May 07

Wellness Success or Failure Depends on Corporate Culture

  • Introduction


Our wellness company, Healthy at Work, will not provide wellness services to any employer that cannot pass our corporate culture/quality evaluation.  That’s right, we use an organization quality evaluation tool with 47 questions in seven categories, and if the employer’s score is too low, we say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”  The reason is simple.  Wellness programs are doomed to fail in an organization where there is low trust of management by employees and systems are not functioning properly.  And, these dysfunctional organizations also have higher health care cost than the ones that are operating at a higher level of quality.


This connection between corporate culture and wellness was confirmed in a Kenexa High Performance Institute Work Trend Report.  The report is titled “Trust Matters: New Links to Employee Retention and Well-Being.” The report states as follows:


“Employees who distrust their leaders are seven times more likely to report they are mentally and physically unwell.”  (That is 700% higher).


“Sixty-two percent of employees who lack trust in their leaders report unreasonable levels of stress, compared to 13 percent of those who do trust their leaders.”  (That’s nearly 500% higher).


  1. Organizational Culture/Quality Criteria

There are several tools available for any employer that is really interested in finding out how well they are preforming.  Ours is based on the Baldridge Award, which is a national quality program, and the Sterling Award, which is a Florida-based quality program.  Below are some sample questions from the seven categories used to measure organizational excellence.


Leadership – There are eight criteria in this section dealing with values, expectations, staff needs, ethical compliance, commitment to health and well-being and environmental sustainability.


Sample criteria:

How does leadership create an environment that encourages empowerment and learning?


Strategic Planning – Employees are more confidant and trusting when they are following a quality strategic plan.  There are eight criteria in this section covering things like input from staff, honest risk assessment, quality information used, realistic expectations, accurate measures and effective communication.


Sample criteria:

Plans are realistic, with objectives linked to appropriate use of available resources.


Customer and Market Focus – Employees know when the organization is really committed to serving their customers at a high level, or are just going through the motions.  There are six criteria in this section covering topics such as the use of quality customer satisfaction information, timely identification and resolution of customer issues and benchmarking customer satisfaction performance against high performing organizations.


Sample criteria:

Our employees are well schooled in customer satisfaction, and are appropriately monitored as to their performance.


Information and Analysis – Employees want decisions to be made by management with the best information available and not just on the whim of a few senior managers.


Sample criteria:

We are committed to the balanced scorecard approach, which measures efficiency, effectiveness, quality and organizational health.


Human Resource Focus – For many employees, the human resource department is their second most significant connection to their organization after the department where they work.  This is where leadership style and quality are most easily determined by employees, and where the level of trust is most easily seen.


Sample criteria:

Our organization promotes health and safety at the highest possible level of quality.


Process Management – Employees have higher levels of trust and confidence in their organization’s leaders when there are systems and processes in place that are logical, sequential and comprehensive.


Sample criteria:

Our organizational culture promotes full cooperation between all staff that serve each other in any of our systems and processes.




Business Results – Employees want to know how well their organization is performing and how their contribution is helping to improve that level of performance.


Sample criteria:

We keep a full set of performance measures on the success of our human resource programs.


  1. Measurement Techniques Used

For each of the criteria used to evaluate the organization’s culture and quality, there are five levels of measurement possible.  They are as follows:





Very Poor








Very Good

The evaluation questions are answered by a cross-section of employees from senior management, middle management and front line employees.  The identity of individuals is protected as much as possible, with results sent to a third party for analysis.


There is a report prepared and, if registered, a meeting held to discuss the results, as well as possible strategies for addressing the areas ranked low by one or all of the three groups.


In terms of using this evaluation tool to determine the probable success of a wellness program, we typically look for scores of 3.5 or higher on average in a majority of the seven main categories.  When scores are lower than 3.5 on average, we recommend that the organization address the lower rated categories before investing in a new wellness program or attempting to expand on existing wellness efforts.


  1. Conclusion

There are many reasons why wellness programs often do not achieve the results that they should, and poor leadership is high on that list.  In addition to creating a culture that has now levels of trust, poor leadership also plays a role in the following factors that can determine the success or failure of a wellness program:


Underfunding of the program.

Not setting a good example of healthy living.

Not ensuring qualified leaders for the wellness program.

Not providing the appropriate health insurance programs that support wellness.

Not allowing employees enough time to participate in wellness activities and education.

Not understanding how evidence-based wellness programs work.

Not understanding how to support employee efforts to change their lifestyles.

Not providing adequate incentives and rewards to support wellness efforts.


Excellent leadership is the cornerstone of any wellness program foundation, and it is important that the wellness industry clearly communicates the role that leadership plays in the success or failure of wellness programs.



Charles Bens, Ph.D.

Healthy at Work

Sarasota, Florida

July 9, 2012