Recruit Unhealthy People For Your Wellness Team

Take a moment and think about all the bosses you’ve ever had. Who were the good ones? the bad ones? What did they do to cement themselves as good or bad in your mind?

Perhaps, like Mark Zuckerberg, they sat among the people who reported to them. Maybe they encouraged you to take a promotion with a new company, even if it meant losing you. Maybe they just left you alone to do your work in peace without micromanaging you.

Whatever the case may be, there always is a common thread that connects great managers.

The hallmark of a great manager is that s/he knows the pulse of those who are lower on the totem pole.

This doesn’t mean that managers need to be best buddies with everyone. It doesn’t even mean you have to be “friendly” — professionalism and respect are enough in many cases.

The benefit of maintaining this pulse, according to The Ape in the Corner Office (which I highly recommend), is:

…because people with less power typically see the world more clearly than do their bosses. The logic of this is straightforward. While powerful people are paying attention to the potential rewards, disempowered people are paying attention to the likely costs. (p. 113, hardcover edition)

In other words, lower-ranking people are some of the best devil’s advocates you can possibly find.

Knowing that should have two effects on the way you build your company’s wellness team. I’ll treat one now, one tomorrow.

The first effect is that you now know your wellness team ought to include people who aren’t already shining beacons of health and fitness.

It’s a little counterintuitive, isn’t it? The people running a wellness program should all embrace healthy behaviors, shouldn’t they?

In theory, yes. You want the wellness team to be healthy and enthusiastic in order to present an image of “healthy and happy” to those who are on the fence.

However, by doing this, you also risk the chance of your wellness program becoming an echo chamber, incapable of seeing potential pitfalls.

Those who already have control of their health know the benefits. They know that better health habits got them off medication(s), reduced inflammation and creaky joints, keeps their energy consistent through the day, and results in paying less for doctor visits and insurance.

What they might not know or remember are the difficulties (real or imagined) that come with making the changes to improve their health: the cost of healthier food; getting started with exercise despite various body ailments; the fact that it takes time for taste buds to recalibrate (i.e., acclimating the body to prefer the taste of unprocessed food); preconceptions about the time and money needed to make changes; the money needed to finance new wardrobes; and battling against cultural or family inertia.

As a result, if your wellness team is the company’s Health All-Star Team, the initiatives they create may not be perceived as accessible to those who aren’t already healthy.


“But I don’t WANNA eat broccoli!”

Being exhorted to change their habits, exercise, eat healthy, and work on their stress levels by people who are already at a higher level of health is a bit like being chided by a parent to eat their vegetables and turn off the Playstation. Annoyance or rebellion, not inspiration or acceptance, is a common reaction.

However, if you have team members who are still struggling with their health, the message immediately becomes more relatable. Your team will be more in touch with the problems unhealthy people face in the office community by having at least one go-to person who understands the mindsets of those who are skeptical of the program and its health initiatives.

I should clarify that recruiting this person to the team does not mean recruiting that person just because s/he isn’t a healthy person. I mean come on, that’s not very nice. Being able to contribute to the program’s success (other than being a devil’s advocate to healthy team members) is important.

Look at people who are skilled in cost projections, strategy, communications, benefits administration, data analysis, etc. If your best available tech person isn’t “healthy”, so what? You need that skill on your team, and the added benefit of having an opposing viewpoint will help your team down the line.

Your program should focus on success, not just having the team be good-looking. If you overlook a strong mind because s/he doesn’t fit the picture of health, you’re doomed from the beginning.

So… does your wellness program have experience with successful team members who aren’t seen as healthy? Share your experiences below.

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1 Response to Recruit Unhealthy People For Your Wellness Team

  1. sonja breuer says:

    Dear James,
    this is a very interesting point you are making James. I would like to add that we are all on a wellness journey and we are at different levels of wellness. It is not so much that there is a one ultimate goal and it can be reached. Step one is to combat disease, step two is prevent disease from occurring and step three is helping people to flourish – realising more of ones potential. For example, somebody might decide to avoid red meat in step one but will then move to becoming a vegetarian, vegan and raw foodist thereafter. I myself have been on this journey and recently completed 40 days raw, providing a release of new energy. So by definition, we are all at different levels of wellness; your point supports this nicely. However, I don’t think there are only two states, rather that a damaged lifestyle is a ‘spectrum disorder’. I will be talking more about that in my book ‘economics of wellness’ which is going to be out at the end of the year, you can reserve a copy here:
    Thank you very much for raising this issue James, I really enjoyed reading this article and it inspired me for today.
    Kind regards,

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