Mandatory Wellness: Health Gone Wrong

Rodney Tom Mandatory Wellness ProgramThis sounds too much like the efforts of a certain city in the Northeast (famous for pizza and Yankees) to regulate soda sizes.

Washington state senator Rodney Tom introduced a bill on Monday that would mandate state employees’ participation in wellness programs.

All of this was sparked by Washington’s collective bargaining procedure: the state and the employee union negotiate wages and health benefits every two years. 2012’s negotiations, which included a wellness program, didn’t produce a deal despite the union saying that having a wellness program was a good idea.  Continue reading

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Which Is Better: Wellness Program or Happy Employees?

I’m on record as something of a minimalist. I don’t particularly like large technological apparatuses overtaking more of our lives – even though I admit my iPad usage needs to come down. I don’t like a lot of unnecessary oversight (cough NSA cough). I don’t even like owning too many things.

So, it should come as little surprise to you that I’ve become disenchanted with most wellness program vendors.

Part of the reason is program bloat. Way too many things going on leads to more money being spent, which counteracts any health benefits the employee population might be seeing. Indeed, that’s the exact premise of this article over at IndustryWeek.

The second myth is that keeping employees out of the hospital using a wellness program is the best way to reduce health spending. The [authors] state that this is not “one shred of evidence that a corporate wellness program can reduce the cost of your health benefits, let alone by more than the cost of the program.”

Furthermore they believe that companies “are likely throwing away large incentives and expensive programs at people who either aren’t going to change in any meaningful way or would change even without incentives.”

Instead, what (Al) Lewis and (Tom) Emerick – the authors of Cracking Health Costs – suggest is the creation of a workplace that “employees find less stressful and more satisfying.”

In other words, you want to develop a corporate culture that isn’t a leech on your employees’ lives, health, and happiness.

I know, it’s not a new idea. Thousands of speakers and managers and CEOs sing the praises of a collaborative, happy, low-stress workplace – and with good reason.

Somehow, though, millions of other managers, CEOs, and employees completely miss the boat. Either they don’t get it, they don’t want to get it… or they pay for a top-notch wellness program to mask the problems brought on by a poisonous company culture. Worthy of a Captain Picard facepalm, if you ask me.



It’s a perfect example of missing the forest for the trees. Here are just some of the most common trees:

  • A lot of employees are overweight
  • Average work day is over eight hours
  • Micromanaging middle managers who like petty power trips
  • Detached senior executives who care more about their performance bonuses than their employees
  • Ineffective work flows and processes that back things up for hours/days and skyrocket stress levels
  • Disapproving of taking breaks during the day (caveat: I don’t endorse compulsive break-takers who don’t get anything done)

You get the idea. Here’s the best part about seeing these trees as the forest they really are:

You see the connections.

You can see how clunky work flows and way too many meetings can obliterate productivity.

You start noticing how all that micromanaging and discord skyrockets stress levels, and how the vending machines in the break room contribute to weight gain by increasing stress-induced eating.

You start to see that glowering at or reprimanding people who stand up to take a break and walk around for a while exacerbates problems associated with sitting all day, productivity, energy, stress (since physical activity is a phenomenal stress outlet), and dislike of coworkers/managers.

You begin to see the benefits of having management that isn’t made up of a bunch of piss-ants.

You even start to realize that by seeing all of this, you can help teach others within the organization to see them as well, and work to correct them.

And then you start to implement changes that turn an unhealthy, unhappy, and (sometimes) hostile workplace into almost the exact opposite – starting with employee satisfaction and productivity first.

Don’t be afraid to step on some hands and feet – especially those of the piss-ants who see the writing on the wall that their tyrannies are ending.

Take care of that and health will follow… most of the time. That’s when initiatives like activity groups, getting rid of junk food vending machines in favor of supplying fruits and veggies (and other actual food), and the occasional group/individual challenge can make a big impact.

And it doesn’t even take a battalion of HRAs, blood tests, and cholesterol screenings.

What do you think?

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Are You Sitting Down For This? Then Stand Up

I stumbled onto a neat infographic yesterday that (once again) raises the issue of sitting. We sit so much in this country that it’s helped spur myriad health problems and health care challenges.

