by Dean Witherspoon   Dean's profile on LinkedIn  

A small minority of political pollsters and pundits predicted Donald Trump would win the presidential election. Even some right-leaning commentators suggested a cakewalk for Hillary Clinton. And then, the election happened…

I’ve been studying, writing about, and creating products for workplace wellness since 1992. And if the 2016 election taught me nothing else, it showed me I don’t know anything about anything. So I’m doing some serious reflection on positions I’ve held firmly for the last quarter century.

What I thought I knew about wellness programming…

  • Financial incentives make health behavior change harder and threaten the viability of workplace well-being programs
  • Risk-centered wellness is a waste of time and money that results in a series of “should” and “don’t” programs that most of a population ignores
  • Best-practice approaches to wellness programming produce a check-the-box mentality that stifles innovation
  • Everything-but-the-kitchen sink (more is better) wellness programs result in a mishmash of stuff that can be successful only through luck.

What I thought I knew about us…

  • We work to pay the bills but thrive there when our needs for autonomy, competence, and connectedness are met, thereby offering the most value to the organization
  • When we feel good about our jobs and the organization (thriving at work) we’re much more receptive to workplace wellness and personal health behavior change
  • Introducing money to entice us to participate in wellness programs becomes a do-this/get-that transaction and robs us of the desire to act in our own best interest.

Looking to 2017 and Beyond

As the new year gets underway, I’m not going to simply change my thinking about what I thought I knew (unlike politicians who bash opponents relentlessly for over a year then change their stance overnight). But I am going to keep searching for what motivates participants and try to find:

  • A financial incentive model that works — reducing risk or cost over the long term. If you have one or know one, please contact me so we can share it with those continuing to struggle.
  • A risk-based wellness program that results in voluntary participation. This seems like it should be possible — after all, we all want to reduce our risk for illness and premature death. So again, please share.
  • A best-practice (pick your favorite list) programming approach that has produced better results than a streamlined, tightly focused model with limited elements but exceptional execution.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to advocate for workplace well-being that focuses on aligning organization goals and values with individual needs and wants. I’ll write about creating programs and services that strive to support autonomy, competence, and connection. And I’ll continue to lead Health Enhancement Systems in creating and delivering services that people want to be a part of because they’re challenging, fun, social, and contribute to health and quality of life.

What will you do?


# susan Perry 2016-12-19 20:31
I always enjoy your thoughtful articles and have learned much over the years. For a risk basedcomponent for our Wellness Program we provide the National Diabetes Prevention Program.. It is voluntary, a one year commitment, and requires that participants have a diagnosis of pre-diabetes or are at risk for it (about 50% of the adult population).
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# Dean Witherspoon 2016-12-19 20:41
Thank you, Susan. We've heard very positive things about NDPP -- sounds like it's working well for your organization. Appreciate your comment.
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