Wellness “Point-Solutions” Aren’t the Answer

In 2009, Dee Edington wrote “Wellness in this country went down the wrong path when the decision was made to focus solely on individuals in specific programs. This strategy typically results in extremely low participation rates… Low participation coupled with low success at behavior change results in almost no change in company outcomes. The effective focus needs to shift to programs for populations, which translates, when successful, into total population engagement.” As compelling as the research, business case, and information in his book Zero Trends is, unfortunately, not many organizations listened.

Despite that being written more than a decade ago, there’s been very little change. The vast majority of organizations and brokers are still trying to push the latest best-in-class wellness point solution and attempting to create a “culture of wellness” by stacking disparate independent puzzle pieces, despite the overwhelming evidence that they achieve very little at the population level.

Fast forward to today, and we’re still essentially having the same conversation. Richard Safeer’s 2023 book A Cure for the Common Company discusses the way in which traditional point-solution wellness initiatives depend too much on individuals taking responsibility for their own health in isolation and how that is incredibly difficult to do without a more collective and united shift in group behavior or workplace culture. Yes, a different angle, but essentially calling out the same problem as Edington over a decade ago.

A genuine wellness value proposition is still there if you can effectively engage your employee population in positive health behaviors. The American College of Lifestyle Medicine shows how 8 poor health behaviors are the key drivers of 15 chronic conditions which are responsible for 80% of disease burden and cost in this country. Various data indicates that very few American’s (less than 5%) maintain what is considered to be a healthy lifestyle and a study from UNC determined only 12% of American’s are “metabolically healthy”. So, a massive value potential still exists for organizations that can genuinely shift the needle on their population’s health behaviors.

To truly improve employee health and wellbeing to a level that impacts organizational performance, a more integrated approach to promoting health education and positive health behaviors at a population level is more effective than the more common model of stacking isolated point solutions. And because most organizations still haven’t adopted it – doing so still presents an incredible competitive advantage for those who do.

Why the Most Common Workplace Wellness Model is Ineffective

There are quite simple and logical reasons why pieced together wellness programs fail to get, and keep your employees engaged, and thus achieve very little sustainable outcomes:

  1. Having an array of small and targeted programs available to selectively eligible employees divides and isolates your population as opposed to uniting them towards a common goal and more collective culture of health. Many employees targeted for disease management feel marginalized. When points and incentives are involved participation becomes transactional and finite, neither of which leads to sustainable changes in health behaviors or organizational benefits.
  2. Having multiple point-solutions requires employees to be proactive in order to engage, and often not just once, but if you actually expect them to participate in all the parts or programs they could benefit from, you’re expecting them to repeatedly engage and re-engage. Most people simply don’t have the time or energy to bother navigating them.
  3. As a direct result of point 2 above, trying to make employees aware of all the available programs and encourage them to find and participate in the ones that are relevant means there is constant campaigning. Campaign fatigue is a real thing. It’s inefficient for your HR and benefits team and it becomes incredibly annoying to your employees.
  4. When programs are built by stacking point solutions, they become incredibly disjointed. They are often managed by multiple vendors and participating in different program elements become distinctly independent experiences as opposed to helping provide a clear and progressive pathway for an individual to improve their health. At best, this probably gives employees pieces of information that require individuals to figure out the parts in between, but at worst, they may get conflicting information from different programs.
  5. Health is complex. Health behaviors and health outcomes are intricately intertwined. It simply doesn’t make sense to try to address individual elements of health in isolated programs. It makes far more sense, and creates a far clearer understanding and pathway to health improvement when people are taught to understand the inter-relations between health behaviors and how they can impact multiple elements of overall health and wellbeing (physical, mental, and emotional health linked with workplace safety and performance).

I fully understand how we got here. Making dramatic changes to the work environment and culture are difficult. It’s easier to add peripheral benefits than to change how your company operates. On paper, it also makes sense: As Richard Safeer explores, we are a society that praises individual achievement, while underappreciating collective effort. We talk about individual choices, individual work ethic and being self-made. Often, we think offering choices and opportunities should be enough to let our go-getters take advantage and advance themselves. So, as long as we’ve offered a compelling and competitive list of health benefits, then the rest it up to our employees, right?

