Wellbeing Starts in the C-Suite

Recently an employee from a nationally known firm based in my city came in for his wellness “physical”. He works 16-hour days from home, rarely leaving his computer. He is a poster-child of poor lifestyle decisions in regard to wellness and wellbeing; in vernacular terms “a heart attack waiting to happen”. Wellness programs are quite the rage these days. I fill out forms on a daily basis documenting patients’ blood pressures, cholesterol values, waist measurement, etc. Employers are hoping to motivate their employees to be healthier.

Rand and Pepsi Company recently published their report of how well this program worked for Pepsico. It contains interesting data. While disease management assistance for employees was successful, the return on investment for the lifestyle management, which includes those yearly physicals and lab draws, was less so. The report created a bit of a stir. I suggest following Khanna On Health Blog regarding wellness vendors and the lack of data to support much of the recommendations that seem to be taken as facts judging by the forms I fill out routinely.

Meanwhile, back to my patient. I don’t care how much you love your job or need your job, working 16 hours a day is not a healthy way to live. As a family practice physician, I would love to make editorial comments on the forms that I’m filling out but there is no option for that. To be fair, despite encouragement by their employers to be healthier, employees may refuse to take the bait. Without knowing the specifics of his company’s wellness policies, or how well his supervisor adheres to them, it’s impossible to know how much is the fault of the company and how much is about the individual.

Being involved in my own company’s Wellness/Wellbeing Committee, what struck me is how creating a culture of wellness must start by changing any ideas of enforcement.  “Mandatory engagement” in such programs is an oxymoron but encouraging a culture of self-care makes sense. There are so many things that don’t cost a lot of money that can be the start of culture change: different food and drink options in the cafeteria, access to better choices in vending machines, posting nutritional content of all foods in the cafeteria, putting up signs that encourage stair use, self-tracking contests, employee workout sessions (at convenient times for them), a farmer’s market in the parking lot with discounts supported by the corporation. We need to start from the top—the C-suits and the doctors making wellbeing and self-care a priority. Watching both those populations work 60 hours weeks is not a way to exemplify healthy behavior.

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