Podcast: Wellness, Job Insecurity, Unemployment, and Authenticity

in Uncategorized, job strain, industrial organizational psychology

This episode of the Redesigning Wellness podcast (below) is brilliant. Kudos to Chrissy Ball, Michelle Bartelt, and Scott Dinwiddie for having the courage to share their experiences and feelings around job loss. Thank you Jen Arnold for organizing and facilitating a bold conversation.

My take: As much as we wellness pros talk about “authenticity,” we rarely display it. Perhaps we feel obligated to project a veneer of exuberance. Indeed, this often seems to be expected. (I had a boss lament that she’d always imagined her wellness director would be “peppy” — which I proudly am not.) These panelists model real wellbeing as they describe hard times — anger, sadness, fear, and separation (as well as resilience, connection, and growth).

This conversation reminds us of the psychosocial influences on wellbeing that too often are obscured by our preoccupation with behavior change. Key amongst these is *job security*, as well as employment itself and role identity.

As we listen, we’ll do well to think of workers who are struggling — single parents, folks living on the poverty line, et al — and how their wellbeing is threatened by job insecurity and unemployment. How can we, as wellbeing leaders, help?

225: Job Loss During a Pandemic with Chrissy Ball, Michelle Bartelt, and Scott Dinwiddie

Wellbeing: Did I Say Pizza? I Meant Lava Lamp.

in Uncategorized, Wellbeing

Lava Lamp — reflecting the model of employee wellness and wellbeing promoted by employee well-being consultant Bob MerbergWellness (or wellbeing, if you will) is usually illustrated as a perfect circle divided into uniform wedges. Gallup’s 5 wedges, for example, represent Social, Financial, Physical, Community, and Career Purpose wellbeing. National Wellness Institute has its Occupational, Physical, Social, Intellectual, Spiritual, and Emotional dimensions.

There’s no end to how circles can be sliced up into the elements of wellness, whether there are 6, 7, 8 wedges, or — even as some models have it — 12 wedges of an inner circle surrounded by 8 pastel sections that join to form 2 concentric circles. (Stop this ride, I’m getting dizzy!)

Many models of wellness and wellbeing with circles and wedges to show the elements or dimensions of wellness and well-being.These wellness merry-go-rounds are mostly the product of an American spin on wellness. Elsewhere, especially Europe, the focus is on what wellness is — something related to happiness and life satisfaction. You know… wellbeing! In the US we obsess over the components of wellness — no time to fret about what they add up to — as you may recall from my post “Wellbeing and Pizza: In Search of the Secret Sauce.”

These tidy geometrics are a swell way to say that wellbeing goes beyond physical health. But a handful of static, one dimensional, and evenly distributed wedges — crammed into a flawlessly circular vessel — don’t resonate with my experience of wellness. And I wonder if they’re an ideal way to describe what other people’s wellbeing — ultimately their lives — are or can be.

Meet My Globules

My wellness is more like a lava lamp: An ever-changing bunch of free-floating globules of different shapes and sizes. I’ve got fitness globules, mental health globules, spiritual globules. Some rise to the surface for as others submerge. They’re fluid. They expand and they contract.

Some globules, like my health globule and my financial globule, merge for a while. My emotional globule occasionally smothers my intellectual globule; other times, it’s the other way around. Look: My creativity globule and logic globule are going at each other right now!

But even the lava lamp analogy eventually runs dry. Ultimately, I want my globules to be set free, to be unbound by time and space, and to interconnect with others’ globules — those of people who love me and those of people who don’t. Any model of real wellbeing has to show our globules interacting and interconnecting. You heard me right: We must have global globules.

The change starts within. To paraphrase an ancient sage: Be a lava lamp unto thyself.

Copyright 2020 by Bob Merberg. All rights reserved. (My globules may be your globules. But my work is not.)

Wellbeing and Pizza: In Search of the Secret Sauce

in Uncategorized, Wellbeing, Employee Wellness Programs

pizza[Originally published on LinkedIn 2018-03-15]

“It’s the damnedest thing, hahaha” my father-in-law would say, his thick Irish brogue muscling its way forward through his baritone laugh. “I hate tomato sauce and cheese, and I don’t like bread, but I like pizza. Hahahahah!”

