Enough With Prescriptive Wellness, Let’s Dig Deeper

Enough With Prescriptive Wellness, Let’s Dig Deeper

I am here with Rachel Druckenmiller, the founder and CEO of UNMUTED. I think today’s topic is a more obvious one, especially with the superficial support that people are getting as they’ve moved to remote work. But we are going to talk about prescriptive wellness today and how we can dig deeper. 

What Is Prescriptive Wellness? 

Ruthie: So Rachel, could you define for us what the term “prescriptive wellness” means?

Rachel: We may have been exposed to occasions when the company says, “Oh, we have a stress issue, so we need to bring in a massage therapist. I’m pretty sure a 20-minute seated massage will fix that.” 

Or, “People here are very sedentary and not eating well. So let’s just put apples in the kitchen. It’s okay if we still serve pizza every day.” 

Even something like, “We just have to put programs in place, like making sure everyone’s drinking their water or having people track different things. And we have to make sure they know their blood pressure, because if they know, they’ll change.” 

I spent 13 years in that space. I found that’s not exactly how it worked.

Ruthie: Definitely not. 

enough with prescriptive wellness

What Temporary Band-Aids Do Companies Give Their Employees?

Ruthie: You’ve already listed a few, but what other types of band-aids do you normally see companies putting into place for their employees? 

I think I’m particularly interested in how your initial assessments of your clients go. I’m sure a lot of them are trying, but they’re not sure why it’s not working. So what are the things they usually try to have in place before they reach out to you?

Start With Your “Why” for Wellness

Rachel: Firstly, getting clear on why you’re doing it. The motivation matters. A lot of times we want to save money on our healthcare costs. We want to put in things to help people get well, which means we want to “fix” our employees. 

I can respect an organization that wants to save money. I want organizations to save money too! We just have a pretty strong lack of evidence to shows that prescriptive wellness approaches, without addressing the inherent and underlying culture of an organization, actually work.

If we just put on band-aids, we’re not actually going to generate long-term change. 

Your Main Motivation Should Be Your Employees

You should be doing it because you care about your people. That’s why my ideal clients are companies that understand that caring for people is not a box to check, but a long term investment.

It’s a culture strategy.

It’s part of who an organization is and what they stand for. So I think part of it is making the intention very clear and understanding that it’s not a quick fix. 

Learn more about identifying your company’s core values here.

Must Be Willing to Work With Leaders In Particular

It’s important that they’re willing to do the work with their leaders in particular. That’s because when I talk to companies and they say things like, “Our prescription claims for anxiety and depression are through the roof!”

Well yeah, because we’re in a state of collective trauma, so we want to make sure people have access to the things that they need to modulate themselves in the moment. 

But are we getting to the root cause?

Is there anything we can do systemically?

Are there changes we can make with our processes?

Is there anything we can do with our policies to better support people, so that they don’t feel like grabbing a pill is the only option they have?

People should feel like the organization cares about them enough to find out how else to best support them during this difficult time. 

Prescriptive Wellness in the Military

Ruthie: When I was in the Army, we used to have certain trainings that we had to get every month, every quarter, and some were annual. One that was quarterly was the sexual harassment assault and response training. 

For such a serious issue- especially as it runs rampant within the military, from my own experience as an example- it could not have been more prescriptive. Talk about eyes glazed over and “Here’s the slideshow…”. Oh my goodness. Get out of here. 

And before I had to get out, it was one of my missions to be one of the people who gave that training because I wanted to do it differently. I wanted to explore different options, but I wanted to find a way to make it stick.

I think that also speaks to your other point about companies understanding not how to do it, but that they need and want to do it. So you’re not convincing them. They’re leaning in already. 

I think that feeling I had where I was like, “No, this is not good. It’s necessary, but not good. We need to do better.” That’s the feeling that people should be approaching this with, right? We’re not doing a good job, but we need to do better. When you know, better do better.

Leadership Training is a Must

Rachel: I had a conversation with an organization when we were talking about doing some leadership training for them. They have about 270 employees and at least 30-40 people in positions of leadership or management. But they’ve done 0 leadership training for them in terms of people skills of any kind.

If you’re an organization that believes in and cares about your people, but you’re fighting me on taking more than 1 hr to invest in the training of your leaders, we’re probably not going to be a good fit. 

It Takes Time and Investment to Shift Company Culture

It’s going to take quite a bit of time and investment to really want to shift your culture in that way. And if the leaders aren’t on board, it’s going to be really hard for anything that you’re doing to stick. Gallup says that managers drive 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores. That’s a lot.

So we can sit there, point fingers at people and blame them for being lazy, or we can look behind the curtain and think, “How might we have some responsibility in this?” 

A very practical thing for organizations to do is really reflect on times when you’ve been at your best. When have you:

  • As an individual, been at your best?
  • As a leader, been at your best?
  • Been most proud?
  • Seen your organization at its best? 

