Last year I wrote a blog with a similar title about the death of Whitney Houston. In that blog, I argued that wellness was not just the absence of disease, but included the spiritual and emotional well-being of the individual. And I stated – and still believe – that our nation’s employers tend not to care about the mental and social health of their employees unless it somehow helps decrease benefit costs.
But wellness has been on my mind a lot recently, because a lot of my friends have been getting sick or dying – and it scares the shit out of me. Yes, I know I am middle-aged – with a very generous definition of what constitutes the “middle” – so a large proportion of my friends are between 40 and death, like me. But they shouldn’t be getting cancer. Or having heart attacks. Not yet.
But they are – and so are a boatload of other Americans. In fact, more than 4 times as many Americans die from heart disease or cancer – the two leading causes of death -than the 3rd leading cause of death.
This happens because many of us have this attitude that it won’t happen to us. Or we are too worried about the present to think about the future. So we do really stupid things that increase our risk. Things like
- Overeating and/or eating an unhealthy diet
- Failure to exercise or physical inactivity
Every one of those things increases risk of both cancer and heart disease. There are so many risks that the individual cannot control – things like environment and genetics – that it seems incredible that we would actually pile on more.
I’m not excluding myself, either. I still struggle to eat properly. I have to calendar my exercise sometimes, or I will just conveniently “forget” to do it. Or I try to negotiate with myself – telling myself I will do better tomorrow, or next week, or next month.
But when it comes to wellness, there is no negotiating. Either you do it right, or you risk dying much earlier than you should.
So what are businesses doing to promote wellness – mental, spiritual, and physical?
During my recent trip to the massive HR conference known as SHRM Annual (#SHRM13), I decided to see if the sellers of wellness programs – who are also the wellness-related speakers at conference learning sessions – actually bought into and promoted the idea that (1) wellness includes more than the absence of disease and encompasses mental and spiritual well-being, and (2) American companies bear more responsibility to make wellness a priority for their employees.
To do this, I chose to attend a session called “The 20 Essential Characteristics of Successful Worksite Wellness Programs”. I reasoned that both 1 and 2 above were pretty essential characteristics, and if they weren’t included, then all of the wellness programs in the country were doomed to failure.
The session was led by Dr. Don Powell of the American Institute for Preventative Medicine, and he started off by telling the attendees his personal road to wellness, starting with his cigarette habit. I liked his tongue-in-cheek discussion of wellness milestones that included this one:
and this one:
Then he launched into the things that HR wants to hear the most: the cost of insurance, unwell employees, and the correlation between benefit costs and employee health. Solid stuff, and important for the attendees to know. But I was still waiting for a discussion about mental or spiritual wellness, which I finally got at Essential Characteristic #11 . . .
. . . and #16. Number 16 was particularly relevant to me because Dr. Powell introduced the concept of well-being as a replacement for wellness, and urged attendees to consider that a whole-person approach, including spiritual health, was truly an essential characteristic of a company approach to employee
By this time I was pretty happy that Dr. Powell had gone beyond a cost benefit analysis of wellness programs to push the attendees into thinking of wellness in broader terms. But I had to wait until almost the end of his presentation to see if he would ask American companies to take a bigger lead in promoting employee health and well-being. It came in at #18:
Culture may be a popular buzz word right now, but I think the point is the same – a company needs to take responsibility for walking the talk about well-being. Buying wellness programs to reduce benefit costs just isn’t enough.
What does your company do to promote healthy employees? Your comments appreciated!