As a Brooklynite weaned on pizza, this really was the damndest thing I’d ever heard. But the corporate world’s newfound adoration of “wellbeing” gives me insight into my father-in-law’s pizza predilections. And vice versa.
Continue reading »

Wellness Doesn’t Work. And It Won’t Work. Until It Does.

in Uncategorized, Employee Wellness Programs

Out of OrderNew study findings from the University of Illinois confirm that an employee wellness program doesn’t improve health or healthcare costs.

Here’s what will happen next:

  • Wellness critics will argue that wellness programs must cease at once.
  • Wellness profiteers will, once again, falsely claim that the studied program was atypical and that the researchers failed to report on measures such as mental health, energy levels, quality of life, or job satisfaction.

Here’s what should happen next:

  • We should be prepared to accept, based on a growing body of evidence, that typical wellness programs don’t deliver on their promise.
  • We should collaborate with employees to figure out how we can effectively support their wellbeing.

Research should be leveraged to improve employee wellbeing strategies. Circling the wagons around the status quo or interpreting studies simply as a yay/nay on employee wellbeing are both unproductive.

See the abstract/article:

Effects of a Workplace Wellness Program on Employee Health, Health Beliefs, and Medical Use: A Randomized Trial

 

Employee Well-being, COVID-19, and the Future of Work

in Uncategorized, Wellbeing

Bus driver during COVID-19 (coronavirus) epidemicI don’t know what’s going to happen to the economy or what course the coronavirus pandemic will take. But I’ve had time to reflect on what a new world order may mean for employee wellness and the future of work.

Here are 10 hopes, fears, and questions (not predictions):

1) We’ll re-frame “meaningful work” — I recently heard, in an interview, a worker who delivers tortillas to grocery stores poignantly articulate what will prevail as a fresh take on meaning and work: Continue reading »

When Organizational Values Aren’t Values

in Uncategorized

Values
After her presentation at a wellness conference, a colleague reports, an attendee told her:

I never would have thought to align our wellness program with our core values and business goals.

If a wellness leader never would have thought to align the wellness program with the organization’s core values, they probably aren’t really core values. Continue reading »

What Works: CDC Survey Provides Context for Controversial Wellness Studies

in Data, total worker health, Uncategorized, Employee Wellness Programs

Context iconThe BJ’s Wholesale Club study wasn’t the most important employee wellness research published last month. Let’s look at the Workplace Health in America Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When you put the CDC survey together with BJ’s Wholesale Club research as well as last year’s Illinois University worksite wellness study (both employers found that 12-18 months of wellness programming didn’t reduce healthcare costs or improve productivity) we get a more complete picture of relevance.

The CDC asked about companies’ employee health promotion programs. 2,843 respondents completed surveys — targeting whoever in the company was most knowledgeable about its wellness offerings — from a variety of employers.

Here’s some of what the survey found: Continue reading »

Illinois Gets Its Fill of Noise as Wellness Study Sparks a Squabble

in Top 10 2018, Uncategorized

"locked horns" over the Illinois workplace wellness study2nd of My Top 10 Wellness Stories from 2018

I’ve written ad nauseam about the University of Illinois Workplace Wellness Study, so allow me to just explain why I’m optimistic about where it’s heading.

This evaluation of an employer’s fledgling wellness program gave wellness critics a rationale to declare employee wellness a failure. The evaluation data, which showed almost no positive outcomes during the program’s startup, is only preliminary and doesn’t say what critics say it says.

Continue reading »

Mindless Cheating

in Top 10 2018, Uncategorized

cheating about nutrition and behavior researchBrian Wansink, author of bestsellers like Mindless Eating and Slim by Design, recently had 13 of his research articles retracted and was nudged right out of his job as director of Cornell Food and Brand Lab, earning a spot on my list of 2018’s biggest wellness stories.

Even if you’ve never heard of Brian Wansink, you’ve probably been affected by his research. His studies, cited more than 20,000 times, are about how our environment shapes how we think about food, and what we end up consuming. He’s one of the reasons Big Food companies started offering smaller snack packaging, in 100 calorie portions. — Vox

Wansink led many headline-grabbing studies of eating behavior, showing, for example, that people eat less when food is served on smaller plates and that pre-ordering lunch leads to healthier choices. His work unleashed many employers’ nutritional wellness strategies, especially “making the healthy choice the easy choice.” Continue reading »

Health, Wellness, and Wellbeing Are the Same

in Uncategorized, Wellbeing

dimensions of wellness

I recently read an article about business’s revolutionary transition from employee wellness to wellbeing. “Historically speaking,” the author wrote, “wellness has been thought of as strictly pertaining to physical health, usually measured by biometrics.”

