Business of Well-being

Why Employees Fail in Wellness

Sometimes it takes a pair of fresh eyes with a different perspective to see what's working and what's not in a corporate wellness program. HR Directors work feverishly hard to bring in the best possible wellness programs to their employees, but they can only do so much. If corporate executives are not supporting the program based on how employees are managed, then a program does not have a chance for success.

I've been a personal trainer and corporate consultant for close to 20 years and for the last 15 years a drug-free competitive bodybuilder. Having worked in corporate settings-both as a coach and also in sales and marketing-I can attest to the shortcomings of corporate wellness programs and where they fail.

And, it stems beyond the program itself. It first boils down to the mindset one has when approaching his or her goals. The discipline and commitment with my training and nutrition for bodybuilding is similar-there must be focus and commitment.

While I have been able to attain very low levels of body fat and retain as much muscle as possible over the course of many years, it has not been without struggle. Days exist when I wake up during a competition phase not always wanting to stay on track-employees in wellness programs feel much the same way. Yet we all need to have an exceptional level of commitment in order to succeed.

In order to breed a workplace for success, a company must also have that level of commitment to its employees, too.

One employer that I worked with in helping employees engage in a wellness program truly wanted wellness to be a factor in the lives of their employees. At first, like in many cases, when I walk into a company, no matter the size, I could tell how well the company's wellness program is working by focusing on several key areas. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these areas always prove to be telling. At this organization, these were my observations:

  • The company encouraged 24/7 connectedness. Emails well after business hours and weekends were expected.
  • Working lunches were the norm.
  • Vending machine options were mostly junk food.
  • Employees worked excessive overtime.
  • There was a lack of flexibility with employee scheduling and time off.
  • Employees did not take many of their vacation days or they took "working vacations".

Employees struggled and could not engage in a meaningful way with healthier lifestyle choices due to high levels of stress. No matter how many cholesterol screenings, weight loss groups, fitness programs, meditation or yoga classes, the company initiated, all were unsuccessful, at least in part, because of the six points above.

The end result: low engagement and poor outcomes. These types of results will continue to be the case if a company does not support the culture change necessary to bring about the active  participation and engagement needed to produce results, because when an employee is experiencing high degrees of stress, there is a higher likelihood that the result will be poor sleep, lack of exercise and proper nutrition, weight gain, a possible effect on personal relationships and an overall unhealthy employee.

Responses from an international poll of 6,700 people in the United States found that 42 percent of workers have left a job due to a stressful workplace and another 35 percent considered changing jobs due to stress. 1

Other key statistics from a different "Workplace Stress" survey of U.S. workers provided additional insights concerning the results of a stressful work environment as related to health and overall work productivity. The following are just a few of the commonly reported outcomes of the results from the survey which generated over 900 responses:

  • 61% of respondents believe that workplace stress has been the cause of an illness
  • 46% of respondents have missed time at work due to work-related stress
  • 84% of respondents claim that their stressful job has impacted their personal lives
  • 26% report sleepless nights
  • 24% report depression or relationship issues

When asked,"What does your office do to help alleviate stress in the workplace?" 66% of respondents answered "nothing."2

One of the goals of a wellness program is to teach employees the value of self-care and how it affects not only their productivity, but every area of their lives. However, excessive workplace stress cripples the ability for one to nurture this self-care, and the chain of events can be overwhelming.

Sleep patterns are affected and lack of sleep will produce a less alert employee. Employee productivity begins to suffer, they often begin to overeat and gain weight because stress always insists on an outlet. And, we are left with a physically, emotionally and mentally unhealthy person who is not contributing at their best for the company, getting sick more often, and increasing company healthcare premium spending.

A healthy employee is most often times a productive employee. Research from the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO), Brigham Young University and the Center for Health Research at Healthways shows that employees who ate healthy foods and exercised on a regular basis had better job performance and lower absenteeism compared to those employees who did not. In this study of over 20,000 employees, they found that absenteeism was 27 percent lower for those employees who ate healthy foods and exercised on a consistent basis, and job performance was 11 percent higher than employees who were obese.3

However, if one is experiencing high degrees of work stress, healthy behaviors such as exercise and eating right usually get eliminated - because even those activities start to feel stressful and restrictive.

