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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