Start from there. Connect it with when you’ve been at your best, because that’s energizing and it takes us from a place of fixing problems to imagining possibilities. And when we shift our thinking that way, that opens up tremendous opportunity.

Ruthie: That’s creativity and imagination. From all the books I’ve been reading, our ability to imagine the future that is not yet here is one of our greatest tools as human beings. So if you’re mired in all of the stress and you’re unengaged, then how could you possibly imagine what you could do next? 

How Do You Help Companies Realize What They Really Need?

Ruthie: What’s one of the first things that you look out for in these companies who aren’t arguing with you over spending that hour? What is one of the first things that you do to help them dig deeper and give their employees what they really need? 

I think that’s tricky, not just for the companies, but also the employees. Even as a consultant who works on an individual level, something I’ve noticed is that they tell me what they need and then we figure out that they actually need something else. So what is one of the first steps that you go through to help companies figure out what they really need vs. what they think they need?

What Companies Need Vs. What They Think They Need

Rachel: One thing that comes to mind is if an organization already has data to access, that I get to look at that. For example, if your company has applied to be recognized as the best place to work, chances are you have access to reports from your people telling you what’s working and what’s not.

People tell you enough in those types of evaluations that you can get a sense of what’s going on. 

I did a 3-part leadership training series with a group, and 80% of their leaders had PhDs. They were a super smart group, doing complex problem solving.

I like to interview a group of people from that group, and ask them, “When have you seen this team at its best? When you’re at your best, what are you seeing? Where are you seeing people feel stuck? When you’re not at your best, what’s getting in the way?” 

Getting to Know Clients Deeply

So I do as much as I can to really dig deep and understand the people that I’m going to be with, because nobody wants a consultant to come in from the outside and tell them how it is and what to do. They want to feel like you know them.

That’s one of the main pieces of feedback I get from my clients. Like you said in the beginning, “I really felt like you were talking to me. This was so relevant for me right now.” I don’t feel like I’ve done my job if I haven’t interviewed the people that are already connecting to these different groups and are already in positions of influence. 

Stories, Not Data, Are The Most Powerful Ways to Connect

I find that when I do that, I always get stories. And stories are one of the most powerful ways to connect, not data. I don’t care if you have a PhD, you are moved by a story because you are a human.

So I get them sharing stories with each other. If I’ve already gotten those stories ahead of time, I might give the spotlight to someone in particular and say, “Hey, you shared this really amazing story that perfectly describes this point.” So bring other voices into the room. 

Gone are the days where there was one person who is the expert and knows all the answers. That wasn’t ever actually even true; we just thought it was. We have to let other people be heard. 

Those are some initial things I do to get to know people. I like to ask this question: If you could wave a magic wand and change 3 things about your organization immediately, what would you change?

Ruthie: That’s a good question.

Rachel: It’s a possibility. It’s a creative question. Obviously you don’t have the magic wand, but if you did.

Ruthie: I mean, how are you going to get to it if you can’t even conceive of it?

Rachel: Exactly. 

Ruthie: I think, therefore I am. You have to be able to think it to bring it into being. So you’re obviously a woman after my own heart, but I love that, that you’re like, “Hey, give me the data that we have. Let’s look at the stories and see what we can pull out.” It’s bringing those two things together. 

Don’t Favor Stories or Data. Use Them to Get to the Root Issues

Because you have some people who are like, “Ugh, anecdotal evidence.” And then other people who are like, “Oh, that’s just a bunch of numbers! You could just manipulate it and make it say whatever you want it to say.”

But instead of favoring stories over data or data over stories, you make the most use of the resources that you have available. I think that that’s incredibly important. 

My large organizational experience is primarily when I was in the Army. So we did surveys for the data and the focus groups for the stories, but I can’t say that I ever really considered them a good use of my time. It’s really hard to get into the government space, but I think they need to take some notes from you.

Don’t Just Gather Information, Take Action!

Rachel: If an organization is going to work with me, I want to understand whether you’re willing to take action once you find this stuff out? Are you willing to make even incremental changes? Because if you’re going to survey people and find out what they think- but not actually change anything- you’re actually going to do more harm.

 Ruthie: I’m pretty sure the military only still runs because we have a contract basis. I signed up for 5 years the first time, and 6 years the second time. But thank you so much for that.

I really think like you’ve given people some things to think about. Whether you’re at the top, the bottom, or the middle, there’s a role for you here in breaking out of the prescriptive wellness chains that organizations are often bound by. So just thank you so much for shedding some light on that.

Rachel: Yeah. Great conversation.

Ruthie: So that’s it for today, but be sure to come back tomorrow because Rachel will have another episode and you’re not going to want to miss it. Plan to be here. 

enough with prescriptive wellness

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