Corporate Well-being — Our relationship with work
Over the next few months I will try to share the knowledge and experiences I gathered over 5 years as Vice President of Health and Wellbeing. It was a role that would change my life and at the same time bring me back to myself.
I hope these stories will be shared and others can learn from our difficulties and possibly change the landscape of how corporations “invest” in their employees’ overall wellbeing. And how that investment pays dividends that we cannot currently effectively measure as numerical data but show up in the most profound and profitable ways.
“Put the human being first.”
It was 2015, and we were thriving.
We had a fully staffed practice with chiropractic, massage, life coaching, a chef, a few interns and our management team. We had changed the model of how people thought about healthcare and were excited that people were “getting it.”
It was awesome.
Then a friend said those fateful words, “you gotta meet a friend of mine.”
It’s funny how those words can alter the course of your life so often, in so many levels.
I didn’t really think much of it until the actual phone call came and I was speaking to “the friend.” He was the CEO of a local software company (Let’s call him Elvis) and was very interested in this idea of well-being. Not just at an individual level but also for corporations with the idea of bringing a new model into the corporate space. I was intrigued.
We met a few times and had some very engaging discussions and ideations but that was about it. We kept in touch but I figured the idea had just fizzled out.
Then one day Elvis called me and asked for a lunch meeting.
It’s just lunch.
No different from other lunches we had had.
Except that it was very different.
A meal I don’t remember
Usually when you go to a very nice restaurant, you remember exactly what you had and how good it was. This meal would be a blurry experience, paling to our discussion.
Elvis proceeded to tell me about his vision of delivering wellbeing to companies via an onsite wellbeing center, designed to elevate employee health and that of their families.
Changing the model from disease care to a more holistic version where people learn and connect and share with others in their teams and across the organization.
It was brilliant.
He was speaking my language.
I loved it.
So, I said something that I say a lot, maybe a little too flippantly.
I said, “that sounds awesome, let me know if there is anything I can do to help.”
1M TPS (thoughts per second)
I am sure plenty of people are like me, saying things like “let me know if there is anything I can do to help, ” with no expectation that anyone would ever call you on it.
Am I the only one?
Well, just then Elvis looks at me and says, “ And I would like you to build it. Come work for me and help me to build and implement this vision.”
I don’t even know what to say. I am completely dumbfounded. Speechless.
I just look at him in shock and no words come out of my mouth as my brain is moving at a million thoughts per second. (1M TPS).
Uncomfortable silence does not begin to describe it.
After what seems like an hour of me just sitting there dumb and unmoving. I say that I am not an expert in that field, I am a clinician that works with patients, I don’t even have any corporate work experience….
…and that I would think about it.
For those of you who have been recruited before, I am sure this is not a big deal and my story is familiar. This was new to me.
My initial thoughts:
- I have a very successful practice, why in the world would I give that up?
- Why chase his vision when I could continue to chase my own?
- How would this benefit me and my family?
- Was it worth it?
At the end I would not be able to answer any of these questions conclusively.
I thought about it, a lot.
I asked friends and family their thoughts and opinions.
But at the end of the day, it was a simple question my wife asked me,
“If you committed to this for 25 years and failed. Could you look back and say it was worth it?”
And so I told Elvis, Yes!
It only took 6 months for me to get there.
Back in 2015, the idea of corporate wellness was taking off and more and more people were talking about yoga classes in the company or gym memberships subsidized by the company. Some companies had even taken the leap to add an onsite clinic for employee medical needs.
There were three major obstacles, at the time, to implementing a successful model:
- No universal metric- there was no industry wide metric to measure the success of these offerings or programs. The industry reported more concrete metrics like less sick days, lower insurance pay-outs and overall healthcare costs. Some even reported more esoteric findings like better focus, presenteeism vs. absenteeism, improved engagement, even possible links to improved stock values. But no one could really agree what was valuable and what could really be measured.
- Cost. Cost. Cost.- the average a company was “willing” to spend was about $150-$400 per employee. Finding meaningful programs within that price range was challenging but available.
- Lack of expertise- Although there were plenty of providers, the field was really in it’s infancy so there were just a handful of companies that had any experience with it and even less that were able to properly “measure” it.
For what we were thinking- i.e. a more holistic and functional model of improving well-being, there was no playbook.
There were no examples to copy or reference.
We would have to start from scratch.
Fine by me.
Research. Ask. Learn. Adjust.
Where do you start?
You look at the research and see what already exists and what people have already done or are doing. You look to see if there are any “experts” or organizations that have some data you can tap into.
So, I spent the next 3 months reading everything I could get my hands on related to corporate wellness, complementary medicine, work related stress, common work complaints, healthcare spending, etc.
Every book, research paper, article, blog I could get my hands on.
Then you find the people who seem to be doing some cool stuff. People like Seligman, Lyubomirsky, HERO, Limeade, Aduro, etc.
And then you try to contact these people and pick their brain.
Ask a lot of questions.
Interesting thing about people in academia and research- they are very generous. I love them.
They will take the time to talk with you or answer your emails and just help give you some direction and advice.
So, my team and I learned.
Then we used our knowledge to design the model of what a wellbeing center would look like, who would be involved, what could we measure and how to integrate the whole thing.
It would be a year of failure before we started to understand what was important.
Corporate wellness is practically an oxymoron.
Let me explain.
It’s not because companies don’t care about their employees. It’s more because what companies use to measure success and what an individual uses to measure success are very different.
In some cases, they are diametrically opposed.
One example of this is cost.
Companies want to spend as little as possible to get the most value. However, an employee may value the wellness program that costs the most money. So, the problem is not really cost, its value. Or should I say the non-alignment of value.
Another case of non-aligment or mis-alignment is what the company thinks the employee wants and what they really want.
What we found in our research was companies believe most employees want higher compensation. But the research showed that the number one thing employees wanted was a flexible work schedule where they could work from home if the role allowed for it. (This of course was pre-Covid. Now, many companies know it is a viable option). But back then, it was not really a proposition companies wanted to test out.
So, many of our initial failings were trying to create alignment where it didn’t exist and trying to measure metrics that were not “significant” to the company but extremely significant to the human beings that worked there.
To be continued…