That does fit with our society, but just look at how that approach has failed us. I don’t even need to list health statistics. You already know we’re the sickest, fattest, loneliest and most medicated bunch of people ever to roam. We also know that the average participation rate in workplace healthy lifestyle and health coaching initiatives is (depending on your source) around 12-17% or less of most workforce populations, and even those figures are somewhat inflated as a result of dubious definitions of “engaged”. What’s more, those numbers have remained stagnant for over a decade despite all the fancy apps, new tools, A.I., and fancy latest and greatest marketing of your point solution vendors. Why is that so? Because people simply do not respond to this model as per the 5 simple reasons above.

A Better Way to Improve Employee Health and Wellbeing

What if we go back to the model that Edington spoke about a decade ago? What if we shift away from divided programs and shift towards more simple, more consistent, consolidated programs that are properly integrated into the work environment and that garner more organic collective engagement from our people as a normal part of their workflow?

This is no longer theoretical as Edington posed it in describing the business case for a “Champion Company”. It is happening in other countries, and slowly emerging within forward thinking companies here in America.

In those organizations, ongoing participation in health and lifestyle education and behavior change programming exceeds 80-90% of the total employee population, even without the need for incentives. With that level of captive, progressive education, the rates of positive and sustained health and lifestyle behavior change are significant, and, as lifestyle is a key driver of so much disease burden and cost, these organizations can measure significant reductions in the prevalence of chronic health risks and associated health savings. Sound too good to be true? I invite you review data that accompanies the 2022 Koop National Health Award winner. They maintain in excess of 90% of their total population being touched by the program annually and in excess of 30% of their total employee population achieving measured health risk reductions. That’s more than double the volume or people making cost saving health improvements than average organizations even get participating in healthy lifestyle programs.

Having a significant positive impact on employee health and wellbeing isn’t incredibly complicated. It does require a little hard work and a shift in current thinking. Believe it or not, most people want to be healthy, and in the same way that progressive education helps people learn any skill, consistent and progressive health programming properly integrated into the work environment is also very effective at building the skills for your people to live a healthier, more product, and more fulfilling lifestyle.

We can’t keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing for the past decade. If you really want to get ahead and gain a competitive advantage then you can’t simply keep doing the same thing your competitors are doing.

If you would like to design a better workplace health initiative that is more likely to provide sustainable value for your people and your organization, I encourage you reach out and we can provide insight and case study examples to show how these programs work in the real world, and how they can transform the health of your team.

Why you might consider a “Dry July”

I enjoy a drink to unwind or in social situations as much as many other people, but I also have a healthy respect for what alcohol can do to my body, and as such, embrace periods of non-consumption.

For some, this past holiday weekend may have been a little indulgent. Despite already being a few days into July, it’s not too late to think about making the remainder of the month a “Dry July”.

I’ve borrowed this term from an Australian foundation that promotes Dry July as event and challenge to raise money for those affected by cancer. You can check out it’s origins and information about the work they do here.

Despite its Aussie roots, there’s no reason it can’t be embraced wherever you may be.

Here’s a little bit of info about what alcohol does to your body, and a couple of specific reasons why you might consider taking a break – either short or long-term.

1. Sleep

Many people think alcohol helps them sleep. This is a misunderstanding. Alcohol is a depressant, and yes, in the short-term, it can initially make you feel sleepy or help you fall asleep quicker; however, it is more disruptive to sleep later in the night. During the night, your body goes through a number of sleep phases – each of which has a very specific purpose and contributes to key functions like immunity, memory and brain function, cell repair and body maintenance. When you have alcohol in your system, it specifically disrupts the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) phase of your sleep cycle. You’ll likely experience a more restless sleep and not feel as well restored the following day. Everyone seems to be exhausted all the time as it is, why exacerbate that by knowingly disrupting your sleep quality?

