How Employers Destroy Their Own Wellness Vision

Toni Sperlbaum                  VP of Sales and Marketing

As a wellness provider, we speak to companies about their wellness programs and making it the best and most effective it can be.  We talk about biometric health screenings for measurable data, health coaching for lifestyle change motivation, and programs like challenges and classes to educate and bring some fun and culture into their work environments.  Companies are desperate for their employees to make lifestyle changes, but they may be “shooting themselves in the foot”, for lack of a better metaphor.  Even with their desires for healthy employees and lower health care costs, I can’t tell you how many times we walk into a wellness meeting where pizza is being served, or you walk through the break room to find “Free Donut Friday”.

I want to preface this topic by saying that some of our readers are our clients, and you may feel like I’m referring to you – but we’ve likely already had the conversation before, and if we haven’t, then you’ve kept your tasty treats a good secret from your wellness provider!  My teasing is all in good fun, but there is some truth and seriousness to this topic where employers do need to re-evaluate their situations and realize Free Donut Friday is a direct mixed message to your employees and a huge step back from what you are trying to accomplish.

The most common “excuses” I hear from employers are:

  • It’s an additional benefit for employees that gets them excited – we want to do something special for them
  • Our staff would throw a fit if we got rid of Free Donut Friday – we’ve been doing it for 10 years!
  • There’s one HR employee who organizes this, or buys these on her own dime, and she would be so offended if we tried canceling it
  • Our employees don’t do well with change – there would be a revolution!

Some of these are a little silly, but they are real concerns and real reasons coming from employers.
What we typically try to preach to our employers is this:

Employees are all adults who can make their own choices, and we never encourage any organization to become wellness communists who take over the vending machines, replace all donut Fridays with apples only, or remove any of the “fun” of Free Donut Fridays altogether.  The main goal of employers should be to remove the barriers.  Provide the choice.  When only pizza is available, they are guaranteed to have the pizza (unless they have the willpower to forgo).  If you provide a variety of wraps, a side of fresh fruit or salad, AND pizza, at least they now have the option to make the healthier choice and you, as an employer, have removed the barrier.

Here are some other things you can do to change your culture:

  • Write a formal policy (or informal policy) that any organization-sponsored meeting must provide a healthy option, and you can even go as far as creating a “menu” or “list” of ideas for what constitutes as a healthy option (see if your wellness vendor will help you with that!)
  • Develop a wellness committee. Even if you meet only 4 times a year, this committee will be a grassroots group of employees who will be the first ones to say “you’re making us do this health screening, you’re asking us to do health coaching and participate in this 5K, but feeding us bagels and hot cocoa every Tuesday? Something is not adding up.” They also will be your eyes and ears “in the field” to see what the true feelings and reactions of your employees are and come with ideas on how to best address.
  • Talk about it! Discussing at employee meetings will at least address the elephant in the room, and while discussing it may drum up some push back, take the opportunity to provide your reasoning and remind them what the company’s goals are for a healthier workforce. Communication and transparency is always key in helping everyone understand the overall goal.
  • Get your middle management on board. Have a meeting or even a special workshop where management can be involved in developing the policy or coming up with a list of healthy choices. Their buy in is essential because if your managers are the ones griping about the changes, your employee reactions are inherently pre-determined.
  • Develop a “healthy catering partners” list and post on an intranet or break room. When employees or managers are catering in, or just ordering in, they have a place to go to see the local healthy resources, how to order, and what the healthiest options on the menu are.

It’s a simple change that will send a loud and clear message, one that is consistent with your organization’s other efforts.