What's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word 'social?' In today's connected world, you probably answered social media. Chances are, so did your clients' human resource professionals. Social media is definitely on everyone's radar, but when it comes to a corporate wellness program, you need to tune into another kind of frequency - social culture.

We talk a lot about culture in wellness programs. A company's culture is a marriage of backgrounds, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. Social culture is a reflection of how employees, from the top down, interact. Tapping into the social culture detects the instruments you need for building a successful corporate wellness program. How do you set your clients' antenna for uncovering the social culture? Here's a set of questions to jump-start the discussion.

Communication

Internal communications speak volumes about an organization's social culture. Look at how your client delivers company information.

* Is it a highly structured environment or more casual in nature?

* Do they use an intranet? Is communication email driven or in the form of written memos? Are there one-on-one discussions?

* What is the typical location for company meetings? Are they more formal or informal? Are employees given time to socialize?

Observe how employees interact. Are employees confined to their desks or do they meet in common gathering areas? Does your client know how their employees feel about the current means of communication? Employee surveys and focus groups are two ways your clients can find out.

Sponsored events

Another telling clue to the social culture of an organization exists in its company-sponsored events. Do your clients even have such events? Do employees look forward to the events? Are they involved in the planning? Do employees freely socialize or does it appear forced?

A directive about a company-sponsored event is very different from an invitation. Do employees feel invited or told? Is there a disconnect between management and employees over their perception of the event? Feedback from the employees puts it back on track to become a welcomed event.

You understand the importance of a commitment from the C-suite. It goes beyond signing off on a wellness program budget. The interaction of all employees, including the C-suite, defines the social culture. Sponsored events offer the perfect venue for that interaction.

Policies and procedures

HR professionals understand the need for policies and procedures. These guiding missiles keep employees on course and set the tone for the work environment.

Your consulting role may not involve adjusting policies and procedures, but understanding their importance to the social culture helps you create the right fit in wellness tools. Review your clients' policies and procedures for their impact on the social culture.

* Are policies and procedures strict rules or guidelines for behavior?

* Are there Internet access policies?

* Are breaks closely monitored?

An overly restrictive work environment discourages social interaction that is vital to the success of your clients' wellness efforts. Effective policies and procedures are a careful balance of structure and flexibility.

Zeroing in

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks the wellbeing of Americans in six categories, including the work environment. Four tenets of the category are job satisfaction, ability to use one's strengths at work, how supervisors treat employees, and if the supervisor creates an open and trusting work environment.

If your clients need help zeroing in on the social culture, the work environment category is a good place to start. Incorporate related questions into the next employee survey. An effective program considers the complete package - physical, emotional and social health. Go on a reconnaissance mission with a workplace assessment that gathers information about the social culture. You could discover differences at each worksite location or even between departments.

Ours is a socially-driven culture. Encouraging employees to interact enhances communication, helps break down stereotypes and provides peer support. You need only look at programs like Weight Watchers for evidence of the power of socializing. Its strength is in the community it creates.

Making the connection that a productive, healthy workforce starts with the individual and flourishes in a positive environment puts social culture on everyone's radar. Understanding your clients' social culture leads to better, personalized wellness solutions.

Taylor, CWPM, is a consultant and certified wellness program manager for Intercare Insurance Solutions in San Diego.

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