2. Core Health Functions

Alcohol consumption is known to weaken your immune system. It can also cause changes in blood pressure and potentially increase triglycerides, both of which are key markers of cardiovascular health. More recently, there are associations with impaired brain and memory function. Perhaps these are related to the poor sleep that alcohol induces, or perhaps there are other mechanisms. Either way, alcohol can impact many elements of our short and long-term health with the impacts often more significant with higher levels of intake.

3. GI and Inflammation Issues

I haven’t collected empirical data, but from most anecdotal and general media sources, the number of Americans suffering from digestive issues is rising. There are most likely a combination of factors including diet, stress, fatigue, and inflammation as well as our population’s high use of medications. But for anyone who does experience GI issues, you may be interested to know that alcohol can also contribute. Alcohol can irritate GI tissues and contribute to both gut and systemic inflammation. It can also alter or disrupt the balance of your microbiome and can contribute to bloating and other GI distress.

Summer is a traditional time to take a vacation, hit the beach, do some grilling, go camping, or just get together with your friends and family. Often, alcohol tags along for the ride. But recognizing that so many of us are, or have been struggling with managing our stress, fatigue, and health in the wake of the pandemic, perhaps you might see a benefit to enjoying some time this summer without alcohol. You can still have plenty of fun, and just maybe, you might feel a little better while doing so.

HBD provides the industry’s best total population workplace health and wellbeing programs. We create programs for the real world, integrated into your workflow to more naturally engage your employees, providing relevant and progressive health education. From general wellness to mental health and ergonomics, we can create comprehensive health solutions or targeted interventions. If you want to experience the benefits of a healthier and more engaged workforce, then get in touch with us today.

Strategies To Manage These 4 Mental Health Risks in The Workplace

Written for HBD International by Amy Copley

A person’s mental health affects the way they function, especially in the workplace. For instance, mental health heavily affects employee productivity. Among surveyed working adults in the US, 55% admitted to experiencing mild to moderate stress, which has led them to become unproductive for about 3 hours a day. Burnout can also cause poor quality work and more mistakes, slowing down workflow.

To help counter these issues, below are some strategies that can help you manage different mental health risks in the workplace:


Nearly 79% of employees experience workplace stress, making it the most common mental health risk. Stress born out of conflict within the workplace can lead to headaches, for example, and long hours can lead to insufficient rest.

One management technique encouraged by experts is to observe transparency in the workplace. Encourage employees to bring up their concerns, such as impossible deadlines or uncooperative teammates. This will allow you to make the necessary changes to ensure a positive and productive working environment. If they’re new to the position or project, also grant them sufficient time to adjust to the workflow. Don’t expect big things on Week 1.


Burnout has many causes but the two most common ones are heavy workloads and lack of control. Heavy workloads or unrealistic deadlines leave employees feeling overwhelmed. Autonomy is identified by Daniel Pink as one of three critical elements for motivation, so a lack of control over their schedule or assignments results in a sense of helplessness and quickly erodes employee motivation.

Organizationally, you can help prevent burnout with appropriate leave policies and allowing people to have some flexibility in their schedules or where they work. It can also pay to educate employees about personal strategies to manage their stress and energy by adopting smart health and recovery behaviors such as taking breaks, short walks, exercise, or breathing exercises. If employees are already suffering from burnout, understand that it is a legitimate physical and psychological condition and consider options to reassign them to lighter tasks and projects at least until they recover.


Presenteeism is the act of coming to work despite being ill or distracted, resulting in a less productive day. According to management consultants, presenteeism usually happens when a company has limited or no paid sick days and unrealistic expectations for its employees.

To avoid this, establish and communicate clear policies. Let your workers know the amount of sick leave they have, and what other factors can allow them to be excused from work. You can also avoid presenteeism by setting a good example. If you come to work when you’re sick, they will expect that they need to do the same.


When an employee experiences discrimination, they become less engaged. If a worker feels that a person does not deserve to work due to certain characteristics like gender, it can lead to unfair treatment. An unsafe working environment can also reduce their productivity as they may worry more about their well-being.

