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by Donald B. Ardell, Ph. D.
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Wellness in the Headlines
(Don's Report to the World)

Does Worksite Wellness Work? It Depends. Part Two

Wednesday December 17, 2014

In the latest essay at SeekWellness, I explored whether corporate wellness programming has been more or less successful. I suggested that it depends—largely on what one considers successful relative to the time, energy and other costs of such endeavors.

Perhaps I was too kind. It’s not that complicated. The truth is that, so far at least, programs conducted at company worksites do not work, largely because they are wellness in name only. These programs are and have been little more than medical clinics.

Wellness is a philosophy for well-being, for promoting and sustaining quality of life of a physical and psychological nature. Wellness is a lifestyle pathway to the discovery and enjoyment of satisfying work, play and life in which one is engaged and energized. A wellness mindset values functioning in ways that are rich in meaning and purpose, filled with meaning. A wellness approach is marked by characteristics such as high levels of morale, happiness, humor, connections with others, exuberance, autonomy and the like. And yes, importance is attached to functioning every day so as to sustain better than average health metrics—a fit body, sound diet, freedom from destructive habits (e.g., smoking, alcohol and other substance abuse) and favorable readings about the operation of important body parts, such as blood pressure, oxygen uptake, blood panel readings and so on. (Yes, all body parts still attached are important, as becomes clear if/when they wear out or break.)

Nobody not under the influence of a messianic, faith-based trance or powerful drugs should ever believe that worksite circumstances, interventions or programs based on reducing risk factors to save medical costs will ever lead to genuine wellness.
Recall the title of this essay and ask yourself: “On what does the question of efficacy depend regarding worksite wellness?” I believe the answer is “expectations.” If by “work” one means only that some employees show up for classes, submit to medical testing and go along with the program, well, then such efforts “work.” But that is a very low bar. It has little bearing on the true meaning of wellness.  

My “depends” conclusion recalls an incident in the early years of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The story concerns a time when he the musical genius was asked if his compensation was sufficient for his work he did as court composer for Emperor Joseph II in Vienna during the 18th century. Frustrated at being required to write what he considered simple pieces for the limited tastes of the court, he said. “It’s too much for what I do, and too little for what I could do.”

And so it is, in my opinion, with worksite wellness. It works as far as it goes, given the limited role such programming has taken. However, but it would “work” much better if worksite wellness were designed to advance employee well being and quality of life.

Good wishes.

Signed Don Ardell

(Ed. Note: Views expressed in this and other columns are those of the author and not necessarily those of the SeekWellness Editorial Board.)

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