The age of trim
Do corporate health programs work? Not always, report two European researchers who claim some programs backfire, increase workplace stress and make employees less healthy. In their book, The Wellness Syndrome, Professor Andre Spicer, of London’s City University, and Stockholm University’s Carl Cederström, say there is an alarming trend of people judging others at work on their weight and eating habits. Employees often are expected to be in peak physical condition in order to progress. “We are increasingly confusing leaders with life-coaches,” Spicer says. “Political leaders such as Australia's Tony Abbott try to display their leadership qualities by making a show of their exercise routine. Only a decade or so ago, wellness was something that ageing hippies would be interested in – today it is at the top of CEOs’ agendas.” Sam Buckingham-Jones sought expert comment:
Nigel Hobbs Founder and CEO, Welniss Labs
We spend more than 90 per cent of our time inside, and for most people, that’s in an office. We get up in the morning, we get on a bus, we go to work, we come home, and we sit on the couch. It’s a huge part of our life. It’s vital for wellness programs to include everyone as much as possible. Carte blanche is not necessarily a good idea; feedback, and hearing different viewpoints, is essential. What is wellness for one person might be different for someone else. One person might need to eat better, another might need to focus on stress reduction.
Julie Cogin Director, Australian Graduate School of Management
Wellness programs are evidence an organisation cares for its employees. If a goal is set without support to achieve the goal, or there is coercion to take on the goal, then a negative climate can be fostered. A better way is to build commitment towards wellness goals by providing accurate information of the benefits, and allowing staff to opt in (or out). For wellness programs to be successful you need to introduce practices to enable goal achievement. For example, swap the biscuits in the kitchen for fruit, and have filtered water on hand. Encourage staff to take turns planning a walking lunch break or, if the budget allows, bring in a trainer before work or at lunchtimes. Try standing meetings rather than sitting meetings, give staff pedometers, and consider friendly steps-per-day competitions. And, importantly, share success stories.
Michael Stone Director, Holistic Services Group
Any goal that aims to change an entire workplace needs to be carefully planned and implemented, whether related to wellbeing or otherwise. Just allocating funds to improving wellness is not sufficient. For your program to succeed, it must be targeted at health factors relevant to your organisation, and needs to engage your team. I can understand why the tracking of personal habits can seem as judgmental rather than a two-way, co-operative process between employer and employee. That’s why I always recommend face-to-face workshops or group fitness classes, rather than pedometers and gym memberships.