Does your Company Sabotage it’s Own Wellness Program?


Proud of herself for getting up early and going to the gym, Beth gets ready for work, grabs a banana and yogurt on her way out the door and arrives at work 15 minutes early.  Beth checks her calendar, makes a to-do list and she’s ready to take on the day’s challenges with enthusiasm and confidence.

At 8:30, Tom, a sales rep, brings a gift of a dozen bagels and muffins. They are so fresh, they are still a bit warm.  Since Beth really didn’t have a big breakfast she indulges and has one, with just a schmear of cream cheese.

An hour later, Beth’s assistant leans into her office and says, “Hey, it’s Karen’s birthday today.  We’re meeting in the lunchroom!”  Beth saves her work, even though she was on a creative roll, and rushes in to find her co-workers singing happy birthday to Karen, and there, in the middle of the table is a beautiful cake. “Oh, no!” Beth says to herself. Before she knows it, a slab of cake is handed to her and a few minutes later all that is left on the plate are a few crumbs.

On her way back to her office, she picks up a handful of candies on a co-workers desk and mindfully munches away.  She looks at her calendar again. “Oh, great.  A work lunch with the team. Probably pizza again and I won’t have time for a walk.” Beth can’t seem to focus on her work anymore and feels a bit deflated.

She decides to get a fresh cup of coffee to help her refocus and snap her out of her funk and…there it is.  That cake again.  Beth looks away, but it’s calling her.  To make matters worse, the icing laced knife is laying right next to it, goading her. “Just a little slice, it won’t hurt you.”  She quickly shoves a sliver into her mouth, then another (under the pretense that the cake needed to be evened out).  Back to reality, she realizes what she has done and cries out “WHAT are you doing!”  Beth marches back to her office and slams the door and looks at her watch.  It’s 10:45am.

Organizations are making big investments to improve the health and productivity of their workforce in order to control employee costs but many fail to see the importance of providing a healthy work environment.  Investing in a healthier work culture is one of the  least costly, most effective way to help your employees be healthier and more productive.  Yet many employers choose to ignore the work environment (or place little investment or value on it) as a strategic component in their Wellness Program.

We all live in a society where we gravitate to shared laws, traditions, and values. The only way Americans are going to stop thinking that overeating, eating crap, being stressed-out and sitting on your butt all day is normal, is if it is not “normal” anymore.  If an employee who is eating carrots at his desk is met with comments such as “oh aren’t we being good today” or “what diet are you on?” as if their eating practices are unlike the others, then that is a problem.  When a heavy set diabetic employee is trying to lose 60 pounds and the company serves her non-nutritious food at a working lunch, it is sabotaging its own investment.

The best wellness investment you can make is to set a healthy example to employees in both action and mindset. It doesn’t  have to be sweeping changes.  Some are so simple, one would not imagine they could have such a strong impact.  A fruit basket instead of donuts, a crudité of vegetables served at the lunch meeting or having healthy food options in your vending machine sets the tone for the work society.  It’s not just about the “what,” it’s the psychological impact these small efforts have on an employee’s motivation and mindset on a day-to-day basis.  One healthy decision leads to another but if healthy options aren’t available to help with the decision, the opposite holds true. I did a small informal survey at a company whose manager regularly brought in donuts. Nearly 70% of employees said they did not want the donuts brought in, and 55% of them said they ate at least one anyway – with regret.

Companies should open their eyes and observe unhealthy habits that loom around the office.  For example, smokers who cut away from their desk to sneak a cig while non-smokers yearn to take a 10 minute “mental-break” walk but don’t for fear a manager may see them.  If asked and supported, there are likely employees in the organization who would rally to help identify culprits and promote healthy decisions within departments to help move the company’s culture needle.  You would be surprised how contagious healthy practices can be when they are supported, reinforced and choices are made available that can keep them on track.

Achieving a healthy work culture is not that hard but it does requires leadership and foot soldiers.  A company has to be willing to appoint an internal wellness leader, arm them with a budget, give them authority to present changes they deem appropriate and have it backed by “C” level.  Your Wellness Provider may offer on-site coordinators, you can hire or contract independent professionals or you may even have an employee who is inspired and capable for the job.  Just make sure you don’t make it stressful for them by tacking the task onto an already full work schedule or ignore the important role you gave them.  (Remember to walk the talk!).

Your employees spend most of their waking hours in the workplace so think of  the workplace as their second home.  They must live in the environment that is provided for them and it will influence their mindset and drive the choices that employees make. The case for this initiative does not  have to be quantified.  It’s simply common-sense.  If your organization is not sinking it’s teeth into culture change initiatives, they may be a penny wise and a pound foolish.