It wasn’t too long ago that workplace wellness programs were all the rage and on an upward trend.

Health plans and vendors pitched their HRAs (Health Risk Appraisals) and biometric screenings to identify problems and offered health risk coaching and condition management interventions to address them.   They touted the ROI of a healthier workforce by uncovering and addressing undiagnosed diseases and unhealthy lab results.

Industry conference speakers and bloggers told of their successes with “Biggest Loser-style” competitions, steps challenges, tobacco-free campuses, and prevented heart attacks. The theme was that you’ve got to be in it to win it.

Soon, however, backlash began to kick in. The 2013 RAND study showed some savings from wellness participation, but not a statistically significant amount.  Critics called the programs a sham, and lawsuits were filed.

In 2014, a CVS employee sued the company over their invasive questions.  AARP sued the EEOC, which had allowed that companies could penalize workers for noncompliance to their programs.  As a result, EEOC was forced to vacate their rules, such that wellness programs will be truly voluntary as of January, 2019.

With these sorts of legal problems in the headlines of employee health and benefits news articles and, with risk and uncertainty in the mix, many employers pulled back on their participation requirements and incentive schemes.

As traditional wellness programs began to recede, however, the need to assist employees in achieving positive work-life integration and provide support in areas outside of physical wellness remained.

In stepped advocates of the well-being movement who believe in a more holistic approach.

Unlike most wellness initiatives to this point that had emphasized physical health and been implemented by employers as a healthcare cost saving strategy, well-being was seen as a next generation solution with a broader definition, reflective of that created by the World Health Organization (WHO). In its 1948 constitution, WHO defined human health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease of infirmity.

This idea was then further supported in 2008 when Gallup and Healthways (now Sharecare) launched their Well-Being Index, which measured data across multiple areas of well-being, such as emotional, social and career, in addition to physical.

It stands to reason that improving an individual’s well-being should have more influence on their attendance, productivity and performance than simply addressing physical health risks.

Today, companies across the country have broadened their ambitions for well-being with emphasis on mindfulness, resilience, stress-reduction, life purpose, and many other areas.

There is also a growing trend toward self-service solutions that enable individuals to select personalized areas for improvement, rather than being “pried, poked, and prodded” as was the critique of the earlier generation of wellness.

Gallup and Sharecare continue to monitor and report on their Well-Being Index which has become a well-known standard of measurement for US cities, some of whom have also adopted Blue Zones principles for community wellbeing.

Within corporations, Deloitte and others have cited well-being as a strategic priority.  Design and delivery of well-being solutions will ultimately vary by organization based on population needs and the variety of stressors that are occupying their time and attention.  Companies need to offer up an array of choices that meet the diversity within their workforce, are easy to access and use, and which provide meaningful support.

Well-being is here to stay with room to grow and expand as employers continue to look out for the priorities of their most valued asset – their workforce.

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