SPICE Up Corporate Wellness: A New Framework for Employee Health

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Jun 17, 2024

Corporations are facing a rapidly evolving landscape—especially when it comes to employee wellness. This can be seen in companies shifting their views on benefits, with a greater emphasis placed on supporting well-being. Employees now expect perks that go beyond traditional healthcare, including comprehensive mental health services, flexible work arrangements, and development opportunities.1


In line with these changing priorities, companies are increasing their offerings to better meet employee needs and expectations, despite predictions that health benefit costs per employee will rise. For example, Mercer’s 2024 Survey on Health and Benefit Strategies revealed that two-thirds of large employers are focused on enhancing their health and well-being benefits.2 This trend is further underscored by the American College of Sports Medicine's (ACSM) ranking of fitness trends for 2024, where worksite health promotion was placed at second.3 This growing focus on employee wellness emphasizes the crucial role corporations play in fostering a thriving and productive workforce.

Still not sure what all the fuss is about when it comes to employee wellness? Perhaps a more economical point of view might be more convincing. The financial implications of neglecting physical wellness are detrimental, with WHO projecting a cost burden of $300 billion due to physical inactivity by 2030.4 This once again points to the pivotal role of workplace wellness programs, especially in addressing physical inactivity, bolstering productivity, and even supporting mental health (which all turn out to have significant cost implications).

Here at The Decision Lab, our approach to fostering social impact through improving decisions is guided by SPICE: Socially conscious, Pragmatic, Inventive, Catalytic, and Evidence-based. This framework isn't just a collection of principles; it's a comprehensive approach we apply to help organizations solve real-world challenges with a scientific approach, always ensuring that evidence is the basis for everything. In this article, we’ll review how our SPICE model can help foster corporate wellness plans for a stronger, more resourceful, and more engaged workforce.

Behavioral Science, Democratized

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Socially Conscious: Integrating Community Purpose into Wellness

When considering the role of wellness in the corporate sphere, we should first look at initiatives focused on health as a means of making societal impacts. For instance, the MyHeart Counts app developed by the Stanford School of Medicine offers a unique angle by involving users in heart health research.5 This app, which gathers user data on physical activity such as walking and running, showcases how wellness initiatives can extend beyond individual health benefits, inviting users to contribute to broader public health by sharing insights that can help improve the lives of others. 

Another notable example we can take inspiration from is plogging,6 an activity combining picking up litter while jogging. From its humble beginnings by its Swedish inventor Erik Ahlström in 2016, plogging has evolved into a widespread movement with organized groups and even official events in some countries! Its popularity may perhaps be attributed to both its physical health benefits (imagine increasing your cardiovascular endurance from jogging and lower body strength from squatting to pick up litter!7) as well as the numerous psychosocial needs it fulfills. These include the need to enhance relationships with others or protecting the environment—ultimately leading to participants’ deriving self-satisfaction arising from their participation in an environmentally friendly physical activity that also benefits others.8

What we can take away from both examples above is that physical activities do not necessarily have to be solitary. In fact, there are social, environmental, and psychological benefits we can derive from making wellness activities more socially conscious ones. This comprehensive approach aligns with corporate social responsibility (CSR), a business approach that contributes to sustainable development by delivering economic, social, and environmental benefits for all stakeholders. Participation in CSR initiatives has been shown to enhance employee well-being and reduce burnout,9 emphasizing the potential holistic benefits of integrating socially conscious activities into corporate wellness strategies.

Pragmatic: Integrating Practicality into Employee Well-being

Most of us claim that lack of time is our main barrier to physical activity and exercise.10 In light of this, there is a growing need for wellness solutions that can quickly and easily be integrated into employees' daily lives. Deriving inspiration from behavioral science such as habit formation, wellness programs can be designed to allow employees to fit benefits into their busy schedules.

There is a lot of research supporting the effectiveness of small, consistent changes in health behaviors.11 This means wellness habits don’t have to be complicated—in fact, they’re more effective when they’re not. Companies can set up flexible fitness schedules and wellness activities that encourage regular participation without stressing employees out. Take the overwhelming success of the “five-Business device” as an example.12 In this program, employees participated in short, 10-minute targeted stretches using a machine designed for office environments to help improve flexibility and reduce muscle tension. During the pilot study, most participants shared fewer physical complaints over 12 weeks.

Beyond the realm of physical wellness, pragmatism can also be extended to mental health. For example, brief mindfulness sessions can greatly benefit employees.13 In this study, employees took part in a 10-minute guided meditation in the morning and a five-minute session after lunch for five weeks. The results showed increased mindfulness and reduced psychological distress, including stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue. 

In summary, practical wellness solutions are about fitting health into the average workday in a simple and effective way. These approaches make it easier for employees to maintain their physical and mental health, hopefully leading to a more balanced and productive workforce.

Inventive: Adapting Livvy’s Strategies to Corporate Wellness

For TDL, inventive solutions are those not constrained by the current reality. This principle entails a commitment to exploring inventive solutions especially when no existing one adequately addresses the problem. Our work on Livvy in partnership with Chronwell is not only a testament to this principle our organization lives by but may also serve as a guiding inspiration for corporations in their quest for more inventive wellness solutions. 

