Corporate Health and Wellness has been of interest to me ever since I left the corporate world 15 years ago. I find the culture of work environments fascinating. I’ve done lots of different jobs over the years: engineering, events, food and restaurant, commissioned sales, military, healthcare, fitness, and security. Health and wellness coordinator was once a job that I highly coveted. I figured I could tell people my secret sauce to weight loss and, boom, best corporate wellness program ever. Of course, it isn’t that simple.
First off, telling people what to do to improve their health is a good thing. However, it takes time for us to act on knowledge that we already have, let alone new information. Just because I tell you how I lost 100 pounds doesn’t mean you are going to do anything about it… even if you are 150 pounds overweight. Having knowledge and the desire to act upon that knowledge, are two different things.
Second, there is the issue of what a person believes is possible. What if I tell you what I did to lose 100 pounds and you just don’t believe it’s possible for you to do the same thing? Recently I’ve been thinking about this in relation to musculoskeletal pain. Chronic knee pain was a consistent part of my life from elementary school up until I was 30 years old. Through simple stretching/mobility exercises, I was able to heal my knees. They’ve been solid ever since. I still stretch and do regular mobility work almost everyday.
The issue of pain in relation to a person’s job has come up many times in my work life. The military, healthcare, fitness, and security industries to be specific. On many occasions I’ve watched a coworker walking or bending over to lift something. I can see that they are battling an injury or some sort of pain. In times past, I’ve tried to talk to people about their chronic pain in certain parts of the body: neck/back, wrists/elbow, ankles/knees, etc. The barrier I always run into is belief. There’s no point in talking through strategy if the fundamental belief that the body can heal itself is not there. Generally, in my experience, people see the idea of being pain free as a result of winning the genetic lottery. It’s not something that they can have.
Initially, I found this to be an incredibly discouraging phenomena. To know that a person could almost 100% heal themselves of their ailments through simple exercises/stretches that require no equipment, and to watch them do nothing. It’s not that they’re lazy. They just don’t believe. How do you explain sight to someone who was born blind? How do you explain a pain-free existence to someone who believes there is no alternative? This feature of human psychology is fascinating to me. I suppose that corporate health and wellness coordinators have been running into this obstacle forever. Doctors, Physical Therapists, Mental Health Therapists, Personal Trainers, and Coaches as well.
What might be different about Corporate Health and Wellness is the fact that you have a few people trying to influence, in some cases, thousands of people spread out over different locations. That was the case when I worked as an engineer. How do you do that?
Maybe, if you build it, they will come… Like a walking path around the office building. Or, a vending machine that has a few healthy options. Simple, low cost environmental adjustments. If exercise and healthy food aren’t options, people aren’t going to consume them. However, I also wonder if that’s the wrong focus.
If you pay people more, ensure that they have a retirement plan that they understand, ensure that they have a health insurance plan that makes sense, and work on improving relationships/communication between coworkers, maybe improved health and well-being just happens as a by-product?
But, what if the job itself makes the person miserable? When I was an engineer we had walking paths, healthy snacks in vending machines, I definitely was paid well, I definitely had a good retirement plan, and I definitely had good health insurance. Also, I had great coworkers. But I hated the job. Nothing the health, wellness, and human resources people did would have been able to change that.
If I ever had the opportunity to be the person that handled employee health and well-being for an organization, I think my approach would be similar to what I do here and in my speaking. I would try to put ideas in the environment that challenge people’s beliefs and present some potential pathways to change. If people decide that change is what they want, the resources are there. Seems like how you might go about positive influence in any context. It’s the same conclusion I came to with my own family many years ago after I had lost so much weight. Most of my family is overweight or obese and none of them desires to hear what I have to say about weight loss. No matter how kind and gentle I am about it.
So much of the evolution of my own thinking about how to help others with their own health and wellness, has revolved around the ability to invest in the example I set, while emotionally divesting in the behaviors of the people I hope to influence. When we discover something good, we instinctively want to share it with those closest to us. Especially something as freeing as relief from pain. However, we are our own agents of change and we often see what we want to see, when we want to see it.
As the old saying goes – When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
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