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

What REAL Worksite Wellness Might Look Like

Wednesday March 14, 2007

Before offering my fantasy of an "illustrative" worksite wellness program (I promised a "model" description last time, which might have been too ambitious), a brief clarification of terms seems in order. "Worksite wellness" is construed to mean a continuing series of non-medical, life quality-enhancing interventions at job sites. I don't consider medical testing or reducing risks (smoking cessation, junk food abatement, for instance) wellness. Testing is good, testing is important but in itself does not make anyone healthier. Programs that lead to fewer behavioral risks are also good, also important, but they do not advance states of well-being so much as they prevent health losses. Wellness interventions, wellness education and wellness support initiatives that I envision to be appropriate to the phrase "worksite wellness" would be explicitly designed to educate, motivate, inform and inspire employees to adopt and sustain healthful behaviors, not give up bad habits. The topic areas for wellness education might include the sixteen skills areas in the three dimensions promoted at the Wellness Center at -- and much more.

Basically, wellness entails the promotion of a mindset, philosophy and perspective about exuberant living worthy of one's potentials and opportunities. Those who choose disciplined initiatives of a wellness nature do not have to be discouraged from behaving in ways that jeopardize good health: They know not to do such things. They prefer focusing their energies on varied paths to living well.

With this clarification of terms, a suggested worksite wellness initiative can be sketched that's distinct from what has been offered as worksite wellness to date (in other words, testing and medical risk reduction).

The first element of worksite wellness that IS wellness would be an explanation of the idea of wellness, so different from the normal way people think of "health." The wellness mindset, worldview or philosophy would be described as a conscious commitment to exceptional health status through personal advancement efforts. These might include such areas of focus as a search for added happiness and as purposeful a life as can be imagined. Once beyond thinking in terms of medical testing and risk reduction, prevention and the like, health-enhancement possibilities to explore are wide open.

Of course, workplaces are not ideal wellness environments. For this reason, it would make sense to put some focus in worksite wellness on the workplace itself. Does the workplace culture celebrate, reward or otherwise reinforce desired skills of personal effectiveness or, if not, how could it better do so? Such things would improve employee prospects for health outcomes such as happiness, fulfillment, good habit choices and high energy. A worksite wellness initiative should nourish wellness-friendly employee environments. It might be difficult to feel well on the job and properly attend to life quality issues if the work environment is itself seen as hazardous to health and well-being. Thus, worksite wellness efforts should include attention to the norms, customs, practices and other aspects of the company culture. I understand the situation in some companies is so bad I suspect I, too, would need medical testing and risk reduction lectures. At the toxic worksite, who can blame a person for seeking a bit of respite from worseness in pot, alcohol, junk food and noxious music? Heck, I'd try all these things if I had to work under similar conditions everyday.

Besides all the fun, challenging, health-enhancing and evidence-based topics for physical and mental well-being (for example, the nature of happiness and approaches to experiencing more of it), my idea of worksite wellness would address such matters as:

A worksite wellness initiative worthy of the name would entail new opportunities for everyone to search for ways to contribute to a well workplace environment. The culture would explicitly value learning. Everyone would be encouraged to learn new skills and perspectives, positive mindsets and peer supports that contribute to (but of course can't guarantee) happiness, fulfillment and better health.

Such wellness worksite endeavors, unlike the expert-driven testing and risk reduction programs with lectures now and then on fitness, nutrition and so on, would be a blend of collective journey and individual program choices. Every such company initiative would be unique, carved out and shaped little by little and day-by-day.

It would be interesting to know what companies, if any, have worksite wellness elements along such lines, how some companies encouraged creativity via humor and play workshops and how others have been successful adding meaning and purpose, boosting critical thinking skills and furthering a shift in company programming from medical risk reduction and preachy lectures about weight loss and fitness to more upbeat topics. Methinks somebody should do a survey about this kind of thing.

In summary, worksite wellness should, to paraphrase Daniel Burnham's famous phase about city planning, make no little plans lacking boldness required to stir souls. William James suggested three rules for change:

  1. start immediately;
  2. do it flamboyantly; and
  3. make no exceptions.

Price Pritchett said, "A sense of urgency, an air of drama and a high level of commitment are needed for growth and change."

Worksite wellness managers must make decisions about which bridges to cross and which to burn if interested in transitions from risk reduction and prevention to wellness - real wellness. I think they should pass responsibility for the medical stuff to the nurses and doctors and offer positive human growth possibilities -- and do it now, flamboyantly--no exceptions. As Robert Frey noted, "The people who change best and fastest are the ones who have no choice." Focus worksite wellness on the big picture -- adding value, meaning and purpose, happiness, fulfillment, critical thinking -- the issues that make a diference for a well workplace.

All the best. Look on the bright side.

(Note:  An essay with a few of the ideas in this article appeared here on December 18, 2000. That article was entitled, "Creating A Well Workplace!")

Domain: mental
Subdomain: factual knowledge

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