While some workplaces are friendly to those of us who prefer to stand during the work day, many still hold fast to the “sit at your desk” model of appearing to be hard at work. It’s a poor model of a healthy workplace – both physically and culturally.

Take a look at the graphic and let me know what you think. My personal favorite statistics:

  • 67% of those surveyed hate sitting down all day, but 86% do it for work.
  • 30% of those surveyed would give up coffee for a week if they could stand during the work day.

Sitting So Much Should Scare You

Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

What are your thoughts?

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The One Thing Every Manager Should Do

When I was a middle schooler, my math teacher had a pretty awesome program. Top-performing students could tutor classmates or kids from a lower grade. They could do it before or after school for about 45 minutes, twice a week, and the tutors would earn $3/session from the tutored.

bad-mathI tutored throughout my seventh and eighth grade years, but one experience has always stood out from the others.

His name was Adam. He was a grade behind me – I was in 7th grade, he was in 6th – and was doing rather poorly in math. (He was also underachieving in other courses, as I came to learn later.)

From the moment I started working with him, my approach was simple.

  • Go over anything he received that was graded. Look at the mistakes, and fix them together using knowledge from the textbook and from problems he correctly did on earlier homework, quizzes, or tests.
  • Don’t give away any answers.
  • Don’t allow mindless guessing. (I thank my parents for this one — my mom always harped on us, “Stop guessing!” when my brother and I would throw out random answers without thinking.)
  • Don’t belittle him. He’s having a hard time enough as it is. Be supportive.
  • Guide him to making the right decisions. Help him develop the conceptual understanding so that his thinking processes are better down the line.

You get the idea. I mean, this was a kid who was regularly getting C’s and D’s in math. That doesn’t exactly build confidence. A patient approach was essential. So was a selectively hands-on or -off direction of his work — which, I’ll admit, took a little bit of time to gauge.  Continue reading

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Wearing Apple Each Day Keeps the Doctor Away?

LinkedIn’s front page has served up another interesting article about the health care tech market: “Is Apple Moving Into Digital Health?”

According to the rules of Internet article headlines, the answer is, “Basically, yes.”

apple-mobile-healthCheck it out:

  • Apple is looking into wearable tech — i.e., the iWatch.
  • Apple has also hired Ueyn Block (of C8 MediSensors) and Todd Whitehurst (Senseonics). Both companies focus on sensors for medical purposes. It’s not a stretch to envision Apple integrating these sensors into something like an iWatch.
  • Health care technology is in a boom state right now. Keas, Cor, HOW, and many more are entering the market. Apple, being the industry monolith that it is — and being a company losing out on the mobile health app race — is sure to want to get its piece of the (apple?) pie.

My opinion is one of vague discomfort and indifference. I don’t really care if Apple enters the mobile health landscape. I’m not likely to buy something for that purpose in the first place.  Continue reading

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Things That Drive Your Company’s Bottom Line Crazy

doctor_crazyThis morning, an interesting little article from Delos Cosgrove of the Cleveland Clinic appeared on the LinkedIn Healthcare home page. Titled “Things That Drive Your Doctor Crazy,” the four items that drive doctors to the drink are:

  1. Failing to take medication or advice
  2. Smoking
  3. Overeating
  4. Sedentary lifestyle

In that order.

Now, I’m not at all at odds with that list. It’s a very good list. I just think the order is a bit off-base. Here’s my (revised) top four:  Continue reading

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Management “Bro-Science”: Meetings

“Eat every 2-3 hours to keep your metabolism stoked and to keep from going into starvation mode.”

“High reps will get you ripped, low reps are only for strength.”

“You gotta drink a protein shake right after your workout.”

“Never skip breakfast.”

“Don’t squat to or below parallel. It kills your knees.”

What do the above quotes all have in common?

They’re all tenets of bro-science, a collection of ideas about nutrition and fitness that are largely false and/or supported by rather spurious science. Bro-science is most often touted by ill-educated gym-goers who blindly take the advice of supplement companies, their equally misinformed friends, or the resident gym bodybuilder who has been competing for 15 years.

