To say the least, 2014 was a tumultuous year for Workplace Wellness. Thanks to the Wellness Provisions in the ACA we saw a veritable “Wild West” explosion of workplace wellness providers and programs. And, almost simultaneously, a plethora of problems. There were bogus claims of exorbitant ROIs (some that were not only impractical but mathematically impossible), allegations of illegality, and all kinds of iatrogenicity related to the programs themselves, including:
- Extensively documented negative effects of extrinsic motivation on creativity and intrinsic motivation
- Growing evidence of significant negative psychological and physiological effects of repeated weight cycling1
- Negative financial and health consequences of over diagnosis and overtreatment resulting from the “medicalization” of the workplace
- Negative effects on employee engagement of highly unpopular 4P (pry, poke, prod, punish) “wellness or else” interventions
- Discrimination resulting from cost shifting to the most vulnerable employees.
There has also been lots of talk of the impending “death” of workplace wellness as more and more people are simply not buying into the hype and believing the claims, and employees are rebelling at the growing focus on trying to force people to be healthy. Some wellness experts have even begun to speak out against this approach – what has become the industry’s most predominant trend – what we have labelled “wellness or else.” (Also see this white paper.)
It seems clear that if our industry is going to thrive – and perhaps even survive – major changes are in order. In our new book – How To Build a Thriving Culture at Work, Featuring the 7 Points of Transformation – Dr. Rosie Ward and I offer our suggestions for what we can do differently to create the conditions where both organizational and employee wellbeing can thrive. This includes rethinking business-as-usual when it comes to supporting employee wellbeing, updating our scientific understanding of the world in which we live and the people and organizations that make it up, setting aside beliefs about what works, and embracing the evidence demonstrating what actually does work. With this in mind, we propose key shifts in order to really help achieve the goals we all have – improved organizational and employee wellbeing.
We recognize that changing business-as-usual can be unsettling at first. However, the path we’ve been on is not working well. So, as you consider these suggestions, we invite you to ask yourselves the following questions:
- Do you like being told what to do?
- Is punishing people for not participating in your wellness programs something:
- You believe in?
- You went into your field to do?
- You believe will help people to be healthier?
- You believe will improve employee engagement and productivity?
If your answer to these questions is “no,” we invite you to begin the New Year by contributing in any way you can to help usher organizational and employee wellbeing into the 21st century, starting with the dismantling of “wellness or else.” Together we can make a difference!
Happy New Year from Rosie and Jon!
- Bhammar, D.M. and Gaesser, G.A.“Health Risks Associated with Weight
Cycling.” in “Wellness not Weight: Health at Every Size and Emotional Interviewing.”
Ed. Ellen R. Glovsky. San Diego, CA: Cognella, 2014.