The first thing you can do to prevent this is to hire diverse people. When people realize that your culture is one that accepts people no matter their societal or economic background, office jabs can potentially lessen.

Of course, you can’t control everyone’s actions. As such, you need to include policies that allow employees to file formal HR complaints if ever they’re targets of discriminatory acts at work. Workplace discrimination is prohibited and punishable by law, so you can take action by ensuring your workers adhere to that law.

Mental health risks in the workplace affect your business and employees at multiple levels, and as such, a layered approach to managing them by looking at policies, culture, and individual education can help to avoid difficulties and secure your employees’ overall well-being and performance for the short- and long-term.

HBD has a range of proactive programs to help employers manage mental health and performance risks. From specialist executive programs to total population solutions, we help empower employees to better understand and manage their personal health, energy, and performance. Contact us to learn more.

Science-backed ways to help break the stress cycle

Stressed? You’re not alone. The 2021 APA Work and Well-being Survey of adult U.S. workers found 79% experiencing workplace stress, and nearly 3 out of 5 reporting negative impacts of work-related stress, including lack of interest, motivation, or energy and lack of effort at work. A third also reported cognitive weariness, emotional exhaustion and physical fatigue which are key characteristics of psychological burnout.

There are a myriad of issues that cost your workers and your business if worker stress festers uncontrolled. Some affect shorter-term costs like productivity and turnover (note how burnout is associated with energy depletion and exhaustion, mental distancing from work, and feelings or negativity or cynicism related to one’s job), while others affect costs in other longer term ways through increased disease and healthcare costs (check out this recent NYT article summarizing how stress is an independent risk factor for chronic disease).

So stress is a problem, no doubt. But what do we do about it? The problem with stress is that it’s highly personal and situational. What one person perceives as stressful is different to another and something that might not affect you one day might totally stress you under different circumstances. Too often we’re led to believe we can either just get over it or push through it, or we’re told generic strategies like “just breath”… which in the moment seem about as useful as a spoon when you need to tool to shovel snow from your driveway. Too often we’re not given solid science-back reasoning to add credibility or purpose to the techniques we’re being told. Unless you know the mechanism behind why a strategy is helpful, not only might you be less inclined to do it, but you might not use the technique correctly for it to achieve its purpose.

A great example of this is mindfulness and meditation. Touted as the “it” thing to be doing to beat stress, most people don’t understand the neuroscience behind it, and without that context, their attempts to embrace it are often shallow, ineffective, and therefore unsatisfying and unsustainable. What could be an incredibly enlightening tool gets cast aside as something that “doesn’t work for me.”

That’s why understanding how stress works, in your brain, and specifically how simple techniques that can break the psychological and physiological loops can be game-changing for individuals, and by extension, organizations.

The basic physiological and psychological coupling of perceived and realized stress.

When you get nervous, a collection of physiological changes occurs in your body. Your heart rate increases, your muscles tense up, you start sweating, and you feel hyperaware of your surroundings. Your brain also names this collection of behaviors as a specific emotion: fear. You know this process as the “fight or flight” response – your body is getting ready to either fight or flee from a stressful situation.

What is currently unknown in neuroscience is which step in the fight or flight process comes first – does your brain identify the emotion of fear, which causes your body to initiate the fight or flight response? Or instead, does your body undergo the fight or flight response, which is then interpreted by your brain as fear? What is most likely the answer is a mixture of both – a positive feedback system wherein the brain influences the body and the body influences the brain.

Something else that can be confusing is the phenomenon that many emotions labelled by the brain can be expressed physically in the same way. For example, where fear elicits an increased heart rate and muscle tension, so does excitement. This means that the automatic mental interpretation of a physical response can be overruled by a conscious interpretation instead. Reinterpreting what initially might be fear as instead excitement may help you achieve better control over your own nervous system.

A large body of research suggests that even the understanding of this fact can help you handle your stress towards an event. However, the implications of this neurological process run further – just as you can consciously control your mental interpretation of your body, you can consciously control your body to influence your mental interpretation. To put it another way, physical behaviors can change your brain chemistry which makes it easier to regulate your psychological narrative, while your psychological narrative can also regulate your physical symptoms.

