How Workplaces Sabotage Their Wellness Programs
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image by Tracey Leigh

A wellness program in an unwell environment is just lip service. Many companies spend a great deal of time and money setting up Biggest Loser contests and incentives to get people moving. Information is shared on a regular basis on the importance of sleep and how to get your 30 minutes of physical activity a day. But the sabotage that is a part of the modern workplace is overlooked. This leads to frustration for both employees and employers who aren’t seeing the results from wellness programs they may have been promised.

Take for example the local hospital leading the Get Connected to a Healthy Community initiative and the promoting the Blue Zones Power 9. They have hosted seminars on everything from finding your purpose to stress reduction. They always serve yummy healthy breakfasts, spa water and green tea for these seminars. They talk a lot about making the healthy choice the easy choice. Unfortunately I don’t think they are doing so well applying these principals in their own backyard. I recently was at this hospital with my mother for two days. She’s fine now, but we spent a half a day in the emergency room and then an overnight stay in another area.

While I was there, I was appalled at some of the things I witnessed. I watched as the snack cart was wheeled into the emergency room for the doctors and nurses. It appeared to be nothing but sugar and caffeine. There may have been some fruit or protein bars hidden in there but the cookies and muffins were front and center. The easy choice in this case was by far the worst choice.

When I visited the cafeteria later that night, finding a choice that not only fit my diet (no meat or dairy) but was also a healthy choice was challenging. There was some hummus but with pretzels. There was a veggie burger, but it was almost 500 calories on its own, never minds the French fries that came with it. The bagel cabinet was full but the salad bar sparse. Making the healthier choice in this hospital was not the default choice. My resolve was still high and my habits are well ingrained, so I made due with a very big salad. For a stressed out nurse, I can imagine a bagel would probably win out.

Stress is the other land mine that is often ignored. No amount of wellness education or free fruit is going to counter a stressful environment.  Paying lip service to balance when you ask people to work grueling 12-hour days or put in weekend overtime is setting everyone up for failure.

How could we make the healthier choice the easier choice in most work places?

  • Remove vending machines.

    Even “healthier” options are overly processed to retain their freshness. Make fruit, water and tea free. Try an honor system with other items like protein bars and Greek yogurt.

  • Rethink the office breakfast or lunch meeting.

    Don’t serve bread heavy sandwiches or catered pasta to people who sit 8 hours a day.  Please skip the bagels. Do breakfast quiche or a yogurt bar. Lunch can be a taco bar or big salad with greens, protein and fruit.

  • Install “time out” software on company computers.

    Make it part of the culture to get up and stretch at least once an hour.

  • Allow flex schedules if possible.

    If the work gets done, does it really matter when it gets done? This makes more time for families and helps balance work/life responsibilities.

How is your office doing? Is the healthy choice the default choice?

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