TDL was approached by the healthcare company Chronwell to assist in giving their app Livvy a behavioral boost. Even if Livvy was designed to be an all-in-one hub for helping Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) patients understand and manage their condition, exploring some lessons learned from this endeavor may offer rich insights for corporate wellness in general. This is especially in light of Livvy’s innovative approach to health management—combining user-centered design and behavioral science in order to achieve a more effective experience for its users.

Before jumping ahead to “inventing” a solution, there is a need to first understand the current reality of the problem it’s aiming to address. In Livvy’s case, this meant understanding who the users were: what motivated them, what health risks they faced, and which of their needs remained unmet. TDL carried out an extensive primary research phase, surveying around 800 individuals at high risk of or already diagnosed with NAFLD to understand their journeys with liver health, their current diet and exercise habits, past successes and failures with lifestyle changes, and so on. This enabled TDL to create a behavioral framework identifying the key barriers preventing our target population from making key changes, as well as a number of evidence-based behavior change techniques (BCTs) proven to help combat them.

This framework made it easier to identify which key behaviors to focus on to avoid cognitive biases and keep users engaged and feeling empowered. One example bias that our target population faced was the planning fallacy which occurs when we underestimate the amount of time and effort it will take us to accomplish a future task. One design recommendation in response was for Livvy to prompt users proactively who commit to unsustainable wellness goals to keep them in a productive positive feedback loop. Such that, if a user is observed to be struggling to adhere to their action plans, our app design recommendation was to provide them with a blurb detailing the planning fallacy and prompt them to revise the associated goal to something achievable.

Here are some nuggets of wisdom we can take away from Livvy’s inventiveness that can perhaps be applied to the corporate setting:

  • Behavioral Science Tactics for Sustained Participation: Corporations should set achievable wellness targets for employees, focusing on participation in wellness activities rather than specific physical outcomes. Leaders can encourage employees to attend fitness classes, take scheduled breaks for stretching or relaxation exercises, or participate in mental health workshops. Providing regular feedback or recognition for consistent participation can boost motivation and long-term engagement. The key is to create a supportive environment that fosters regular involvement in wellness activities without overwhelming employees.
  • Technological Adaptation for Engagement: Corporate wellness programs can make use of technology to keep employees engaged. Take, for example, a wellness app that sends scheduled customized reminders for employees to engage in a behavior like taking a break to stretch or doing a quick breathing exercise. 
  • User-Centered Design: Livvy’s user-centered design entailed doing an in-depth study of their target audience to understand their unique needs, pain points, and motivations. Given the diversity of workplaces, it is possible that there may be an additional need to be flexible and adaptable in wellness programs created. This may entail, for example, offering a variety of fitness classes ranging from high-intensity workouts to gentler forms, catering to different physical abilities and interests to make wellness more inclusive and accessible to all employees.

Catalytic: Sparking Innovative Change

Here at TDL, we recognize the importance of starting small and iterating quickly so that we can manage the changes made in a deliberate and responsible manner. We also ensure that we not only develop solutions that spark rapid transitions to new paradigms but that we also first and foremost establish pre-conditions for catalytic projects to take off. Applied to the sphere of corporate wellness, this may entail the following:

  • Creating Pre-conditions for Broad Adoption: Establishing a supportive environment is crucial for laying the groundwork for catalytic shifts. This involves getting buy-in from the company’s key leaders, who can endorse wellness initiatives and set a positive example for the rest of the organization. Additionally, identifying and empowering “wellness champions” within the organization—employees who are passionate about wellness and can motivate their peers—helps build a culture of health from within. Informational campaigns can also play a role, in educating employees about upcoming wellness programs and preparing them for more significant wellness improvements and changes.
  • Iterative Development for Positive Change: Start with small changes and continue to adapt based on employee feedback and wellness results. This ensures that the development of a company’s wellness initiative is a direct response to the needs of its employees.

These catalytic strategies may help a company to embark on its wellness journey. Starting with small nudges and iteratively building upon them allows for a controlled and effective transition to a new, more comprehensive state of employee wellness, embodying TDL’s vision of sparking and managing change for positive outcomes.

Evidence-based: Guided by Rigorous Research and Real-World Insights

At TDL, we try to always ensure that we use evidence to guide our actions. We do this through robust experimentation and integrating our findings into a wider body of knowledge, coming from many people and many places. This cohesive landscape of insights then allows us to triangulate the best course of action.

In applying an evidence-based approach to corporate wellness, we can take inspiration from the MyHeart Counts Canada (MHCC) app which was made possible through our partnership with McGill University Health Centre, as it exemplifies the importance of evidence-based research and rigorous analyses in promoting wider participation and impact in wellness initiatives.

Mirroring MHCC’s comprehensive user research, companies could conduct surveys and focus groups which could be used to gather insights on employees’ wellness needs in the corporate setting. Employee health data could also be examined to reveal wellness opportunities, threats, and challenges to develop wellness programs that address the real needs and preferences of employees.

