Corporate Wellness and a 3 Way Mirror

Corporate wellness, corporate culture, engagement, and employee productivity have become buzz words in the media and around organizations worldwide recently. I’ve been fortunate to see this issue from a few different vantage points and I want to preface this article by acknowledging that I still have more questions than answers on the subject and how best to address it.

That said, what I’ve seen from the “wellness” industry offers more frustration and confusion then inspiration and direction. To me, there are three entities that need to be addressed and must work together to make the kind of impact needed to get people’s attention and really make substantial change. This list is not in order of importance and I consider them interdependent rather than independent of each other. If all three aren’t working together and in the same direction the best of intentions will inevitably get derailed.



Wellness programs can’t be a decree from the top down to get your employees’ butts in gear and in shape in an effort to lower your health care costs. Coercion doesn’t work the way we think it does. Neither does a condescending pat of the head that says “Um, yeah, so we’re giving you personal training sessions and gym memberships because we care. Oh, and by the way, I’m going to take money out of your pocket if you don’t use it and get in shape, mmkay.” (Insert Office Space, Bill Lumbergh here). This doesn’t mean you care about your employees and they see right through these tactics. It’s kind of like getting your spouse personal training sessions and an “Eating Light” cookbook and expecting a big hug and warm thank you. What kind of signal do you think it sends? Jerk.

As the company, ask yourself; what benefit are you really looking for from a wellness program? Big-picture, what’s the ultimate goal here? What problem are you really trying to solve? Is your current approach working? Commanding your employees to be healthier doesn’t work and a stand-alone “wellness program” will only be a blip on the radar. True “corporate wellness” starts with the top brass in your company deciding that it makes good business sense to cultivate a workplace that puts a premium on helping employees perform at their best. A piece of that is offering programs that address the physical health of your employees, but only a piece. Other components must address the emotional, mental, core values and financial aspects of your employees’ worlds. I don’t mean that it’s the company’s obligation to ensure the health of each of these areas for people, but investing in and supporting these areas within your organization makes people-sense and will go a long way toward lower insurance premiums and reduce the number of days lost to health issues but more importantly, it will lead to lower turnover and greater productivity.

What you do as an organization will go much farther in shaping the culture of your business than what you say. People are really good at following the leader and the business world is no exception. If you (as leaders in your organization) set a crappy example, your people will follow… and then blame you for the way you treat them… and based on your actions, they’re right. Don’t forget that. You’re employees are part of your business whether you like it or not. The better they are at their jobs, the more value they feel and the more closely they connect to what they’re doing the more they produce, your bottom line goes up and insurance costs go down.



Let me just get this out of the way first: I’ve worked with companies all over the world and there are two common themes, consistent across the board- everyone is busy and everyone is stressed. What I’m about to say about employees, I mean with as much love, empathy and compassion as I can possibly muster. Suck it up and deal with it. Everyone is busy and everyone has stress. Get over it. You’re not going to get less busy, stress is part of being an adult and there is such a thing as personal accountability. It’s no one’s job but yours to make sure you are taking care of number one.

I know that hurt a little. That was the intention. I’ve seen too many people who are all too happy to play the part of the overworked, overstressed, I-don’t-get-to-have-a-life-because-I-work-every-second-of-every-day martyr and if this is your mindset nothing’s going to change until you change your tune. Your situation is what you’ve allowed it to be and it’s up to you to make the best of it or it will crush you no matter what your company tries to do for you.

The most important thing an employee can do is understand and accept the reality of the situation they’re currently in and then do something to improve it. You’ll never survive by wishing for the next holiday or vacation, surviving until the weekend or “getting through” until this big project is over. You signed up for the job you have. Certainly you knew there would be work to do and expectations to meet. Much of the work pressure we feel is part of an internal story we tell ourselves about what it means to be a “good worker bee.” Busy and productive aren’t the same thing. Don’t forget that. No one cares how busy you are but they’ll notice what you produce and they’ll remember what your attitude was, good or bad.

Your job is to find ways to flourish through the challenges and use stress as a catalyst for growth. Part of that is setting boundaries and making sure you’re living a life outside of work; have hobbies, interact with friends, be involved with community activities, travel, take vacation, etc. Even if the company you work for doesn’t give a crap about you during work hours, if you take advantage of your free time, life (work life and personal life) will be much more enjoyable.



