The ACA provides clear structural and substantial support to corporate wellness plans.  These plans are enjoying a revival of interest as full implementation of the ACA is merely months away.  Businesses and HR pros should explore wellness plan opportunities with a wary eye.  My advice is to focus more on the “how” and less on the “what.”

One of the most attractive elements of the ACA vis a vi wellness is the ability to legally discriminate in favor of, or disfavor of, certain behaviors related to health.  The incentives and disincentives involved make take different shape or form as long as they are compliant

The goals of most wellness plans are essentially the same:

1)      Institute a “culture of wellness” at the company

2)      Develop healthy lifestyles among employees and their families

The benefits expected are typically:

1)      Lower medical costs over time (prevent conditions from becoming chronic and chronic conditions from becoming acute)

2)      Improve performance and productivity (healthy employees have higher attendance rates and happy employees produce well).

My belief is that the tactics you choose and how you execute them will have more impact on the success of the plan than the strategic objectives.  Here’s why:  a person’s personal health is just that…PERSONAL.  Much of the execution I am seeing is ham handed (even if well intentioned) in design and borderline authoritarian in execution.

I’ll pick on Penn State U for this even though they are by no means the only leaf on this tree.  The HR pros there are fighting a prairie fire because the tactics selected and implemented were seen as intrusive and bossy and because two tenured professors have made opposition to PSU’s wellness initiative their current purpose in life.  Let’s face it; you know the HR grenade has gone off when petitions like this have monster momentum.

Business units often fall prey to initiatives that are high profile, have upper management attention, finance’s support and involve lots of activity and moving parts.  These attributes are catnip to many in HR.  My advice is:  Be very, very careful.  If the execution grinds against both employees and their families you can bet the ranch they will complain to their managers.  Next thing you know upper management begins to worry that the program “has become a distraction”, all of the folks who supported you during development of the programs are nowhere to be found, and you are left holding the bag.

I have seen very successful wellness plans willingly supported by employees and others the employees wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.   The bottom line for me is culture.  If the tactics proposed by a consultant (say, me) are inconsistent with your culture, then demand others.  Your job may depend on it.