A Fresh Perspective on Wellness – Part I
I have been the health, fitness, and wellness field since 1985. I was a nationally ranked collegiate athlete and award winning triathlete. Not long ago, I weighed 267 pounds. I exercised myself right into back surgery and chronic pain. Food, exercise, spending, alcohol and drugs (years ago) have been rotating addictive/compulsive behaviors for over 30 years. This article is not going to offer you a bundle of statistics; the return on your investment for wellness programs is well documented. What I am offering here is my experience in working with thousands of clients, working through my own challenges in self-care, and a fresh perspective for wellness programs – working from the inside out. If working from the outside in was truly effective, then the millions of people who lose weight every year would keep it off. What is the missing link? After all the time and effort spent in losing weight, why do people gain it back? The reason 95 percent regain the weight is that their inner life has not received much attention and their old habits soon return…with the weight.
Creating a wellness culture in the workplace rests heavily on its owners/CEOs. Their willingness to invest, become aware, and to improve their whole being is vital to successful, long-lasting wellness programs.The major obstacle for wellness programs is that their focus is on “doing, doing, doing”. I understand employees have to “do” something different to receive health benefits and for the healthcare costs to decrease for employers. However, if the internal emotional life of the individual does not change, it won’t matter how much they “do, do, do”- eventually they will return back to their old behavior and the employer will be back at the starting gate. If sustained positive results and less absenteeism is the goal, there has to be greater emphasis on “feelings” versus “doing”. (As an employer, if your reaction is something like “this is total psychobabble”, take a moment and examine the reasons for your response. Remain open-minded and please read more).
Often wellness programs only focus on the physical changes. This is sensible as healthier employees reduce healthcare expenses. However, sustaining an effective program and keeping employees engaged requires understanding what brings them joy and contentment, cultivating ownership of their fears and insecurities. When employees feel good about themselves they are better, more reliable workers. They have more self-confidence and make more effective leaders. Although our society often promotes workaholism, workaholics tend to be more abusive to their bodies – no exercise, too much caffeine, high stressed, lack of a social life, alcohol/drug abuse, neglect of family, and lack of sleep – all of which contribute to chronic disease and illness. Translation – higher healthcare costs!
CEOs have to lead by example, (i.e., under high stress and deadlines CEO George tells his staff no interruptions for the next 15 minutes. “I’m going to take 15 minutes to de-stress.” Employees notice the change in the bosses demeanor after the 15 minutes and are impressed, motivated and inspired to follow). Furthermore, employees observe that while under great stress, their boss does not reach for more coffee, more chocolate or …the quick fix. This CEO is invested in his/her wellness. To alter the atmosphere, the culture of a work place takes time and energy. Once a healthy atmosphere is established, new employees coming in will be quick to follow. When employees believe you are looking out for them, they will work tirelessly to produce for you!
Feel more, do less, equals longevity in wellness behavior changes. There are exceptions. Can people change behaviors without addressing who they really are? Yes. The question here is. “Are they happy and content?” Will the change last? A wellness behavior change is geared to bring less stress and more joy to one’s life. AGAIN, when people feel good about themselves they are better workers, and their confidence positively affects other employees. Consider the following:
- The mind that created the problem (poor wellness choices) is not the mind that can fix it. NEED new information.
- The employer has to be an active participant in the wellness program.
- The more engaged the CEO the more the employees benefit from the wellness program.
- People who know themselves have a clear understanding of their challenges and fears about making a lasting change.
- Constant distractions from the feeling life (food, technology, exercise, spending, “other” focused) keeps employees from developing the personal power to truly change.
- How well do your employees sit with angst without trying to make it go away?
- Think of someone who you believe to be happy and content; why do you believe this is true for them?
- When people truly like themselves, they diligently take care of their emotional, mental, and physical life; they will take pride in the quality of their work.
Paying more attention to the “feeling life” is not to say employers will be promoting emotional outbursts in the office. It means:
To develop a clear understanding of what is going on within the person. Discovering the cause of reactions, perspective, and choices in order to find what promotes the best “them”. To respond, instead of react. To own their part, instead of blaming. To be willing to say “I don’t know” or “I was wrong”. To say “I’m sorry” and mean it. To operate from kindness and respect towards self and towards others, not from fear and judgment. To understand that they are responsible for the “buttons” within that people may push. To allow others to shine and to trust that that is not a threat to their well-being.
How does a CEO develop such understanding and personal growth? That is in Part II! Remember the goal: sustaining an effective wellness program, to produce happier employees which, in turn, will reduce absenteeism and lower healthcare costs!
M.S. in Exercise Science and Health.
Adjunct Professor for 6 years in health sciences – George Mason University.
Published as contributor to American College of Sports Medicine 3rd edition Personal Training Manual. Fitness & Wellness Consultant/Presenter for U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Credit Union Administration.
Posture Alignment Specialist, Wellness Coach, ACSM Fitness Specialist, Corporate Wellness Specialist.