But, accurately speaking, this is not so.

Of course, there’s no single arbiter who can proclaim what exactly health, wellness, or wellbeing mean, but it’s worth understanding some of the ways these words have been interpreted in order to fully appreciate the implications, or lack thereof, of the “transition” from wellness to wellbeing

“Health” was defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1946 as

a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

WHO’s definition, incorporated into its constitution, remains unchanged to this day. But in 1986 the organization held an International Conference on Health Promotion in Ottawa, which resulted in the famous Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion that elaborated on the definition, stating,

An individual or group must be able to identify and realize aspirations, to satisfy needs, and to change or cope with the environment. Health is, therefore, seen as a resource for everyday life, not the objective of living. Health is a positive concept emphasizing social and personal resources, as well as physical capacities.

The Charter went on to list the conditions for health: peace, shelter, education, food, income, a stable eco-system, sustainable resources, and social justice. A far cry from biometrics.

In the late 1950s, the chief of the US Office of Vital Statistics — Halbert Dunn, MD — described a dynamic state-of-being he called “high-level wellness.” This is generally considered the founding of wellness, and Dr. Dunn’s sermon-like lectures reveal his concept to be anything but a simple embodiment of physical health. Dr. Dunn said…

The state of being well is…a fascinating and ever-changing panorama of life itself, inviting exploration of its every dimension.

I believe Dr. Dunn was amplifying — not refuting — WHO’s original definition, and the Ottawa Charter later adopted much of his take on wellness as a never-ending interaction with the environment.

But Dr. Dunn’s framework may have proven too cosmic for the mainstream. And many thought leaders have since distilled wellness into the sum of its various dimensions.

The National Wellness Institute adopted a model that incorporates six dimensions of wellness — occupational, physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and social. Others have divvied wellness up into five, six, seven, or eight dimensions, sometimes tossing in a “relationship” dimension, sometimes “environmental,” “financial,” or “community.” A quick image search reveals a galaxy of multidimensional wellness models in the shape of pies, hexagons, prisms, Venn diagrams, concentric circles, and geodesic domes.

I don’t know exactly how “wellbeing,” in the last few years, worked its way into the hearts of employers and the wellness industry. But one catalyst probably was the bestselling book, The Five Elements of Wellbeing, by Tom Rath and Jim Harter. Both authors are workplace consultants with Gallup (a partner of wellness vendor Healthways) and entrepreneurial marketers with a track record of successfully persuading employers to their way of thinking.

Rath and Harter argue, based on Gallup findings, that wellbeing is more profound than health and wellness, incorporating career, social, financial, physical, and community wellbeing. Sound familiar?

In practice, employers are rallying around mindfulness programs and financial planning, and repackaging stress management as resilience, and using these incremental expansions of the status quo as markers to distinguish wellbeing from wellness. Ultimately, the transition amounts to little more than a name change.

That’s fine.

I’m more than happy to dispose of the word “wellness.” I never cared for it — not because of its definition, but because it has failed to resonate with employees or the public at large. And I see no harm in calling it wellbeing instead of wellness. Certainly, while the employee wellness industry has been celebrating this “transition,” I doubt many employees have noticed a difference.

Besides, I’m open to the evolution of language, as long as it isn’t contrived to cover up a deception (like calling participation “engagement,” which I’m sure no self-respecting wellness professional would ever do).

Here’s my bottom line based on this incomplete and superficial exploration of the terms health, wellness, and wellbeing: Some people are inclined to see connections, whereas others are more drawn to compartmentalize. Maybe surgeons and benefits directors are more likely to see what’s tangible and quantifiable, while artists and farmers see the whole and the dynamics it contains. Both points of view probably deliver value.

Either way, I’m guessing that anyone who views health and wellness as only physical phenomena is likely to see wellbeing the same way. Others who view these concepts holistically are likely to do so regardless of the labels we attach to them.

Health, wellness, wellbeing: In the end, what we call it won’t matter as much as how we think of it…and how we act on it.

(Originally published on LinkedIn May 3, 2016)

Health Behavior Change Program Mind Map

in Uncategorized, Employee Wellness Programs

health behavior change mind map I first tried mind mapping three years ago — to plan a family vacation to Oregon. But I’d jumped straight to the software without really understanding mind mapping, and I crashed into the mechanics…and burned. Then, last year, I tried using new mind mapping software to illustrate a project I was working on at work. That attempt may have helped me, but when I showed it to team members, it was greeted with profound silence, bewilderment, and polite smiles. I still hadn’t even tried to educate myself about mind mapping. But intuitively I knew that it’s important.

