are familiar with the saying, "Iif you can't measure it, you can't manage it." This is difficult for corporate wellness program providers, considering they can't actually manage an employee's personal health.

While the industry could argue for value on investment, which is an intangible asset that contributes a great deal to the performance of an organization, most companies continue to seek out return on investment (ROI). How can the wellness industry best handle this expectation?

One approach is to examine the parallel field of occupational health and safety, which is also concerned with the health, safety, and welfare of employees. Sixty years ago, health and safety programs were rare. Today, they're embedded in many businesses. What is interesting about these programs is that they don't focus on ROI, but instead what actions have been taken to make the program successful.

Can you imagine a leader saying, "We lost an employee last year to an accident. Let's get rid of the health and safety program. It isn't working"? Of course not. What you would hear instead in this situation is: "Where did our health and safety program go wrong? How will we improve it?"

The International Labor Organization has published a set of guidelines to help organizations run successful safety programs, including recommendations that they operate based on a strong policy and planning framework as well as "checking and corrective action, management review and continual improvement." These are also applicable for wellness programs. While you can't "manage" an employee's personal health you can try to influence it, which in the long run will result in positive ROI.

According to Dee Edington, known in the industry as the "godfather of health risk-management," wellness and safety have "synergistic objectives" to help employees and employers achieve healthy and safe individuals and places to work. "It is clear to me that what they can do together far exceeds what can be accomplished separately," says Edington, professor emeritus at the University of Michigan. He notes that Underwriters Laboratories Inc., the global independent safety science company, recently created the Integrated Health and Safety Institute, a not-for-profit institute dedicated to advancing the integration of health and safety programs within corporations around the world.

To be successful, wellness programs require management buy-in and leadership, as well as having the right systems in place to make them work.

A compelling tool is one that keeps executives informed and engaged on internal wellness programs. One example is CoreHealth Technologies' Executive Dashboard, which includes a communication forum that prompts questions and conversation around continuous improvement while also providing reportable metrics for presentation at the senior executive and board level.

Visibility and metrics into employee satisfaction and the development of a high performance company culture is an improvement mechanism that is often lacking in wellness programs. This is a key component in the successful implementation of most strategic planning and management systems.

It's time for wellness to take a page from occupational health and safety and focus on the factors that improve wellness program success, rather than zooming in on outcomes.

Anne-Marie Kirby, Founder and CEO of CoreHealth Technologies, is at the forefront of health and wellness innovation, and develops a sophisticated corporate wellness technology platform for organizations. The company is located in Kelowna, BC, Canada.

Posted on Dec 12, 2016

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