This is where many people fall short. Most people try to reduce their stress from only one side, that is, they either try to use an internal narrative to will themselves out of it, or they attempt a physiological relaxation technique while allowing their mind to continue to run wild. Each undermines the effectiveness. Understanding even the basics of the interplay between your thoughts and your physical arousal, and learning to address both sides in unison can be far more profound for managing stress and building resilience.

Learning to control your thoughts, focus, and internal narrative can take some practice, but it can be easier if you learn to calm the physiological response first. And it’s some of those physiological responses where relaxation techniques can be used to hack your nervous system, giving you a better chance of subsequently calming your thoughts: calm your body, remove the sensations of panic, and then focus on resetting the narrative.

This is WHY or HOW some of those relaxation techniques you’ve always be told can actually be used to break the stress cycle.

A key player involved in our perception of being relaxed is the vagus nerve – a large nerve that begins in your brain and runs throughout your body. When we take a deep breath and our heart rate slows, that’s the vagus nerve in action.

Research by Dr. Dacher Keltner has suggested that people with stronger vagal nerve responses have better connections with others and experience more positive emotions than those with weaker vagal nerve responses. Not only is the vagus nerve responsible for feeling relaxed, it also helps us communicate and empathize with others, counteracts inflammation, improves memory, and bolsters your body’s immune function…isn’t it interesting that these are all things that can enhance your health and workplace performance?

Learning to stimulate the vagus nerve can be powerful in counteracting the fight or flight stress response. Scientifically supported techniques for stimulating the vagus nerve includes:

Deep breaths: breath slowly and deeply from the belly. Exhale longer than you inhale – the exhale is what triggers the relaxation response

Loud gargling: gargling with water activates our vocal cords which is connected to the vagus nerve, so is in turn stimulated

Humming: when you hum you create an extended exhale which releases a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. This neurotransmitter acts on the vagus nerve and helps you become more relaxed

Cold water face immersion: immerse your forehead, eyes, and cheeks into cold water. This elicits the vagus nerve through what’s known as the “Mammalian Dive Reflex” – when your body is submerged underwater, it will decrease the heart rate to conserve oxygen

Laughter: having a good laugh lifts your mood, boosts your immune system, and stimulates the vagus nerve

These are often recommended strategies to decrease stress. But most people don’t understand the neuroscience behind them, and without the the scientific explanation they’re easy to dismiss or ignore. The beauty of these evidence-based strategies is that most take next to no time. On their own they won’t completely solve your stress issues – but even breaking that internal stress cycle for a little bit can help give your brain and body a break, and that can start to help you reduce some of the negative things associated with stress and the constant “activation” of our stress response.

Properly helping employees learn about their stress responses along with practical personal strategies to recognize and break their own stress cycles, or to balance addressing stress from both the psychological and physiological sides together can significantly reduce the impact stress has on our collective health and performance.

If you want to improve stress management and unlock the potential of your team, contact us to learn how HBD uses the science of individual brain chemistry to develop one-of-a-kind executive health or team health and high-performance programs.

Re-imagining Work to Dodge the Great Resignation

Re-imagining the work environment to dodge The Great Resignation

You’re probably already sick of the term “The Great Resignation”, but even so, you can’t ignore it, and furthermore, you should be thinking of how to be proactive in order to limit its impact.

2021 saw a global shift in the labor force where workers have quit their jobs at historic rates. The reasons for this trend are varied, ranging from pandemic burnout to a psychological shift to seek greater fulfilment from work. Considering this labor market will most likely continue through 2022, we can consider why some industries are being affected by mass exodus compared to others that have maintained their employee relationship and fostered a positive work environment.

What sectors are seeing a wave of quitting?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average quit rate in the U.S. for November was 3%. That may not seem too high, but when you look at specific industries, some have been affected more than others. These industries include Leisure and Hospitality (6.4% quit rate), Professional and Business Services (3.7%), and Trade, Transportation, and Utilities (3.6%).

