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wellness police? cohealth tweet chat recap (mar. 17)

March 20, 2011

in cohealth

in this cohealth chat we explored when wellness initiatives go from engaging to enforcing. greg matthews/@chimoose was our facilitator and kicked off the session with four teasers:

  • teaser 1: lincoln industries feels so strongly about wellness that the company has made it part of employee performance reviews.
  • teaser 2: TS designs has a mandatory community gardening program.
  • teaser 3: a large insurer banned junk food on its premises.
  • teaser 4: political entities are starting to “encourage” their members/employees to exercise.

(for articles on each of the above, click here.)

T1: are these examples of engaging or enforcing?

the majority felt these were examples of enforcing. we were collectively more inclined to create an environment that encourages rather than mandates. instead of mandating, many suggested “parental nudges” and tweaking the environment to direct healthier behaviors. for example, instead of banning BYO junk food, why not offer healthy snacks and subsidize healthier foods?

some mused whether enforcing could lead to engaging. for example, could a mandatory program provide a spark that leads to engagement, as greg wondered? interestingly, sarah monley/@sarahmonley felt these were examples of enforcing, but in line with other HR policies that enforce certain behaviors and, therefore, not necessarily a bad thing.

we were curious and concerned about connecting wellness and performance management. how would this work? what would be measured? what would those who were doing the measuring know about health and wellness? i left thinking this is a topic to be explored more fully on its own. (future chat alert!)

T2: what’s the difference between enforcing and engaging, anyway?

as i defined it and many agreed, engaging = people want to do it. enforcing = people resist doing it. @fitfeud was at the ready with a few quotable tweets:

  • mandating behaviors doesn’t work. it’s like forced family fun.
  • mandating behaviors = “the beatings will continue until morale improves.”

bob merberg/@wellwork shared two pledges, one public and another private, that drive community and grassroots-based change. one was from UC berkeley on drinking tap water; the other from wegmans about giving healthy behaviors a whirl.

sarah talked about the need to remove barriers. for example, at her husband’s company, nobody used the gym until free towels were available. as beth crescendo/@crescendocg commented, “sometimes the answer’s far more simple than people expect” and eliminates the need to be heavy-handed.

as i’m really intrigued by the idea of connecting wellness and performance management as a way to instill wellness in the culture, i wondered whether creating this link could help fix a major problem at most companies: facetime. could emphasizing the importance of wellness reduce the barriers to work-life fit?

T3: can rewards and incentives be an appropriate nudge? what if the incentives are for results and not participation?

tamara melton/@realwellnessRD raised the concern that “results aren’t predictable, especially for weight loss. participation encourages long-term commitment to change.”

judy jones/@redjudy shared a story from her own company, where employees created their own biggest loser competition. they seed a money pool, but the largest benefit is the community support.

many of us believe that incentives can be the nudge that gets employees to participate. others raised the question of whether incentives work, even though companies are giving heftier incentives than ever before. a towers watson study found that 23% of employee participants didn’t care about incentives or about their health, which many commented meant that 23% of them aren’t ready for change—no incentive’s going to alter that fact.

others raised the question about whether incentives replace intrinsic motivation. @freeclear put it well: “for lasting behavior change, people have to find personal motivation.” @dialdoctors pushed back on this, saying that incentives can create lasting change, citing conductual therapy. so did paul hebert/@incentintel who commented that “when designed poorly, i’d agree [that incentives can displace intrinsic motivation], but [for people to participate] it has to be something they intrinsically wanted to begin with.”

the conversation turned to harsher penalties, like not hiring tobacco users. some felt when it was in line with a company’s mission (e.g., hospitals), it made sense. others counterpointed with (a) is this a slippery slope? what about diabetics? are they next? and (b) does it change the conversation when you’re talking about an addictive behavior?

i commented that the move to more sticks is a sign of the increasing bafflement and frustration employers feel. it remains to be seen whether they yield the intended results.

next chat: what’s mobile health got to do with wellness?

date/time: april 20, noon ET.
guest: andre blackman. andre is the director of digital communications and new media at the american heart association, an advisory board member at the mayo clinic center for social media and a blogger at pulse + signal.  andre will be facilitating a conversation about “what’s mobile health got to do with wellness?”


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