Sound familiar? It should.  Continue reading

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Can Smart Devices Dumb Down Your Team?

You’re so nervous-excited, you’re bouncing on the balls of your feet. Everything’s set up just right. You’ve prepared your notes. You know your project back to front. You’ve practiced your presentation with a few colleagues who say it’s great. You launch into your final project presentation and everything’s going great, until…

Smartphone distraction…you notice heads pointed toward laps (not yours), slight arm movements, and maybe the faint bluish glow of a screen.

Ouch. Talk about having the wind taken out of your sails.

Unfortunately, this happens more often than some of us want to admit. It’s called the smart device fugue: where people are “there” but not “all there.” Instead, they’re plucking away at a text message or game, or catching up on sports scores, all from the comfort of their device du jour.

I admit it. I’ve had it happen to me, especially with my iPhone in college. It was easy to “check out” of class, send texts, and read the blog post I’d looked up before entering the room.

Now, however, we don’t just use phones to “check out.” We have tablets, too!

I’ve never purchased an iPad. I didn’t really see the need for one. But when my mom “upgraded” to one of the iPad minis, she let me have her first-gen iPad.

Hey, whatever. Free iPad. I figured it’d make reading PDFs more palatable, especially considering the alternative: reading PDFs on my nearly seven year-old laptop. It’s performed admirably at that task as well as others (like playing games and surfing Reddit).

Of course, it has its drawbacks. One of the things I notice when I jump on the iPad is that time just evaporates. Fifteen minutes turns into an hour and a half. That’s a nightmare for my productivity.

Continue reading

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Employee Health’s “Scarlet Letter”

Here’s an excellent piece by Jack Bruce on how a company needs to maintain vigilance of its wellness programs, and to make sure that everyone is being constructively included.

How to Avoid the Scarlet Letter in Your Employee Wellness Program.

Jack really hit the ball outta the park with this one. I can’t really add much to it. Here’s the part that really resonated with me, though:

In a recent conversation with Brad (Cooper, of U.S. Corporate Wellness — ed.) regarding this subject, he tole me, “You don’t want your employees to feel like they are being sent to the principal’s office.” Wellness initiatives that shout “You sinner!” to the overweight or smoker can negate our best efforts–not to mention hurt the very people we want to help. Therefore, the first step in guarding against the scarlet letter is to be aware that employee wellness programs CAN impart shame. This understanding, alone, is all that is needed for some HR and wellness leaders to alter how they communicate, promote and execute their wellness initiatives.

It’s strange that a program with such good intentions can have those intentions perceived as “workplace bullying.”

Of course, the phenomenon isn’t new. Stories abound on the Internet about overweight, out of shape people who go into a new year with a steely resolve to improve their health. They get that gym membership, they change their diet, and by the fifth day in the gym, they’re seeing results.

Then day six comes around… and boom, some jerk at the gym decides to be funny. Insults galore. The embarrassment is too much, and our intrepid health journeyman (or woman) is crushed and his resolve reduced to ashes.

Falling into old habits again, s/he doesn’t go to the gym for a few days and falls off the healthy eating wagon.

By the time the embarrassment wears off, the enthusiasm and healthy food are gone, and the “new” habits become a mirror of the “old” habits.

Now think about that happening two or three times a year, especially when weight (or body fat, or body “inches”) challenges during a wellness program kick off.

Ouch. You may as well brand a scarlet letter into some people, not much make them wear one.

What does your company do, whether for work recognition or wellness or productivity, that avoids this “scarlet letter” specter?

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Gazelles, Lions, and Employee Health, Oh My

Health and Long HoursI’ve had enough of the story of the gazelle and the lion. I’ve had enough with the notion that “survival of the fittest” should be the main mantra of the corporate world. The ultra-Darwinian model of the workplace is utter bullshit.

Know why?

All it does is run employees ragged.

Think about it. We live in a nonstop world. News stories are “old” after eight hours. The cloud, the Internet, mobile devices, Twitter, Facebook, and email make communication instant and incessant.

As a result, a fairly large number of businesses keep the pedal to the metal: all go, no quit, because you have to stay ahead of everybody else or you’ll end up as lion chow.  Continue reading

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