Companies hear incessantly that if they want to succeed in creating a healthier workforce that they need to make it a company-wide mission and have it baked into the DNA of their organization’s leaders. The mantra: health and wellness needs to be infused throughout that business’ culture, no matter how big or small or what kind of management structure exists.
Companies are bombarded with this message, but because so very few companies have actually realized it, the roundtable agreed that this basic truth couldn’t be broadcasted enough. The future of workplace wellness will not be inserting some “antidote” (third-party-delivered) healthy program into an overall unhealthy work culture, i.e. giving people gym memberships over here, while dishing out brutal work hours and disrespect over there.
Currently, the gaps between some formal wellness programs and a company’s overall philosophy of worker health can almost seem laughable. Mia Kyricos, founder of Kyricos & Associates, noted that, “It’s not unusual to see a company reward an employee for losing 30 pounds with a gift card to, say, Outback Steakhouse…The rewards and programs are often so incredibly disconnected.”
Too many “workplace wellness programs” are failing to inspire employees to make healthy changes. And finger wagging about how bad high calorie processed foods are does not incite lifestyle change (the hardest thing to do). It involves deep, company-wide, “We’re all in this together” change, participation and support. The experts at the roundtable expressed great hope for the future, like successful companies that will increasingly think beyond the “program” and strive to create healthy “whole culture” businesses. Those businesses will succeed in lowering healthcare costs and in attracting, retaining and motivating employees, and their example will spread.
One can get distracted by all the negative media spin on workplace wellness, but as Dr. Pelletier neatly put it, “In the future, a culture of health in workplaces will be normal, common and global.”
And as conversations about work and wellness heat up, they’re inevitably moving from a company discussion to a political discussion – acknowledging the reality of the work and wellness “haves” and “have-nots.” Company cultures where top executives are at mindfulness retreats while the least well and least wealthy workers are getting hit with program penalties for unhealthy behavior are not only wrong, but also unsustainable. And the roundtable agreed that it’s rather insincere to talk about workplace wellness if you don’t also address living wages, racial/gender inequality at work and the widening wealth divide.