why your employee wellness communications won’t work

May 18, 2010

in health communication,wellness

“you have some really rich friends.”

so said my friend who’d come with me to a dinner event at the free library of philadelphia. truth was, my husband and i’d given what must’ve been the lowest possible amount to gain unknowing entry to an illustrious donor group. we dined next to the architect of the library’s planned extension and yad vashem, sat across from the son of a political family, and were a table apart from a retail dynasty. a major philanthropist gamboled over us as he took his auditorium seat. i was caught between giggling at the preposterousness of my being there and feeling somewhat starry-eyed.

all this before the evening’s attraction, jim lehrer, took center stage.

he’d laid down some principles earlier—no political questions, no chat about the show—so talk focused on his new book until he laid down more principles, this time on priorities: do only what you enjoy.

[internal dialogue] uh-huh. would do—if i had a helper or doer like you must.

but he didn’t have a life wrangler of the sort i’d imagined. he had a heart attack.

up until then, he was like most of us. he accepted invitations to places he didn’t want to go. his to-do list had activities he didn’t want to complete. his day was full steam ahead with no break for replenishment. now he accepts only those invitations he’s interested in. his to-do list includes the necessary few. and he takes a daily one-hour nap, no disturbances. and he wished upon us…wisdom without the heart attack.

life truth: it’s the few who make and sustain big changes because they know they should, or even because they’re offered incentives. for the rest, big change comes only from something bigger, like a near-death experience, a newborn baby, or a close friend announcing she has cancer.

communication cold reality: your employee health and wellness communications may not make one iota’s difference until that heart attack or its equivalent. our job’s making sure the information’s ready, relevant, and reachable whenever that trigger’s pulled.


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Smith May 18, 2010 at 9:46 am

This is a great story and a great message. Sometimes they’re is not an over enthusiastic response to these programs. Maybe as HR, we should not expect it. We should just know that real change comes eventually & when people are ready. It’s our job to make sure that the programs are there when needed. Unfortunately we have a tendency to look at the immediate ROI.


Ethan McCarty May 18, 2010 at 10:47 am

Yeswell, when someone has that life-changing moment, it would be good if they can quickly and easily reach out for the resources they need. The wellness stuff is, imho, more of a safety net than the next swinging trapeze…the problem is when we want to get the immediate, enthusiastic response to something that should, in most moments of most folks’ lives, exist quietly in the background.


fran May 18, 2010 at 11:56 am

paul and ethan, sounds like you’re both coming from the same place. i agree and add: wellness comms need to be in the background *and* foreground. otherwise employees may be unaware and, what’s more, an opportunity to persuade or nudge to healthier choices may be lost.

and maybe wellness is the next swinging trapeze — though i never heard this saying before. look what’s happening in the marketplace, with 16 companies changing the composition of their food and beverage because they see the writing on the wall (not solely because michelle obama asked). but to your point, ethan, wellness can’t be just a program, a points system, or a brochure. it needs to be broad, integrated, personalized, and social.

and btw, swinging trapezes are dangerous. i fell off one while taking trapeze classes and landed on my neck. ouch.


steve May 20, 2010 at 2:52 am

Amen! A truth I experienced first-hand. Being available and accessible is often a wellness program’s most important functions. You never know who you’re reaching.


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