Is the wellness trend a load of garbage?

This article is originally published in The Age.

Hot on the heels of other dubious business trends like team bonding, corporate huddles and their ilk comes the wellness craze. I’m not really buying it.

For those lucky enough to have so far escaped the latest form of snake oil to take the corporate world by storm, a definition of wellness provided by the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration indicates it has eight dimensions. These are emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, occupational, physical, social and spiritual.

These may well be the components of a full and fruitful life. What I take umbrage with is consultants’ misappropriation of the term wellness – which isn’t even a word, if you ask me – to sell services to workplaces that don’t in any other way demonstrate true concern for the wellbeing of their staff.

Franziska Iseli co-founded business consultancy Basic Bananas. She says the wellness trend is a joke if it’s merely treated as another ‘thing to do’ at work, rather than making it an integral part of the company.

“For wellness programs to work they have to be implemented from the bottom up rather than the top down. Instead of the HR manager or business owner enforcing something the team doesn’t really care about, they are better off letting their staff drive wellness initiatives. This way people takes ownership and choose activities they actually want to do,” she says.

Rather than jump on the wellness craze, Iseli says there are practical steps small businesses can take to encourage staff to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“It is important for business owners to lead by example. Giving the team flexibility to fit health-related activities into their daily lives is a great way to encourage them,” Iseli says.

Ultimately it comes down to allowing individuals in the team to take responsibility for their health, rather than imposing it on people, because there’s nothing worse than being forced to exercise and eat your greens.

Not everyone agrees with my cynical, view, of course. Nikki Fogden-Moore, who styles herself as a global high performance expert, is one.

“This wellness trend has been around a long time and has picked up incredible momentum in the last five years,” says Fogden-Moore.

“Now more than ever, we are bombarded with messages about looking and feeling healthier, living longer, being energetic, slimmer, stronger and less stressed. Yet this seems to be putting more pressure on people than ever before,” she says.

Fogden-Moore acknowledges fads don’t really help people take a healthier approach to life.

“But if we can concentrate on the basic ingredients we can educate people on what healthy really looks and feels like. Fresh food, fresh air and a fresh perspective are the best places to start,” she says.

According to Fogden-Moore, small businesses that genuinely want to encourage their staff to maintain a healthy lifestyle need to look at their employees’ work life blend, rather than their work-life balance.

Practical steps businesses can take to assist their staff to be healthy include building change rooms so people can cycle or run to work and encouraging them to use their lunch break to exercise – if they want to.

“It’s no use making sweeping statements and giving everyone a gym membership. Encourage staff to identify a driver for their health and wellbeing, not just around weight loss. It may be to spend more quality time with their kids or set a personal goal,” says Fogden-Moore.

If you are introducing a company-wide program she advises keeping it to 90 days and integrating it with what’s going on in the business.

“Our health is our wealth so ensure your employees have the right tools to maintain high performance. This includes making time for family, fitness and mental health,” she says.

Give your employees the opportunity to be their healthiest and happiest selves by enabling them to select health and wellness benefits that best suit their needs. Talk to us to learn more about our Health and Wellbeing Programs.

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