Mixed messaging

Do wellness programs make sense if employees are offered pizza every week?

Mixed messaging

For the next issue of Canadian HR Reporter, I’m looking into a recent report out of the United States around wellness in the workplace, and whether there's a true return on investment for employers.

It’s not necessarily a new topic but there are some interesting insights, and it’s an issue that’s always intrigued me.

I’ve always tried to live a healthy lifestyle, from track and field days in high school to biking and running today. And the same is true for food, as I try to watch portion sizes along with fat and sugar levels, and processed foods.

But when it comes to the workplace, that’s a big challenge — there are always temptations. The vending machine in the cafeteria is filled with chips, chocolate bars and soda. Birthday celebrations for colleagues mean cake is served, group meetings mean pizza is dished out, and holidays such as Christmas and Easter mean all kinds of treats appear.

And I get it. Fresh vegetables and fruit can be more expensive and more complicated to serve. And there’s no point ordering in equal parts salad and pizza if the salad just doesn’t get eaten.

I think it’s more the mixed messaging that doesn’t make sense to me. When it comes to wellness programs, an employer might push people to join fitness challenges, with people boosting their steps by walking at lunch, or offer on-site flu shot clinics to reduce the number of ill employees. An employer may tell people to remember to get up and stretch if they’ve been sitting at their desk for too long, or encourage people to sign up for yoga classes in the building.

And yet the next day, that same employer might serve up a celebratory breakfast compete with high-sugar fruit drinks and high-fat muffins. Or give each person a large, individually wrapped cookie to celebrate being named a “top employer.”

For a lot of employees working hard to watch their weight, it’s another temptation they just don’t need. I know I indulge more often than I should.

Wellness can entail all kinds of initiatives, from biometrics to EAPs to smoking cessation programs. But one of the biggest issues facing most people is weight control, and continuously tempting employees with unhealthy snacks and meals just doesn’t add up.

I know there’s no easy solution, but maybe it’s about taking that extra step — and yes, boosting the budget a bit — by ordering in sandwiches or wraps instead of pizza, yogurt instead of juice, or clementines instead of cookies. And serving up a celebratory cake just once a month.

Sure, some employees might resent the changes, but others may appreciate the healthy options and, more importantly, the consistent messaging from their employer.

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