What do you think of corporate wellness

Corporate wellness - more health or more control?

This text appeared in the November issue of Ada.


Intimate questions such as one's own health are now blurring between work and private life. Companies deal with two things: Applicants have ever higher expectations of what is offered to them in addition to an exciting job. For some employees, healthy eating and the opportunity to do sports are part of an attractive work environment. The second aspect is the productivity of teams: employers want to avoid sick days and, above all, lengthy absences such as burnout. What companies offer ranges from massages to flu vaccinations and meditation courses. Job advertisements advertise a “sports room with a personal trainer” or name the advertised position directly as a “feel-good workplace”.

The decisive question, however, is whether we should see these ideas as voluntary offers in the long term - or whether employees who are less fit will suffer disadvantages. Because there is a possible bias in executives: They consider athletic employees to be more productive. Colleagues among each other could also subconsciously consider those who are sick more often or who do not participate in the running group to be less motivated. Various studies have shown that fat people are discriminated against when it comes to recruitment and promotions. However, they cannot take legal action under the General Equal Treatment Act (AGG), as body weight is not taken into account there as a personal characteristic.

If you observe trends in the world of work, it looks more like the demands on the fitness of employees are increasing. When around 20,000 teachers went on strike in the US state of West Virginia in 2018, it was also about increased health insurance costs, some of which consisted of penalties for insured persons who were unable to meet certain health requirements. Teacher Brandon Woldford told a union meeting that employees were being told to wear Fitbit and to have blood glucose, waist circumference and BMI checked by a doctor. Those who exceeded the guidelines had to pay an additional payment of $ 500, those who refused FitBit an additional $ 25 a month. In the same year, a Japanese CEO announced that employees * who slept at least six hours a week - tracked via app - would be rewarded with points that they could exchange in the canteen. Employees are punished financially for supposedly unhealthy behavior.

Are corporate wellness programs about employee wellbeing or, most importantly, about reducing costs? How do chronically ill employees or those with a disability fare? In addition, there is a lack of knowledge about which type of health management actually makes people healthier. Not only are factors such as a healthy weight and need for sleep highly individual, there is also the question of what psychological triggers are the monitoring via app and the pressure of having to perform in terms of health.

Companies should therefore do two things for themselves: Make sure that the harmful stress caused by the job is reduced. And leave employees enough free time to independently do what is good for their well-being and health. Good managers do not rely on control, but on trust.

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