Data collection is only one side of the story; what is equally as important is how one transforms data into actionable strategies. Similar to MHCC’s translation of data insights into app features, companies can also explore ways to create targeted wellness interventions. This may entail developing customized mental health programs made for departments facing a highly stressful environment, or perhaps tailoring fitness programs for sedentary job roles.

A critical component of this evidence-based approach is dynamic monitoring and adaptation. Launching a wellness initiative is all well and good, but the need to consistently assess its effectiveness and impact is what ensures its long-term success and sustainability. Setting up systems to ensure this happens is key, and will allow for ongoing refinement and adjustment of the initiative to take place. This ensures that wellness initiatives remain effective, pertinent, and aligned with the evolving needs and health trends of employees. 

SPICE-ing Up Corporate Wellness

Integrating the SPICE framework into corporate wellness programs goes beyond traditional health initiatives by integrating strategies that can improve employee well-being across various aspects. Each pillar of SPICE—Socially conscious, Pragmatic, Inventive, Catalytic, and Evidence-based—brings a unique flavor to the wellness mix, offering companies a comprehensive approach to nurture not just a healthy workforce, but a vibrant, engaged, and socially responsible corporate community.

The right mix of SPICE differs from one organization to another. Are you looking to tailor-fit these components to your company's unique circumstances? Get in touch with us today to discover how our rigorous research and inventive strategies can help you design a successful wellness program.

References

1. Routt, D. (2022, July 1). Shifting priorities: Rethinking employee benefits. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbeshumanresourcescouncil/2022/07/01/shifting-priorities-rethinking-employee-benefits/?sh=1ca26025222a

2. Umland, B. (n.d.). Planning for 2024: Employers will enhance benefits, avoid cost-shifting. https://www.mercer.com/en-us/insights/us-health-news/survey-post-1/

3. Newsome, A. M., Reed, R., Sansone, J., Batrakoulis, A., McAvoy, C., & W. Parrott, M. (2024, January). 2024 ACSM Worldwide Fitness Trends: Future Directions of the Health and Fitness Industry. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, 28(1), 14–26. https://doi.org/10.1249/fit.0000000000000933

4. Global status report on physical activity 2022. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2022. License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.

5. Stanford Medicine. (n.d.). MyHeart Counts. Retrieved from https://med.stanford.edu/myheartcounts.html

6. United Nations Environment Programme. (2018). Plogging: The eco-friendly workout trend that’s sweeping the globe. UNEP. https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/plogging-eco-friendly-workout-trend-thats-sweeping-globe

7. Raghavan, R., Panicker, V. V., & Emmatty, F. J. (2020, July 3). Posture based Assessment of Plogging Activity. 2020 International Conference on System, Computation, Automation and Networking (ICSCAN). https://doi.org/10.1109/icscan49426.2020.9262447 

8. Kim, J., Kim, S., & Chung, J. (2023). Examining the relationship between pro-environmental attitudes, self-determination, and sustained intention in eco-friendly sports participation: A study on plogging participants. Sustainability, 15(15), 11806. https://doi.org/10.3390/su151511806 

9. Naveed Ahmad, Zia Ullah, Hyungseo Bobby Ryu, Antonio Ariza-Montes & Heesup Han (2023) From Corporate Social Responsibility to Employee Well-Being: Navigating the Pathway to Sustainable Healthcare, Psychology Research and Behavior Management, 1079-1095, DOI: 10.2147/PRBM.S398586 

10. Cavallini, M., Callaghan, M., Premo, C., Scott, J., & Dyck, D. (2020). Lack of time is the consistent barrier to physical activity and exercise in 18 to 64 year-old males and females from both South Carolina and Southern Ontario. Journal of Physical Activity Research, 5(2), 100-106. https://doi.org/10.12691/jpar-5-2-6

11. Gardner, B., Lally, P., & Wardle, J. (2012). Making health habitual: the psychology of 'habit-formation' and general practice. The British journal of general practice: The journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners, 62(605), 664–666. https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp12X659466

12. Holzgreve F, Fraeulin L, Haenel J, et al. (2021). Office work and stretch training (OST) study: effects on the prevalence of musculoskeletal diseases and gender differences: a non-randomised control study. BMJ Open 2021;11:e044453. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-044453

13. Grégoire, S., & Lachance, L. (2014). Evaluation of a brief mindfulness-based intervention to reduce psychological distress in the workplace. Mindfulness, 6, DOI: 10.1007/s12671-014-0328-9.

About the Author

Mariel Guevara

Mariel Guevara

Mariel Guevara is a Junior Research Analyst at The Decision Lab. She is currently pursuing her MA degree in Developmental Psychology at Ateneo de Manila University. She has held several research positions in the past spanning different technology-mediated interventions tackling issues such as substance use prevention, mental health promotion, and civic engagement. She is especially passionate about making mental health services more accessible in the Philippines. In her free time she enjoys playing video games, going on nature walks, and playing sports.

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