I’m passionate about this group and I hold them to a higher standard because I’m one of them and we must do better. We have a tendency to go in, guns blazin’, with a “biggest loser program” here, a “step challenge” there and follow those up with the all-encompassing “drink more water” or “get more sleep” finisher and ultimately look like a side show act that employees will chuckle about down the road on their way to burnout, disengagement and high cholesterol.

There are two critical pieces every trainer or wellness company must have in order to move people and companies from unhealthy to healthy. First, we must have a well-rounded and extensive comprehension of the subject matter we are teaching/implementing, both from an academic/research standpoint and from a practical application standpoint. Second, we must be able to disregard all of our subject matter knowledge, practical application bias and personal interest in order to understand and meet people or companies where they’re at. These two things must be in sync in order to truly facilitate change. The process itself shouldn’t look much different for an organization than it does for a person but we can’t come at a complex issue like corporate wellness with just a personal trainer hat on. If we’re serious about helping organizations change we must learn more about the business world we’re operating in and speak their language.

Our first responsibility to the people and organizations we work with is not to be the fitness and nutrition expert and it’s not to have all the answers. It’s to be an expert listener. I know that gives you flashbacks of kindergarten but in my experience very few of us got the point then, so I’m repeating it now. I can’t help a client until I shut up and listen to what their goals are, what their obstacles are, what they’ve tried in the past and most importantly, understand their WHY. We must fight our initial instinct to immediately offer solutions and instead, listen, ask question, listen some more and then ask more questions. If our intention is to parade in, word vomit all the great stuff we know, site this research and that research in an effort to show how smart we are and be the conquering hero we’re lost before we’ve started. Listen first.

Our second job is to provide guidance to the organization and help them hash out what the real goal is as it relates to corporate wellness. It’s our job to communicate the importance addressing employee wellness with a multi-dimensional (physical, emotional, mental, values based, financial, etc.) approach and help them connect the dots between wellness, corporate environment/culture, productivity and bottom line. Only then can we begin to work with an organization to help them develop a plan that best meets the needs of the employees and the business. The employees and the business is important to understand here. If we can’t speak to the benefits for the business (the bottom line) we’ll never get complete buy in from key influencers at the top. A program that doesn’t work with influencers will never be fully embraced by the organization and doesn’t have a chance of making an impact.

Finally, when it comes time to take action on the plan we’ve laid out with the organization, we must implement strategies that focus on and cultivate the behaviors that will lead to the short-term and long-term changes we want to see in the company and its people.

Ultimately, if the approached to corporate wellness isn’t to achieve a win-win (company and employee), no one will benefit. Companies must begin to reshape their corporate environment to one that lowers the bar for healthy behaviors and shift to a culture where wellness an underlying theme, woven into the fabric of the business. Employees have to take ownership of their overall wellbeing and take advantage when companies offer them opportunities to grow and develop. Wellness companies must bridge the gap between the two. We are the trusted adviser, connecting the company to their employees in a way that’s genuine, with an eye on the business while simultaneously connecting the employees to the company in a way that makes them want to give back by doing the best work they’re capable of.


3 Tips for a Bright Idea

In a world where the average American sits for 11 hours a day our brain can get bogged down with over stimulation.  Too much time in front of a computer.  Too much time in front of the television.  Too much time in meetings, staring across the table at coworkers.  In this constant environment of distraction and stress it can be almost impossible to free our brains up to just think.  Seriously, when is the last time you had an Ah-ha moment?  A creative solution to a complex problem?  Or simply a fresh, original idea?

When our brains are forced to be “on” all the time we miss out on the quite that allows us to do our best, most creative, original thinking.

Here are three simple ideas to spark some thought:


Take a Walk


Nietzschwalke said, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.”  Our bodies are designed for much more than simply transporting our brains from device to device, meeting to meeting and computer screen to computer screen.  Simply taking a walk can help us detach from a problem we’re too close to or give us the distraction we need to help us solve a problem we’ve been unable to solve.  We’ve all had it happen- you’re so focused on finding a solution and the more you focus and the harder you work at it, the further away a solution seems.  As soon as we start thinking about something completely different, boom!  The answer pops into our heads.