Now I’ve started to understand the Why and the How of mind mapping, and I see tremendous potential: For problem solving in the workplace, for communicating, and, personally, for learning, memory, and unlocking creativity.

I was fortunate enough to come across the work of Jane Genovese, of Learning Fundamentals in Australia. As part of her mission to make learning more effective and fun, Jane has created beautiful and engaging mind maps on a broad range of topics. She was kind enough to allow me to re-post here her mind map on Behavioral Change Programs. Click on the map [below] to open the full-sized version. Jane’s map is extraordinary in the thoroughness with which it depicts the elements of successful wellness programs, and I would recommend it to any health promotion professional — especially newcomers to the field. I hope you enjoy and learn from Jane’s mind map as much as I have. (And please be sure to visit her site. Lots of great mind maps and other innovative resources.)

health behavior change mind map

Health behavior change mind map for health promotion and wellness professionals.

I’ll be writing more about mind maps, and publishing my own, and hope to explore with you how we can use mind maps and other visual thinking tools to advance employee wellness (and, beyond that, human resources and organizations overall). I think we are just getting started and the possibilities are unlimited.

[A version of this article was originally published on my The Employee Wellness Network blog in October 2011 —  Bob]

Employee Wellness Programs: Beyond ROI

in Commentary

money puzzleWhen was the last time someone asked an insurer or an employer what their return-on-investment is for covering Viagra? Or back surgery? Prostatectomy? Probably never.

Yet we’re repeatedly asked to prove the ROI of wellness — partly because the role of wellness is misunderstood, and partly because we’ve oversold the ROI of wellness, as I outlined in a previous post.

Wellness is as much or more a part of health as those expensive medical procedures. It’s a double-standard to expect that wellness delivers a positive ROI when the same standard is not upheld for much more costly health expenditures.

Some may make the argument that CFOs will always demand ROI because their interests ultimately lie in the bottom line. But CFOs frequently approve expenditures that don’t have a documented ROI, including community service programs, facility maintenance, diversity initiatives, and go-green initiatives, not to mention numerous expenses more directly tied to business goals, such as those associated with creating a brand. All these activities, including wellness, may generate a positive ROI, but it hasn’t been well documented, in many cases because much of the “return” in “return on investment” is difficult or impossible to measure.

When your organization breaks free from what may be a misguided need to generate a numerical value — whether it’s 3:1 or 12:1 — to your wellness program, it will more readily see the full benefits of wellness, beyond the control of health care costs. These include:

  • Helping to keep employees healthy is the right thing to do. In fact, public health is dependent on having all sectors of society — employers as well as governments, schools, faith-based organizations, and so forth — working toward health improvement. Smoking cessation, reduced littering, and civil rights are just a few examples of how major changes in society require the broadest possible efforts. Ultimately, employee health is a component of an employer’s social consciousness.
  • Wellness programs may promote job engagement. A recent Well-Being survey showed that 40 percent of employees believe wellness benefits encourage them to work harder and perform better. Another survey, conducted by the World Economic Forum and Right Management, found that employees are eight times more likely to be engaged in their work when employers actively promote health and well being.
  • Wellness programs may enhance retention. The Well-Being survey cited above found that nearly half of Americans would stay at their jobs longer because of employer-sponsored wellness programs. The Right Management survey found that employers perceived as pro-wellness are 3.5 times more likely to be seen as encouraging creativity and innovation, and their employees are 4 times less likely to report that they plan to leave within the coming year (compared to employees who do not perceive their organizations as actively promoting wellness).

The United States is the only country where health care cost containment is the primary goal of wellness. “Keeping employees healthy and working” is the primary reason cited by most employers outside the U.S. and, notably, “improving workforce morale” is the primary objective in Asian countries, according to a survey by Buck Consultants.

Just as we all need to work on health improvement, we all do also neeed to work on a solution for spiraling health care costs, which requires strategies based on credible data that may include employee wellness ROI. But ROI is not the be-all-and-end-all of employee wellness, and the sooner we peek out from under the cloud of our single-minded focus on ROI, the sooner we can give our full attention to creating great programs that bring to fruition the full potential of employee wellness.