So, what can HR managers do to help this issue when the answer to the dilemma is a major corporate culture shift? I recommend a phased approach:

Think big. Determine what the ideal wellness program delivers and how employees will respond to it.

  • Don't reinvent the wheel. Instead, look at successes in other organizations of a similar size and how employee satisfaction has grown and health outcomes improved
  • Take small steps to achieve the ideal results that you're seeking.
  • I also recommend anonymous employee surveys so that HR knows precisely what's either inspiring an employee or hurting their performance.

It is not an easy task to slowly shift the mindset of an executive team that wants wellness in-house, but that actually promotes a double standard by suggesting a workload that requires or encourages excessive work hours, working vacations and not allowing for scheduling flexibility in order to increase profits.

That's why proposing one or two small wellness goals is the best approach. Consider the following examples of various sized companies:

  • Hydro Flask in Oregon has only 51 employees but offers flexible start times, frequent late morning starts, and a company paid ski vacation day each year. It also covers massage, acupuncture and chiropractic treatments.

    There are many other impressive wellness benefits, but when a small company such as Hydro Flask starts off with the mindset that corporate culture dictates a successful company wellness program, they have an advantage because their business began with mentally, physically and emotionally healthy employees from Day One.

    And they have a management team that recognizes the value of that.
  • ClassPass,Inc. based in New York, offers its 175 employee's no cap on its paid time off policy and employees can take off all the time they need, assuming they complete all necessary work. Sound risky? Hardly.

    This kind of wellness benefit inspires employees to excel at their jobs. The company also offers wellness benefits such as free healthy lunches every Wednesday and breakfast every Friday, as well as a kitchen stocked with snacks such as Greek yogurt, almond butter, fruit and other healthy options.

    New mothers receive up to 12 paid weeks off, while fathers get up to four. ClassPass offers even more, but for a company that only has 175 employees, they understand what it takes to create a corporate culture that's based on wellness.4
  • Genentech is rated one of the 25 most enjoyable companies to work for in 2014 based on employee reviews by The biotech company's approximately 13,000 employees receive such perks as flexible working hours for parents as well as childcare centers with the goal of eliminating personal stress and work stress.

    Even then, Genentech realizes people need a break at times so the company offers a six-week paid sabbatical every six years to every full-time employee. There are many other wellness benefits such as a subsidized cafeteria, and on-site farmer's markets and fresh food stands, and, most importantly, a working atmosphere where employees openly state that they feel valued.

    When employees state they feel valued, I guarantee you have not only a healthy work environment but also a productive employee.
  • Microsoft has more than 118,000 employees, and this technology giant is practically a small city. Their size does not prevent them from recognizing the value of employees and having a corporate culture that nurtures its workers.

    Just a few of their perks are flexible hours (a common theme among the top rated wellness programs), Physician house calls (yes, seriously), eight weeks paid maternity leave, and one of the healthiest corporate dining operations. Even though they offer many outstanding wellness benefits, the Microsoft corporate culture is the key to making this a reality.

In the March 2015 Fortune list of "100 Best Companies to Work For," each of the 100 Best Companies state they have leaders who genuinely "listen to their employees and craft distinctive policies and programs that suit today's workforce."6

More proof that how much time people are spending at work, how much stress they're experiencing, how little sleep some are getting, and how much their overall health is being impacted, can only be fixed when a company recognizes that the answer lies in a corporate culture shift.

The result will be improved wellness, productivity, a happier employee, and increased profits for the company.

About the Author

Raphael Calzadilla has been a personal trainer for nearly 20 years and is certified with the American Council on Exercise. His background includes 15 years in sales and marketing, as well as corporate consulting. He has appeared on numerous TV and radio stations, and has written for and been quoted in many consumer health and lifestyle magazines.


1. "Dangerously Stressful Work Environments Force Workers to Seek New Employment,", last modified April 16, 2014

2. "Dangerously Stressful Work Environments Force Workers to Seek New Employment,", last modified April 16, 2014

3. "You Are What You Eat...Even At Work,", last modified January 8, 2013,

4. The 44 Healthiest Companies to Work for in America,, last modified October 27, 2015,

5. The 25 most enjoyable companies to work for,, last modified August 22, 2014,

6. "The best employers in the U.S. say their greatest tool is culture,, last modified March 5, 2015,

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