Do Corporate Wellness Programs make us Unwell?

Over the last 10-20 years, corporate wellness programs have been on the rise as companies aim to improve the health and wellness of their employees. Research indicates that employees who are physically and mentally healthy are more productive at work. But how do we help employees become well living in a society of fast foods, long work hours, and Netflix? Promoting wellness at work!  People spend most of their waking hours at work, so by incorporating wellness programs, employees will be healthier and more productive – right?

Recently, there has been some debate about the effectiveness of corporate wellness programs. The article from the Harvard Business Review by Scott Berinato, and a segment on the CBC Radio Q, highlighted some interesting aspects of wellness programs having the reverse effect – that wellness programs are making employees unwell! We truly appreciate this perspective as it is important to critically evaluate any corporate initiatives.  

We agree that pushing wellness too hard can backfire in some situations, causing mental health issues such as increased anxiety and stress and fears of unemployability. However, wellness is an important part of life. There are people who strive to be well outside of work, and there are people who don't. There is a lot of research that indicates physically and mentally healthy people are more productive and resilient in the workplace. That being said, physically and mentally well people aren't necessarily "superfit" as was portrayed in the Harvard Business Review article.  It is prudent for employers to understand the physical and mental health needs of their organization, and tailor their initiatives (of all kinds, not just wellness) to the needs of their people – an approach we feel strongly about at L&L Consulting.

It is important for wellness programs have to have realistic goals and have certain purposes that meet the needs of the company employees and culture. Companies spend a lot of money on health plans, and short and long-term disability benefits. Having healthy employees therefore saves companies money. But of course that isn't necessarily true for every person, and it wouldn't be fair to employ people based on their health status - that would be discrimination. But if companies can implement targeted initiatives that their employees were interested in, their health would improve greatly. When we do interviews with companies, employees often say it’s the small things that make the biggest difference, like sitting by the window, having some flexibility with work hours, and having a gym that they can access whenever they want. But everyone has a different opinion, which is why it is nice to provide variety and choice to employees. 

It is also important for companies to ensure that their wellness initiatives are marketed to their employees in a healthy manner. We agree that promotion that comes across as pressure and obligation can increase stress and anxiety in some. It is critical for companies to emphasize the program goals in a way that respects the health, wellness, and personal choices of all employees. This autonomy and respect will further promote good mental health, even if employees choose not to partake in the programs.

How do you feel about your company wellness program? How could it be improved? Consider providing some feedback to your organization to help shape the programs the way you want them to be. After all, they are investing in you! Need support in this area? Feel free to contact us for a free consultation.