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How do employers measure corporate wellness?

If at all

A corporate wellness discussion with wellness professionals in the SF area

When it comes to corporate wellness, most of the companies I’ve talked to simply track their wellness initiatives by surveying employees. Employee satisfaction. They present a perk like free food, a kegerator or a learning fair and ask “did you enjoy this?” If the answer is yes — great! We’ll keep doing this — our employees are enjoying themselves.

Beyond customer satisfaction, there is no real wellness tracking happening. It’s really hard to measure stress and even harder to measure productivity. There are other metrics we could track — like attendance / sick days, retention / churn, performance, engagement, etc, but none of them are really tracked in the context of how these wellness initiatives move the needle.

Do our wellness programs help reduce stress and therefore contribute to the bottom line?

Is the wellness initiative habit forming?

A better tracking question might be something like “How satisfied are you with your ability to manage your stress?” All employees deal with some level of stress. And stress is not necessarily a bad thing — high stress levels often drive peak performance. The question is how employees handle their stress, ie how well they balance their lives. Work-life balance is about setting boundaries, taking personal time, managing energy and self-care. But this ‘how are you handling your stress?’ approach speaks to a much more important issue than one-time enjoyment of a wellness event— habits. When self-care habits are formed, we’re on the right track.

Tracking fitness activity

Related, the fitness tracker companies have struggled to prove that they move the needle in corporate wellness. Does giving your employees fitness trackers and encouraging them to enter movement contests help them to reduce stress and stay healthy? There are more risks than rewards — unhealthy employees feel alienated. And there are privacy issues. And most people that try fitness trackers eventually abandon them. Yes, there is some evidence that some employees are sometimes motivated to move more, but as a whole there aren’t a lot of case studies showing that activity trackers are a proven success in corporate wellness.

Tracking online education

Many companies will offer professional development resources as a way to inspire wellness. Learning and skill building are perks, and they are in the interest of the employee and the employer. The simplest way to provide ongoing training for employees is to give employees access to an online education portal. But like anything else, power users may use an education portal heavily, but the majority of employees will begin a class or two and abandon the platform. It’s hard for a company to justify a monthly subscription cost to a service that a shrinking number of employees are using.

Education portals are example of success metrics complications. Companies give their employees access to video learning portals and then track engagement of that education platform. The corporate administrator can login to see which classes employees are taking, and how much time they spend on the platform. They are measuring usage instead of results — time on platform, number of videos watched, number of classes completed. Ironically, they are tracking education the same way Facebook and Netflix track entertainment — time spent on site.

Attention grabbing has nothing to do with learning / building good habits. The “Your employees spent 3 hours per week on our platform!” feedback in no way proves the effectiveness the platform.

How has the platform increased mastery?

A better metric for education portals would be result-oriented.

How did that class impact your performance?

My examples are anecdotal, but among the dozens of companies I’ve talked to, so far “how likely are you to recommend this wellness program?” is good enough to justify our efforts. The irony is that so many of these companies are data-driven, but when it comes to corporate wellness, a simple “as long as people had fun!” approach is all they need.

For now.



BigTalker helps companies support their employees with leadership and collaboration skill building programs. Professional development sessions include emotional intelligence, communication skills, storytelling, mindfulness and improv theory.

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