Despite hospitality and retail trade traditionally having a high turnover rate, these rates are still notably higher than previous years. While these industries were heavily impacted by the disruption of the pandemic, the pandemic also exposed how these trades failed to effectively support their workers. These two industries are low-wage and notorious in their maltreatment of employees, both internally and externally from patrons. The pandemic saw added pressure on this already challenging industry, where workers were accosted for enforcing COVID protocols or being slow when understaffed, all while putting themselves on the frontline and jeopardizing their own health. Consequently, many workers may have simply seen little motivation to return to these jobs where they were overworked and underpaid.

The high quit rate from professional and business services also raises questions as to the nature of the corporate profession and why people are no longer feeling fulfilled in this sector. While these careers offer more stability than hospitality and retail trade, they are not without flaws. During the pandemic, business services saw extended hours, inflexibility in child-care despite school closures, and a high stress environment without social entertainment to counteract work life. This resulted in workers re-evaluating their priorities in day-to-day life, with the consensus being a desire to dedicate more time to their families and life outside of work.

How to create a more supportive work environment for employees

The mass exodus is sending a signal to employers. Certain work standards that have been previously tolerated are now exposed as outdated and inflexible in the current climate. As a result, there is an imperative for employers to acknowledge this shift in worker values and adapt their work life expectations accordingly. While this includes systematic changes, such as flexibility to work remotely and extended time for leave, it also includes creating a genuine work environment that is committed to supporting employee wellbeing.

A supportive work environment can be fostered through developing a larger sense of belonging in the work community. The emphasis on creating a workforce with diversity, equity, and inclusion lends itself to the larger ethos of welcoming and valuing every employee for who they are. This removes the need for workers to intentionally hide aspects of themselves if they feel the need to fit in and downplay a stigmatized identity to belong.

Creating an environment where all people feel they belong not only removes the added labor of trying to hide certain aspects of themself, but also allows workers to contribute at their highest level by developing an affinity to the organization.

Work environments should also pivot away from the mantra of “business as usual”, as the reality is this is very much not business as usual. People are struggling, facing issues that range from illnesses and quarantines to financial instability and inconsistent childcare availability. It is important to recognize that previous business targets may no longer be reasonable in our current climate due to the added layers of stress on your employees. Businesses must make time for their employees and consider what additional support structures they can implement to help and encourage their team to be healthy first, and then productive. This could include accommodating flexible hours, working from home, redistributing resources, or providing extended leave where possible. The bottom line is for businesses to not drive out workers who are already stressed due to extraordinary circumstances and instead serve as a point of stability by accommodating their concerns.

Finally, it is important for businesses to be proactive in creating a culture of caring, focusing on the needs and wellbeing of their workers. People want to feel safe in their work environment and should be able to bring forward their concerns and strengths knowing that it will be heard by their leaders. Having leaders who displays empathy and who demonstrate a sense of caring makes people feel safe to be more vulnerable. People feel safer to speak up and work through barriers rather than simply giving up and trying to find an alternative place to work for fear of being judged or looking weak. Research demonstrates that caring about workers improves employee engagement, resulting in higher motivation, better performance, and greater likelihood to go above and beyond what is required of them.

Work norms in a post-COVID world

What is significant about the Great Resignation is not the fact that people are looking for new work, but the reasons for which they are leaving their previous work. These reasons are different to typical reasons of the past, where people are after more flexibility in working remotely, the ability to move from a 5-day working week to a 4-day week, extended time off, or wanting greater benefits and compensation packages. There’s a desire to establish a better work-life balance and have a work environment which is supportive in facilitating this. People also want to feel their work is connected to a meaningful purpose. These are extraordinary times, but perhaps a positive to come out of COVID-19 is the re-imagining of work standards which bring to the forefront the values of their workers.

HBD provides tailored programs that support employee health and wellbeing. Our programs have been shown to reduce stress, improve health, and improve employee engagement scores. We can develop programs for total populations, or specific groups such as managers or executives. If you want to improve the support you offer your people and improve metrics around health, mental health, and engagement, then we’d love to hear from you.