You’d have to be a species of Ostrich not to realize workplace wellness is now on the receiving end of being creatively destroyed. It will soon be retired along with the flat earth theory, rusty surgical saws, lead wine goblets, and flying steam engines. But just think of the better ideas that followed those. Be realistic and stay optimistic.
Nature abhors a vacuum. And we let a huge one develop in workplace wellness by forgetting what “wellness” was really about — helping people live full, happy lives, and treating them with dignity and respect. But somehow it became an exercise in penalizing people with “wrong” outcomes, classifying healthy people as patients, getting them to do stuff they don’t want to do, poking them with needles, and prying into their private lives. In the process of executing these terrible ideas, based on faulty data, over a long period of time, we’ve arrived at a tipping point.
The Dynamic Duo
How Al Lewis (think IBM®’s super computer, Watson, but with the addition of a law degree and a wicked sense of humor) met Vik Khanna (a descendant of Genghis Khan?), I don’t know. But they’re the dynamic duo behind the creative destruction coming soon to a workplace wellness program near you. They call themselves, “Partners In Rationality.” I totally get that after observing the whacky world of workplace wellness for the last 20 years.
The price for a barrel of rationality is at an all-time high in wellness, so Lewis and Khanna have a valuable commodity to sell.
The information that has posed as valid wellness research for so many years is nonsense. The math simply doesn’t work. I even worked it out with just my bio-fueled, C+ grade brain, and a calculator. See “Workplace Wellness ROI: A Simple Way To Verify.”
And make sure and check out this highly relevant, recent Health Affairs article, “Workplace Wellness Produces No Savings” by Lewis, Khanna, and Montrose, and then read through the comments. It’s a lively, civil, and productive debate, which is long overdue.
Lewis also keeps offering the “researchers” who are targets of his highly detailed, mathematical criticisms multi-thousand dollar rewards to refute his claims or debate him openly. In effect proving, once again that extrinsic incentives don’t work, because nobody takes him up on the challenge. Lewis is often vilified in closed forums and cut-off from participating, or defending himself in those webinar, bully fests. It was exactly that cold-shoulder approach to this guy that got me more interested in who he was. And it turns out he’s the guy who confronts the bully in the hall and punches him in the nose. I don’t like bullies. I was sold.
How the ACA is helping to accelerate the demise of workplace wellness as we know it
The ACA (aka Obama Care) and its high level focus on workplace wellness (based on false data), via its subsidy to support incentives (which have never worked), have enticed workplaces to engage in practices that inevitably attracted law suits by the EEOC, and soon to come, many others. It’s no surprise the major media outlets are now taking notice. And guess who the journalist like? That’s right, Watson (Lewis) and Genghis Khan (Khanna). They’re controversial, in-your-face, funny, and can go to a deadly serious mode with math and other statistics as fast as Hawkeye Pierce of the 4077th, M*A*S*H Unit knew it was time to surgeon up.
Here’s the most recent major media story using these guys as a source, “Why ‘wellness’ program scams cost employers and harm employees,” by Michael Hiltzik of The Los Angeles Times. And the hits just keep on rolling. The big media outlets are now “all-in” on the debate.
As creative destruction reigns, chaos is starting to take a turn. There are three types of characters to be aware of as Workplace Wellness goes through its metamorphosis of worm to butterfly.
1. Ostriches (or Klingons?): Wellness companies, organizations, and their owners and officers who think workplace wellness is fine as is. They dig in their heels, and are vague or silent in defending the specific failings cited in their methods. They send out email promotions like “Wellness Still Works,” “The Critics Are Wrong,” etc. They’re immune to the reality of math, the dependability of good science, the blessings of common sense, and empathy for the human condition. Sometimes they present as academicians or doctors. They just want you to shut-up and listen to their wisdom. I secretly suspect they’re Klingons.
2. Charlatans & Imposters: These are the ones who use Homonyms. That means the same words can have different meanings. For example, a politician might use the word “freedom” but could actually mean you’ll be shot if you try to cross a border. See how that works? “Cultures of health,” and “healthy workplace cultures” don’t get that way by using extrinsic incentives, cattle prods, bio-metric screening, HRAs, ROI claims data metrics, and weight loss contests. Beware of anybody using those terms or programs with those tactics! It’s the same wolf in sheep’s clothing. Want to know what healthy workplace cultures are really about read, “How to Build a Thriving Culture at Work, Featuring The 7 Points of Transformation”*, by Rosie Ward and Jon Robison.
3. Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves: These are the “professionals.” The authoritative, serious looking people, usually impeccably attired, often self-proclaimed experts in employee benefits. Sometimes they’ll do group photo ops with other members of their gangs. Their message: “We’re a lot smarter than you and we’re here to set you straight.” Their role in your life is to increase complexity, drama, and costs. They help workplaces “navigate” the ACA regulations, the EEOC law suits, be in HIPAA compliance, and walk that fine line of protecting confidentiality as their clients extract information from employees that is none of their business. All of which nobody would have to worry about if they’d just run a good business and quit prodding everyone to do stuff they don’t want to do.
Besides, all there is to know about healthful lifestyles is available for free on the Intelligence For Your Life radio show with John Tesh. Plus you get to listen to some great music. Pipe that into your workplace. What could be better?
My advice. Believe Lewis and Khanna, they’re right about what is wrong with wellness. And respect their capabilities to destroy the current workplace wellness model. They’re doing it as you read this. And then see what Ward and Robison have to say in the book mentioned above. These are some of the key players behind the creative destruction of wellness as we know it, and a new developing paradigm of how we think about life and work.
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.