Surviving Workplace Wellness With Your Dignity, Finances and (Major) Organs Intact is the new book by Lewis and Khanna which nukes the current workplace wellness landscape. It has me cheering, jumping up and down, and throwing a fist in the air. Now I know how people felt in 1776 when they read Thomas Paine’s, Common Sense. As Wikipedia states, “in clear and simple language it explained the advantages of and the need for immediate independence.”*
*Independence from Great Britain. Just in case.
Surviving Workplace Wellness is the kind of book that makes you want to pick up your own metaphorical musket and join the fight against wellness stupidity. If you’re one of the five people that voluntarily read my blog, you’ll know I am in agreement with these guys on almost everything they say.
There are four key reasons I like this book:
1. They don’t hedge. They’re against employers playing doctor. They don’t like HRAs, biomedical screens, extrinsic incentives, or the moronic claim that wellness programs lower healthcare costs. Of course, that means they think the whole multiple, positive ROI data are pure fiction.
2. They use basic arithmetic to make their case. Never saw that before in this business.
3. They expose a Far Side®-like perspective of Workplace Wellness that has been in front of us the whole time. We needed to see it. The book is very funny.
4. The media has picked up on their message resulting in a wave of critical thinking by the purchasers of wellness services. That’s a first too. Check out this post by Forbes.
But then as I was reading the book…
I Was Suddenly Laughing at Myself as Opposed to Laughing by Myself
(a distinction with a difference)
I was laughing at the great humor in the book, at the expense of some self-important, arrogant asses in our business. When suddenly… near the end of the book, they take a crack at an article titled, 8 Truths to Boost Your Wellness Communication.
Wait! That sounds familiar. I wrote that!!! WT#! Now it appears I too am one of the self-important asses I’ve been laughing at. I must be part of the problem. Not part of the solution. How can that be? I am one of their “Sons of Liberty.” It seems I’ve been throwing the “pry-poke-and-prod” wellness model overboard since the Boston Tea Party.
Now I am a laughing stock. I was walking down the street the other day and some people pointed at me and yelled, “Hey, there’s Connors one of those self-important, arrogant asses Lewis and Khanna skewered in their new book. Just look at that jerk. Ha, ha, ha!”
My wife assured me they weren’t laughing at me. That I needed to remember that Lewis and Khanna didn’t even mention my name in their book, just the title of the article I wrote. And as much as I liked the book, she doubted the entire population of the United States read it yet. But really, what else could be so funny? Why is everyone looking at me so weird?
You know, just because you’re paranoid… suddenly this is like having Stalin as an ally. “Hey Comrade, relax we’re on the same side, no?”
The Problem With Using a Scorched Earth Strategy
Lewis and Khanna are on a Sherman-style march to the sea. They’re too busy destroying the enemy, supplies, sources of production, and distribution capabilities to nuance over little facts like:
1. Once you’ve destroyed the enemy then what?
2. What do you do with the defeated army?
3. Where is the new creative birth in the ashes of destruction?
4. What rules if any do the citizens of the defeated nation live under?
This is how you think when everything in health for the last 30 years is a war against something.
The authors are self-admitted recovering workplace wellness Kool-Aid® drinkers. In their own words, “we didn’t just drink this Kool-Aid, we served it up at banquets,” reminiscent of Tom Wolfe’s book, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
It’s OK to have been “for it before you were against it,” even though that’s not a great political strategy. The problem is now we have workplace wellness professionals with absolutely no collective memory of anything else but the nonsense exposed in Surviving Workplace Wellness.
It’s like the whole professional wellness world spent decades teaching us germs are caused by swamp vapors. I could name names of organizations still stuck in the swamp school of wellness, like WELCOA®, AJHP®, Staywell®, Wellsteps®, and a few others. But I am not going to do that.
Having advised against that pry-poke-and-prod model − even when Lewis, Khanna, Emerick, Edington, and others were advocating for it − we’re a little easier on people.
Bring us your confused, naïve, lost souls that still think wellness means to find the hidden disease inside the person (for just $550 PEPY). We’ll straighten them out and give them support as they begin a journey down a better path. If they don’t come around, we’ll tie them down and make them listen to a 24-hour loop of Al Lewis webinars.
The Revolution Against Current Workplace Wellness
Practices is Going to Triumph
We need to think about transition and reconstruction because Lewis and Khanna are going to win. I’ve sat through a few debates now between these guys (and their ilk) vs. the old wellness guard. And the old guard’s strongest argument to counter the clear and lethally presented math that makes a joke of wellness ROI is, “don’t let them (Lewis, etc.) confuse you. They’re like tobacco company executives that are lying.”
That’s what the ruling wellness pointy heads said. That was their best shot! Really. You can’t make this up. It was kind of like Admiral Stockdale saying, “You got me on that one. I am out of ammo,” in response to a question during a Vice Presidential campaign debate. Check it out. When Wellness Worlds Collide Wellness Critics Respond to Attack.
