In the US, the concept of Workplace Wellness programs has become quite popular in recent years. The motivation for implementing these programs has been largely tied to either a direct or indirect correlation with savings in Health Insurance expenditures. As Employers address these areas the potential for broaching potentially sensitive and overly personal issues increases, which begs the question: are there additional benefits that can be gleaned from these programs that would justify treading so closely to an employee’s personal life?

A recent article in Employee Benefit News focused on the Health Programs of a manufacturer based in Nebraska who seems to have found a creative balance of objective health promotion with a mix of “corporate guidance counseling”. At Lincoln Industries every employee’s annual review contains a small component dedicated to wellness objectives. These objectives are set by each employee and, rather than being evaluated by their managers, they are encouraged to discuss, formulate, and self-critique their progress.

How does Lincoln Industries keep this from becoming an exercise in self-humiliation for employees? It seems that Lincoln Industries has trained its managers to do more listening in this activity and to offer encouragement above all else. The flexibility for employees to set their own goals also ensures that the discussion is kept within the employee’s comfort zone.

The HR manager at Lincoln Industries commented that she sees a wide variety of goals appear on reviews: some make it a goal to eat dinner with their family twice a week; others simply put their blood pressure measurement on the sheet; still others state they need to learn to relax. There is no verification of these results at any point and their “performance” in these areas can make up no more than 5% of floor employees’ scores and 15% of the score for managers.

What seems to have happened within the corporate culture at Lincoln Industries is that employees and managers develop a closer relationship through this activity. If a manger knows that an employee holds the goal of eating dinner at home twice per week, then the manager may be more understanding if the employee cannot stay late. Perhaps a manager and employee will share the same goal and can now develop a closer relationship based on discussing the obstacles they face. Top performers in the health programs are rewarded with an invitation to a mountain climbing trip with Lincoln’s top executives in Colorado.

Lincoln Industries (with a staff of 400 employees) has taken an innovative approach to accessing resources as well. Many HR managers may only look at HR-geared materials when addressing wellness issues, but the HR manager at Lincoln Industries has taken advantage of local universities and organizations for material. For example, one of the inspirations for Lincoln’s model was based on a local program for rehabilitating women returning to the workforce after fighting with substance abuse. The main lesson is that wellness issues are an overarching and multi-disciplinary issue. In the words of the Lincoln’s HR manager, “we’re dealing with life skills—conflict management, decision-making—and bringing that into our environment… [we’re] teaching people how to use coping skills and to really think about their behaviors and understand what perception is and to listen”.

What is clear is that not all Employers could have reached the same results as Lincoln Industries without a little elbow grease. Lincoln had already cultivated a strong corporate culture before launching their health programs and has focused on assigning the “right people” to oversee reviews and translate goals into meaningful results. For many corporations, the same level of dedication and “buying into” the idea may not be present across all levels of the organization.

Perhaps the lesson to be learned from Lincoln Industries is that wellness programs can become more than just the latest fad and can become a means for instilling in employees values that are important to the culture of your organization, can translate into a more-dedicated workplace, but ultimately focus on the development of the individual. Wellness programs may be more effective when viewed as a company-wide enrichment opportunity than a means of obtaining discounts or just another budgetary line item.