Whitney Houston’s HR Lesson? Wellness Is Not Negotiable

Yes, I am shamelessly exploiting the death of Whitney Houston to write a blog post and using her name in the headline to snag readers. 😉

Actually this idea has been rolling around in my mind for quite a while now, but it took the untimely death of an extraordinary talent to nail it down and give it context.

The lesson? Wellness.

The best definition of “wellness” I ever heard was that is was “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”  This was said by a doctor during a lecture about integrative medicine. His message was that health care should promote wellness (as defined here) and joy, not only treat disease and illness ( “sick care”, he called that).

The foundations of wellness, he explained, were simple: optimal nutrition, fitness, proper sleep, stress management, and spirituality or joy. These items are not negotiable – they are items that you must do to be well. You cannot be well if you are a stressed out, socially unhappy, tired person, no matter how well you eat or how much you exercise.

Unfortunately, in most cases, companies in the US like to talk about all of the “wellness” initiatives they are making – like giving incentives for people to quit smoking, or playing games with prizes for weight loss. The major reason they do this? It lowers their benefit costs.

But many of those same companies overwork their employees, ignore their personal needs, and dismiss their spiritual or mental well-being. You want to take off the afternoon to go to the beach with your kids? Fuggedaboutit. What do you mean you were watching a video with your family and couldn’t answer your email? Bad performance review. Worked late last night and want to miss the morning meeting? Are you effing kidding?

No matter what the coroner determines Whitney Houston’s cause of death was, she was clearly not a well person, as her public struggles show. She was also a self-employed workforce of one, and that employer paid a very high price for ignoring all the components of wellness.

Someone needs to give American companies a message that employee wellness would be promoted by paying just as much attention to an employee’s mental and social well-being as they do to their weight or smoking habits. If they are really serious about wellness – remove employee’s stress by making sure they are paid well, are valued and not abused, are encouraged to sleep well, and have the opportunity to pursue joy.

Before it’s too late.