Which Is The More Realistic Goal for Worksite Wellness: Culture Change or Environmental Change?

Organizational change is a core focus of worksite wellness programs. And you do want to learn what type of organizational change you should be striving for, right?

Much is being written and discussed today about how worksite wellness programs need to be involved in creating a culture of health or a culture of wellness within their organization. But is this realistic? I think not and here are three reasons why I think this way.

Reason #1: Unless the organization is a new organization, the organization already has an existing culture so the task would not actually be creating a culture, but actually transforming the existing culture. Changing an existing organizational culture is not easy. Changing an existing organization’s culture is as difficult and challenging as it is to change an individual’s behavior.

Reason #2: Most of the strategies and tactics suggested for creating a culture of health or wellness actually focus only on environmental changes. They often reflect policy changes and changes to the physical environment such as changes in vending machines, on-site food service and fitness rooms or fitness centers.

It is important to point out that the environment is only one level of organization’s culture. Organizational culture consists of three levels: the environment, espoused values and underlying assumptions. Since the environment is the most visible of the three levels, it only makes sense that this level would garner the most attention and be the target of the suggested change strategies and tactics. But in order to actually change or transform an organization’s culture, all three levels of the culture need to be the focus of the change initiatives.

Reason#3: The espoused values level of an organization’s culture is only visible through the organization’s philosophies, writings and other concrete type articles or artifacts. A value is a broad preference for a particular way of doing things and for what is important to the individual. Values guide behavior. While values can and do change, the change process is neither easy nor swift.

The underlying assumptions level of an organization’s culture is deeply embedded, unconscious and generally taken for granted, therefore never questioned or challenged. The underlying assumptions constitute the essence of an organization’s culture and therefore are the most difficult to change. If they are ever identified and sought to change, any attempt at change will be seen as an attempt to change the very core of the organization and met with significant resistance.

Culture Change or Environmental Change: Since the organization culture change process can be daunting, I believe the more realistic goal would be to strive for environmental change, rather than culture change. A significant purpose behind any organizational change process should be to create a workplace environment which supports employees seeking to make or maintain healthy lifestyle behaviors. Workplace environments should be seen as safe environments where employees can safely test drive new lifestyle behaviors. Workplace environments should be environments where the healthiest choice is the easiest choice.

Unless the desired environmental changes so fly in the face of or conflict with the existing culture, environmental changes will be easier to successfully complete when compared to what would be required for a culture change initiative. At some point during the growth and maturation process of the worksite wellness program, a culture change initiative may need to be undertaken, but I believe a lot of good can happen for employee health, wellness and wellbeing within an organization before a culture change initiative may need to occur.

So let’s keep it simple and strive for environmental change rather than organizational culture change.

Creating Change

Creating individual and organizational change are core functions of a worksite wellness program. Wellness program leaders are change agents. I invite you to let me help you create your own effective, successful and sustainable program. I specialize in mentoring worksite program coordinators and creating Done With You worksite employee health and well-being programs. You can contact me at [email protected].

Brought to you by Bill McPeck, Your Worksite Wellness Mentor. Dedicated to helping employers and worksite program coordinators create successful, sustainable employee health and well-being programs, especially in small employer settings.