Walking also helps our problem solving ability by increasing our blood circulation.  Our brains are fueled by glucose and oxygen and the more we move, the more fuel we get to the brain.  Think about a light bulb attached to a bicycle- in order to turn on the light bulb, you’ve got to start peddling.

Try this- once an hour, take a five minute break from your computer and take a short walk, outside if possible but just around your office or home will do.  Leave your smart phone or iPad behind and just let your mind wonder.  Give your mind the freedom it needs to do its best work.


Take a Shower


Seriously, how many times do you have an Ah-ha moment in the shower?!  It happens to me so often than I stash waterproof markers in the shower so I can make notes and jot down ideas.  Some of my clearest, most creative thinking happens as I’m scrubbing suds.  Like walking, taking a shower increases our circulation, combined with the noise and the forced disconnect from our mobile devices and you’ve got a recipe for some of your most high-level problem solving.

Try this- tomorrow morning when while you’re washing your hair, take note of the ideas flowing through your head.  Grab a dry erase marker and make a few notes.




New research about the benefits of exercise on the brain seem to be coming out on almost a daily basis.  Exercise’s benefits on our health has been known for decades but we’re now discovering just how beneficial, even vital it is for proper brain function, learning and development and even problem solving.  When we engage in vigorous (think 70% of your max HR, or just go for challenging) exercise we release hormones that literally increase our ability to learn new things.  Add that to the fact that exercise releases dopamine and epinephrine (feel good hormones) and you’ve got a recipe for brilliance… seriously!

Try this- When you’re stuck on a problem, or you’ve got a big project you’re working on, instead of banging your head against your computer hoping the answers will just come to you- grab your running shoes and hit the pavement for 20 minutes.  Don’t like running?  No worries, anything that gets your heart rate up works just the same.  You’ll be shocked at how clear your thought process and creative your solutions.



Since you’ll be so inundated with all these new ideas, make sure to have a notebook and pen handy, some shower-markers or an app that allows you to make simple notes.


Happy thinking!

The Fun Factor

How many times have you started, stopped, then restarted and stopped, then rerestarted and stopped an exercise program? For most people, probably more times than they can count. Now ask yourself this, “When was the last time you had fun exercising”? Silly question, right?  Sadly, for most people the answer is probably never.


It’s an unfortunate misconception about the fitness industry that exercise and fun can’t be one in the same. Exercising DOES NOT have to suck. People need to get away from the notion that “exercising” has to involve gym memberships, skin-tight neon-colored workout clothes and personal trainers who’s idea of a good workout is making you puke.


The reality is most people won’t start a workout program, and certainly won’t stick to a workout program, if they hate it. I certainly wouldn’t. It’s time to redefine what exercise is and what you need to do to get and stay physically fit.


The American College of Sports Medicine gives us this definition for exercise:


“Exercise is planned, structured, and repetitive bodily movement done to improve or maintain one or more physical fitness components. Progressive overloading is necessary to improve specific fitness components. Exercise, conditioning, and physical training are terms that are used interchangeably.”


Quick quiz: can you find the words gym, weights, treadmill, puke, dumbbells, personal trainer, boring, painful in that definition?  Feel free to reread that it a few times if you need to.


Exercise, according to this definition, can be anything involving repetitive bodily movement done to improve or maintain one or more physical fitness components.  Right?  Nowhere in that definition does it say exercise has to be something you hate.  It doesn’t!  So find something you love to do that requires repetitive bodily movement. Let’s put some fun back into exercise! I’ve been in the fitness industry for over a decade and even I get sick of the gym sometimes. So what’s the solution? I get my butt outside and go play! I pretend that I’m still an athlete and play beach volleyball or flag football or I’ll go to a park and make up a workout with sprints, resistance bands or use the best piece of equipment on the planet- my body weight.


Think about the activities you enjoy that require movement and apply them to this definition.  Go swim, bike, surf, hike, rock climb, run, dance, play tennis, play rec. sports, yoga, chase your kids.  Grab some friends and a football, soccer ball, baseball, softball, dodge ball or Frisbee and go play.  If you’re one of those people that enjoy going to the gym and working out, or doing boot camps, group exercise or Crossfit, knock yourself out!  I guarantee that if you can have fun exercising you won’t have any trouble sticking with it long-term.