It’s no secret companies are paying more for healthcare, driven by a number of factors including an aging demographic, higher stress levels and the increased recognition and diagnoses of illnesses such as anxiety and depression across all age groups.

[Anne Marie Kirby]
[Anne Marie Kirby]

The good news is more organizations are aware of these impacts on employee well-being, performance and productivity.

To date, most company’s efforts have focused on programs designed to change employee behavior. However, health and well-being are influenced by many uncontrollable factors both at and away from work, including social, emotional, environmental and cultural influences.

To effectively change employee wellness, program providers need to better understand the influences of the complex systems in which people work and live.

This is where design thinking can play a critical role. Design thinking is a method of solving complex business problems by taking a human-centered approach — including creating healthier workplace cultures — with a focus on three main elements: people, business and technology.

“A set of principles collectively known as design thinking — empathy with users, a discipline of prototyping, and tolerance for failure chief among them — is the best tool we have for creating those kinds of interactions and developing a responsive, flexible organizational culture,” Jon Kolko, vice president of design at education software company Blackboard wrote in the Harvard Business Review. “This new approach is in large part a response to the increasing complexity of modern technology and modern business.”

Respected wellness industry veteran Dr. Dee Edington believes design thinking is key in creating effective wellness programs. That includes looking at the way people work. People need their interactions with technologies and other complex systems to be simple, intuitive and fun. The focus is on user experiences, especially emotional ones.

Edington’s latest book, Shared Values–Shared Results, co-authored with colleague Jennifer Pitts, emphasizes the need for all wellness stakeholders to play a role in improving health and wellbeing in an organization. For management, that means supporting positive organizational health; for employees, it’s taking action to improve individual health.

Successful technology has always followed design thinking, with proven success. For example, a little more than 10 years ago, less than the 1% of the world had an Internet connection. Social media was just beginning, Facebook had just opened for public use and the iPhone didn’t surface until 2007. Consider where we are today.

What has been achieved in the field of wellness in the same amount of time? While many more employers are offering wellness programs, many remain sub-standard and ineffective. There is an increased focus on behavioral economics, well-being and improving integration techniques, but execution is often poor.

It’s incumbent on wellness providers to adopt proven methodologies and find ways to make their programs both effective and sustainable, helping people focus on their own health and well-being. The application of design thinking is leading the way.

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