Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a Healthiest Companies Award Luncheon, which was the highlight of a full day conference with speakers and exhibitors that all share the passion for wellness. One of the vendor exhibitors offered “healing touch therapy” which is a relaxing experience where I laid on a comfortable table, much like a massage bed and was instructed to focus on my breathe and soothing music that played while the therapist manipulated my energy field. What I am about to share though was not how much I enjoyed this relaxing session to calm anxiety and create a sense of well-being. Instead the insight comes from the conversation that I overheard from this therapy bed. It goes like this…

A break out session had begun and two interns that were volunteering at the conference were talking just a few steps from the table. They were chatting about “salad parties” and healthy “yogurt parties” as ideas for wellness events. They exclaimed with pride their various workout routines and love of CrossFit, Mud Runs, 5K’s and overall enthusiasm for fitness. They expressed their pleasure at interning for a wellness company that allows employees to wear athletic clothes to the office and co-workers who share their love of fitness. All I felt listening to these two chatter away was annoyance as I was trying to focus on the experience I was having with my “healthy touch therapy”. I couldn’t hear the relaxing music over these two and surely had a hard time focusing on healing thoughts as instructed.

The more I tried to shut out their conversation the more worked up I got. I even imagined that once my session was over I would explain to the interns the importance of emotional well-being, environment and how they were being inconsiderate by talking so loudly steps from attendees trying to experience this exibit. Then the conversation took a turn as did my perspective of thinking. The male intern said that the employees at the company where he interned often asked him what next run/event he was signed up for and that in truth, he was having a hard time getting in the activity that he loved so much with his new 8-5 work day. The female intern’s voice lost it’s prior enthusiasm as she agreed and added that she felt it was not realistic to get up early to go to work by 8 am, not leave until 5 and by the time she get’s home is often too tired to think about exercise. (How lucky she is to leave by 5!) The male shared that he and his wife had a new baby at home and most evenings he was happy if they took the baby and the dog for an evening walk.

What started as two young wellness professionals trying to brag about how healthy their lifestyle is turned into a very real look at, and insight into, what employee wellness programs often do not deal with; the reality of how work life often directly conflicts with an organization’s wellness program goals.  These young interns parted ways and moved on to a session about eating natural foods and getting 30 minutes of exercise per day while ignoring the truth that surfaced in their realistic conversation. Until wellness programs deal with this paradox we will be swimming against the current at best.

Only by embracing the reality of this inconsistency can we expect true engagement. Realistic solutions include:

– Messages inspiring realistic goals for movement such as taking walks with children and dogs.
– Creating office policies that allow flextime or casual athletic clothing at the office so employees can be active at work and not worry about sweating in their business attire.
– Setting up local fruit and vegetable delivery services at work that sends employees home with fresh ingredients to prepare an easy and healthy dinner.
– Writing policies that don’t allow managers to email employees in the evening or expect responses to emails after hours.
– Basing manager performance reviews, not just on results, but on the quality of their leadership and management skills based on feedback from their employees.

As wellness professionals let us truly focus on the dimensions of well-being and advocate to executives that programs need to influence corporate/organizational change as much if not more that employee behavior change.