What Happens When the Pry-Poke-and-Prod Wellness Model Goes Away?
I get the uneasy feeling I had when watching the movie Independence Day. It’s the scene where the President asked the captured alien what they wanted us to do, and the alien simply responded, “die.”
Like the alien, Lewis and Khanna don’t give us multiple choice options to replace the workplace wellness model they’re blowing up.
Actually, Lewis came up with a few suggestions. “Hey, anyone wanna be on the volleyball team?” He reported eight people signed up for volleyball by just sending out a simple email. Wow! Who knew.
And one of Al’s wellness programs that got the most kudos was to clean the restrooms more often. We also learn about Cognex who bought a lot next door to their business and set up an Ultimate Frisbee® course. New employees can sign up for an Ultimate Frisbee clinic on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It’s a big hit at work apparently.
The above examples are actually great tactical ideas and do contribute to a culture of wellness. But after the adrenalin rush the first 4/5ths of the book gives you, this was a bit lacking in strategic genius and depth.
In fairness, looking to Lewis or Khanna for wellness’s version of the Marshall Plan* would be like trying to use an aircraft carrier as a Carnival® Cruise Line ship. It’s best used as a weapon of war. And we actually need these warriors to continue stomping out workplace tyranny where it exists. That should keep them busy for at least the next few thousand years.
*I know. That one is a bit of a stretch.
So What To do?
Being highly trained turn-around specialists by watching Jon Taffer’s Bar Rescue on television, we’ve come up with a few sound suggestions for turning workplace wellness around:
1. Listen to Lewis and Khanna. They’re right about what’s wrong. Especially the fact that, as Taylor Swift might phrase it, wellness should have never, ever, ever, ever made healthcare cost containment an objective. That error has led to all the intrusive, clinically- based, nonsense employees are starting to rebel against.
2. We don’t care that the ACA (ObamaCare) incents (via tax subsidies) the use of wellness incentives. Don’t do it. That part of the law is based on false data as pointed out in the book. Don’t try to incent people to do things they don’t want to do. There are many better options.
3. My longtime colleague, Wendy Haan, and I decided to produce something tangible and tactically useful to give everyone a start on a new way to wellness. I took on the task of suggesting we think different about workplace wellness. And Wendy (after over a year testing our ideas out in a pilot with a local employer and their 400 souls) took on the task of showing you how to be different. Check out the two free eBooks, Six Questions that Make Creativity More Valuable than $$$ When Planning Your Wellness Program and A Champaign & Caviar Wellness Program on a Beer & Nachos Budget.
4. From a long-term strategic perspective, we need to deliver a workable plan to help employers build “cultures of wellbeing.” To that end our parent company, IHAC, Inc., will be the publisher of a new book due out this fall by Dr. Rosie Ward and Dr. Jon Robison titled, How to Build a Thriving Culture At Work, Featuring The 7 Points of Transformation.
“So, Connors. Stop already! You’re killing me here. What was it that set you off that Lewis and Khanna said about your article?” Oh, yes. That. I did embark on a bit of a segue there, didn’t I? Whoa.
Remember these guys are warriors. When they spotted my article, 8 Truths to Boost Your Wellness Communication, out in the marketplace they tracked it back to its source. It appeared in Corporate Wellness magazine published by the Corporate Health and Wellness Association (CHWA) in 2010. It was actually a reprint CHWA wanted to use from an earlier eBook I wrote. I said sure. You quickly begin to understand that CHWA is not Lewis’ and Khanna’s favorite professional group.
Their key point was, “If communications need to be the centerpiece of the program, it’s a lousy program.” This from the two most prolific communicators I’ve seen in over 30 years in this business. They’ve written multiple books, have a huge and active blog presence, and I even get to watch Al on TV while I am working out at the gym. And now we have the 165 pages in Surviving Workplace Wellness which they wrote for employees subject to these programs. That’s a lot of communication, guys?
They were referring to a terrible wellness program, where some idiot spent $3 million dollars on logos and colors, etc. Basically it was the “you can’t put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig” message. As my friend, Jon Robison who likes to quote Bob Dylan on occasion says, “It ain’t me, Babe!” I don’t think they read the article. I was a victim of friendly fire. I still agree with them that a great communication plan can’t support a totally false premise. But good communication can be the foundation of a righteous wellness program.
And now as one of my favorite characters, Forrest Gump, would say, “that’s all I’ve got to say about that.”
Shawn is the President and Founder of Hope Health. For over 30 years, his work has focused on bringing clear, easy-to-read and watch health messages to the public via workplaces. He bills himself as the “Best C+ Student in the Wellness Biz” because, as he says, “I like to challenge the notion that there is no such thing as a stupid question.” Shawn is on a mission to tie workplaces into their surrounding communities to share resources and ideas in an effort to improve the health of all Americans.
You may reach Shawn at sconnors@HopeHealth.com or 800-334-4094.