my company has started an annoying initiative involving health and religion

A reader writes:

I work for a large employer in my city, and we are an international company. Lately everyone at this worksite has been getting emails about the Blue Zone Project (which describes itself as “a community well-being improvement initiative designed to make healthy choices easier through permanent changes to environment, policy, and social networks”). The last email came on Friday from a local HR manager and was pushier than the others, as apparently HR wants us to be certified as a Blue Zone Worksite (which the program describes as “empowering employees to be happier, healthier and more productive by creating healthier work environments”). I was annoyed about this but let it go for a few days, until today when HR employees were passing out literature promoting the Blue Zones Project in the cafeteria during lunch.

Rule No. 8, Community, is the most concerning. The website reads: “All but five of the 263 centenarians interviewed in the original Blue Zones® areas studies belonged to some faith-based community. It doesn’t matter if you’re Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish or another religion. What matters is that you attend regularly and truly feel part of a larger group. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy. If you already belong to a group, great! If it’s been a while or you aren’t sure where to start, try asking friends and neighbors for their suggestions or search for additional information online.”

The research is dubious enough, but this is just an advertisement for organized religion! That my company’s HR department feels it appropriate to promote religion offends me as an atheist and as a person who lives under the U.S. Constitution, which grants freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion. Also, apparently it does matter if you’re Muslim or of another sect that prohibits consumption of alcohol, because Rule No. 6, Wine at 5, tells you to drink one or two glasses of wine every day. Surely this large workplace also has a few recovering alcoholics who struggle every day to stay sober, who may feel it insensitive to start a workplace health initiative that incorporates alcohol use.

Should I bother voicing my objections to this particular initiative? If so, how? I thought about replying directly to the latest email, but I wasn’t sure how much detail to write about why this is inappropriate. I do not feel safe bringing concerns to my Crazy Boss (another issue altogether!).

Yes, please do. These sorts of programs are often implemented without much thought, and they need to hear from people who object to them.

For what it’s worth, because you work for a private employer and not the government, they’re legally able to promote religion in the workplace, as long as they’re not violating federal laws on religious accommodation and harassment. (And based on what’s in your letter, they’re probably not violating any laws — harassment needs to be “severe and pervasive” in order to meet the legal test.) The U.S. Constitution protections apply to what the government can and can’t do, but not to private employers.

But just being legal doesn’t mean something is a good idea, and this one isn’t. Most employees have no interest in — and are often offended by — having their employer tell them what lifestyle to live. You don’t need your company’s guidance on what you drink or how you do or don’t practice your faith (or lack thereof).

Speak up. Personally, I’d send your head of HR a note saying something like, “I don’t know if you realized that these materials prescribe specific religious practices and also encourage drinking alcohol — two things that many people are likely to be made uncomfortable by having recommended to them in the workplace (Muslims, recovering alcoholics, atheists, and people who consider faith to be a private matter, for starters). I hope we can reconsider our participation in this program.”

And if any coworkers feel the same, encourage them to speak up too.

This is the hallmark of an HR department with a fundamental misunderstanding of how they can best spend their time.

{ 320 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous

    I understand wanting staff to be happy, healthy, and empowered, but this program is way too specific! What is that cr*p about drinking 1-2 glasses of wine a day?! That is such a personal lifestyle decision…not to mention the religious/spiritual thing.

    Definitely speak up about it. Either that, or join a weekly atheist group so you can comply. ;-)

    1. Louis

      You could try to make the company pay for the wine, after all they are the one that wants you to drink it.

    2. twentymilehike

      join a weekly atheist group so you can comply

      Hehe :) Nice. I am also an athiest, and hang out with a lot of people who feel similarly to myself. However, I am also a motorcyclist and Sunday morning rides are called “church” and we have a Wednesday bike night at the local burger joint. I think this thing may have good intentions, but be just completely, horribly written. Instead of promoting attending a religious meeting, it should be to attend something meaningful to you … whether its a knitting group, or Toastmasters or church or whatever.

      This thing might not go away, and if it doesn’t, you can always get creative and make the most of it!

  2. Anonymous

    AAM, I agree with both you and the OP on this being an ill-advised (at best) program, but from a career perspective, I think your advice could be problematic — to be the squeaky wheel and voice objections. I work in a large company that values consensus highly – people who speak up and against the status quo, whether it be about a work issue or an HR/culture issue like this, are very likely to be seen in a negative light. Making waves in frowned upon. There are other things I do like about my job so I put up with this aspect of it. You can’t sweat everything; in this case, deleting the emails and tossing the flyers might be the better response. Esp. given the Crazy Boss. Only the OP knows how receptive this employer is to people who speak out, but I think that’s a consideration.

    1. JT

      All true, but I’ll add that there is an ethical component to being the squeaky wheel – if it’s about something truly bad and some people don’t like it but don’t speak up, they’re to some extent complicit in that thing. Of course, if their job security is tenuous and they really need the job, I don’t begrudge them for keeping their heads down.

      But people who can afford to rock the boat have a responsibility to rock the boat if the issue is important. Religion in the workplace seems important to me. If you can object, do object. I wish more people did that. It would perhaps reduce the risks of retribution if more people spoke up.

      1. Anon

        +1. If you have the political capital, I think it’s a responsibility to speak up for others that might not be able to.

      2. Anonymous

        Unless participating was made mandatory, for me, this wouldn’t rise to the level of needing to make an ethical stand that could cost me career advancement. Some emails and flyers that I can easily ignore are not a big deal to me, YMMV. I am an atheist and a vegan so I have to pick my ethical battles or I’d spend 24/7 fighting them.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          If it would cost you career advancement, of course that’s a consideration. In most offices, however, it wouldn’t — and in that context people should speak up. (Although I also agree with you — especially as a former vegan — that there are only so many battles you have the energy to fight.)

