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. 

In fact:

…the Public Employees’ Benefits Board considered a premium discount last year for employees who opted in.

Ultimately the idea was shelved amid concerns that the limited funds [then-Governor Chris] Gregoire wanted to put into the program would limit the discount – and even cause it to shrink if large numbers of employees joined in.

This raises a few questions.

  1. Is making wellness programs mandatory a good idea?
  2. If so, will executives put forth the amount of money needed to get large-scale participation?
  3. Will the programs be well-designed, evaluated, and executed? Or will they be a side project tacked on, without any real support?
  4. Will the investments yield demonstrable returns?

I’m all for improving health. I’m all for making the standard workplace less of an abyss of hostility and mediocrity (especially in large corporations, but alas, “I think they’re dead, Jim!”). I’m all for making promotions, bonuses, and recognition contingent on performance.

But I am NOT all for employers – private or public sector – trying to play doctor/overbearing parent with their employees.


It costs too much. Don’t believe me? Read this.

It breeds resentment – have you ever been coerced into doing something you don’t want to do?

With few exceptions, the program inevitably results in a one-size-fits-all approach run by people with no clue how to handle wellness programs; without the foggiest knowledge of nutrition’s or exercise’s effect on the body; with no real ability to see the effects that the work environment (including management practices, work flows, and efficiency) has on health; and so on.

I shudder to think of what might happen if this passes through the Washington state legislature. Will it serve as a precedent for other states to enact their own mandates? Will short-sighted companies look and say, “Hey, this sounds pretty interesting,” and try to do the same?

(Not likely, fortunately, since mandatory wellness programming still isn’t legal… I think/hope.)

Really, guys, it isn’t that difficult. Wellness programming should be voluntary and participatory. If Senator Tom wants to mandate some health initiatives, perhaps he should try mandating:

  • No junk food vending machines in employee areas
  • Break times for employees that sit all/most of the day (perhaps hourly stretching for a couple minutes)
  • Streamlined work flows that don’t require back-and-forth email chains just to get an invoice sent
  • Rewarding employees who actually produce on the job

And so on. That’d probably have a bigger impact on employees’ health and stress levels than anything else.

(Yes, the fourth is a joke. Public sector employment and meritocracies are diametric opposites of one another. Just look at Congress. TSA. Your local DMV.)

Fortunately, a private employer can mandate the above four points… and should. You want a healthier workplace? Get rid of the junk – food, management, processes, all of it. Whatever is keeping quality work from getting done, or quality employees from shining, get it out of your workplace, pronto.

Have you gotten rid of the junk? And perhaps introduced some voluntary wellness initiatives at the same time? Did you succeed? Share your experiences!

This entry was posted in Company Culture, Corporate Wellness, Management, Program Design, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Mandatory Wellness: Health Gone Wrong

  1. healthdocroy says:

    “It breeds resentment – have you ever been coerced into doing something you don’t want to do?”
    That says it all. Healthier environments need to be created and healthier lifestyles encouraged and supported. If someone isn’t interested or motivated, you are wasting your time (and may create resentment and a barrier to future progress). At some point they may come around and want to make changes–that is the “teachable moment.” Take people from where they are, and help them improve. That has been my mantra for over 30 years.

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