$92 million. $28 million. $15 million. These are the venture capital investments in wellness companies we’ve heard about in just the last 3 months. It makes you feel like chump change if someone is offering you only $5 million for a piece of the action (thanks, but no thanks).
What may surprise you (or may not, if you’ve been paying close attention) is that for all the hype around workplace wellness, the quantified self, Affordable Care Act endorsement of wellness rewards, mobile medicine and health, skyrocketing sales of fitness fashions, mindful-everything… we don’t seem to be getting any healthier.
According to the new Gallup-Healthways Well-Being poll, obesity continues its rise unabated. Not coincidentally, diabetes is increasing. And with the exception of just a couple states, the vast majority of the country doesn’t get enough physical activity to have a positive effect on health. If you don’t trust the data, just take a walk through the airport or your nearest mall on a Saturday afternoon.
I’ve already lived through 2 “golden ages” of health promotion and workplace wellness — the early 1990s and mid-to-late 2000s — during my 25+ years in the industry. It didn’t end well for some internal programs as well as vendors. For those of us left standing, it thinned the ranks, made what we do more visible, and possibly validated our approach/philosophy. Or maybe we were just lucky.
In any case, as we turn the corner and head for home in the 2010s, there’s a fervor unmatched at any time I can remember. Not only are the usual experts proselytizing about the tremendous opportunities in wellness, but venture capitalists, politicians, and average Joes are all jumping on the well-being bandwagon: What’s your Fitbit® step count today?
It feels a little like the late ’90s tech bubble, when the NASDAQ soared to 5000+ in early 2000 (and just made it back to that level 15 years later) and every schmo was a genius investor, buying up shares of Pets.com. For those of us who lived through it, we could do no wrong — until the bottom fell out.
Why Things Are Different This Time
We don’t expect the bottom to fall out of wellness. Not this time around. But hardly because we’ve figured out something world changing. Indeed, much of today’s hoopla is misplaced:
But for all the misfires, the thing that promises to keep our industry growing is a shift in thinking. Wellness leaders are beginning to embrace the idea that employees and dependents are more than health risks/costs to be managed. Philosophically, we’re seeing a fundamental movement toward perceiving the people we serve as assets rather than balance sheet liabilities.
While it’s really not new, the concept of well-being as looking at the whole person is reemerging. It’s the recognition that most of us simply want to feel better — emotionally and physically — living free from the burdens of poor health, chronic disease, aches and pains, or injury. We want the strength and stamina to do what we love and aspire to; we want stronger relationships; we want to stress less about money; we want to help our families flourish, and truly thrive — not just today, but throughout our career and into retirement.
There have been enough failed experiments in the last decade, readjusting the reward/punishment extrinsic motivation levers and switches, to know that bribing and browbeating just don’t work. And although we’re a long way from truly having the well-being model figured out, at least there’s a desire now to move in the right direction… a movement we call purpose-centered wellness.
If that feels right to you, begin taking these steps now to shift your program’s image from fixer-of-all-that’s-wrong to a vital part of the organization that helps people achieve well-being and their life goals:
It’s a start. And we’re not suggesting you abandon what works. But if you want real impact on well-being and not just cholesterol scores, plan now to move toward a more purpose-centered, comprehensive wellness program model.