Corporate Wellness Programs Are More Than Just a Band-Aid
This week, Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer released a new book about how workplaces are killing Americans. It calls loudly for corporate culture change.
He uses bold terms for a bold argument that American workplaces have toxic cultures that drive poor health outcomes—his data positions workplaces as the fifth leading cause of death.
It’s a harsh condemnation of work in this country, but he makes good points. The book, Dying for a Paycheck, argues that long hours, lack of benefits, unrealistic expectations, and other common aspects of professional life are disastrous for employees’ mental and physical health. The critique is fair.
However, Pfeffer also says that wellness programs are useless when it comes to addressing these issues, noting that they miss the mark and don’t address the fact that it’s workplace culture that causes employees to have health problems in the first place.
But there’s no need to pit Pfeffer’s argument against the wellness industry. In fact, the very indicator of a strong wellness program is that it drives culture change and supports employees from all angles, including mental health. Effective wellness programs also have a significant focus on preventive health. If we take Pfeffer’s recommendations and only focus on fixing management decisions, we miss an opportunity to empower employees with information they wouldn’t have access to otherwise.
It’s true that workplaces need a range of solutions, including management and operational choices that give employees job security, safe working conditions, and balance. But a company that really invests in wellness programs is doing more than slapping on a Band-Aid. Strong wellness programs put workplaces at the center of the wellbeing movement. Strong wellness programs make corporate culture change possible.
It’s also true that one-off, cookie cutter programs can come across as quick fixes that don’t address underlying issues. That’s why wellness programs have to be thoughtful, thorough, and tailored to each unique employee population—so that employees are truly taken care of, and so that it’s clear the program is part of an overall commitment to supporting the lives and families of employees.
There’s too much innovation in the wellness industry for people to write these programs off. From health coaching from experts who are trained to help employees set ambitious goals to wellness champion programs that encourage new levels of communication and teamwork, there’s much more to these programs than remediation. The best wellness programs are setting a new tone for the workplace, and give employees the tools to succeed inside and outside the office.
Corporate culture change requires our solutions to be appropriately ambitious. So let’s come together to keep the bar high and use every tool in our toolbox to make work a place where people survive and thrive.