      3. S.A.

        In my experience speaking up puts a target on your back. No good ever comes of it. You don’t really have rights as an employee unless you have a lot of money to sue an employer with when they act against you. No money = no rights.

        I’ve worked with Baptist nut jobs and since I was the only person there who was not a Baptist I got daily threats because I didn’t go to church let alone their horrible church. I was forced to quit. I say fly under the radar and look for another job while nodding and smiling to those creeps. Get a feel for those who are also unhappy and find the new policy wrong for obvious reasons the OP stated.

        The last thing you want is your psycho boss showing you the gun he’s threatened to shoot you with and bragging about being a member of the NRA. I say keep quiet and run out when you have a job offer in hand. If they ask why you’re leaving I wouldn’t tell them then either. Religious people are monsters in my experience. If you say anything bad about the horrible policy you’ll be slandered to everyone who mentions your name. That’s my personal experience though.

    2. Ivy

      +1
      I don’t think OP’s HR is necessarily trying to push religion on anyone. I think that part is just falling out from the rest of the program. My HR sends periodic wellness tips that are hosted and created by a separate company. I have read a few and they’re usually pretty good. However, there was once some pretty extreme advice for “protecting” your kids from the internet (extreme for my beliefs anyways). I just deleted it. It wasn’t worth the effort to bring it up, because that particular part wasn’t being forced on me. Being outraged at things takes a lot of energy and unnecessary stress.

      If you do want to bring it up, then I would say it in the, “I’m not sure if you’re aware of this” format, and not the “How dare you have the audacity” format.

      1. Anonymous

        “Being outraged at things takes a lot of energy and unnecessary stress.”
        Took me a LONG time to get there (still working on it) but I am finally making progress on this. My default is to go straight to righteous indignation and it’s been a struggle to realize that *not* everything is worth fighting for.

      2. Anonymous

        And also, if you think there’s good stuff in there, say so. No harm in a little buttering up. And then make the point that the parts of it that exclude and may alienate people – like the prescriptions for religious belief – have the potential to undermine the good aspects.

  3. Jamie

    Happy, healthy centenarians in the Blue Zones® areas put their families first. This can take shape in many ways, from keeping your aging parents and grandparents in or near your home to being in a positive, committed relationship, which can add up to 6 years of life expectancy.

    Caring for children is important for many reasons, too, and many people in the Blue Zones areas go out of their way to invest time and love their children to ensure they’ll be more likely to care for them when the time comes.

    The above is from the Blue Zone website because I’m waiting for my car to warm up some killed a few minutes seeing the crazy for myself.

    WOW!

    So single people better get themselves in a commited relationship today – or your just eroding your life expectancy!

    And I don’t know about the other parents out there but I don’t care for my children with the goal to ensure they will one day care for me. I’m loving the people I brought into this world, not farm raising my own caretakers so I have someone to make me soup in 50 years.

    In all seriousness, this is really beyond the pale and I’m not usually me to trot out ‘find a new job’ as an answer…but if it were me it wouldn’t matter much if the employers are this wacked or if they aren’t aware and have profoundly bad judgement…neither scenario would help me sleep nights.

    1. some1

      “So single people better get themselves in a commited relationship today – or your just eroding your life expectancy!”

      To say nothing of any employees who may have lost a partner, spouse, or child.

    2. the gold digger

      I’m loving the people I brought into this world, not farm raising my own caretakers so I have someone to make me soup in 50 years.

      Not to mention the better way to get your kids to take care of you when you’re old is to raise them in an alcoholic household and create unhealthy co-dependencies that you can use later to manipulate them. Nothing like telling your adult child that he’s your “only happiness” and that he is a “bad son” for “abandoning” them (because he’s not going to their house for Christmas) to create anxiety that even the most rational, intelligent adult will have a hard time overcoming.

      PS Yes. I have suggested Al-Anon, but to no avail. So I shrug and stay out of it.

      1. Stella

        I read somewhere that the best way to insure you are taken care of in your old age is to start saving now to pay for a professional caretaker. Don’t depend on your off-spring to do it. I agree.

    3. Tiff

      Jamie, you may have been having kids for the wrong reasons. I’ve recently decided to change my twins’ names to Safety and Net when they turn 25. For now they can keep their given names, Mop and Broom.

        1. Jamie

          Yes, but I bet your parents had kids without the benefit of the Blue Zone…so they had you for all the wrong reasons like love or something. How old school!

        1. Jamie

          Excellent point – as any parent will tell you having kids is just a moneymaker. All those tax breaks aren’t offset at all by the money they suck out of you like adorable vacuums for 20+ years.

          Although my youngest son is convinced I had kids strictly so I would never have to cut the lawn or take out the garbage (which to be fair, was part of it for me). I think we can agree there are a lot of ways we can profit off our kids, financially and otherwise. I don’t even know why I’m still working.

          1. twentymilehike

            I think we can agree there are a lot of ways we can profit off our kids, financially and otherwise. I don’t even know why I’m still working.

            There’s a black market for everything ….

          2. Stella

            “Although my youngest son is convinced I had kids strictly so I would never have to cut the lawn or take out the garbage” – wait a minute – that’s just what I said to my mom when I was a kid!

          3. Kelly O

            I am dreading the day my daughter stops thinking putting things in the garbage or the clothes hamper is great fun.

            Because if it weren’t for breakables, I would never have to touch garbage. Which is sweet.

    4. K

      Yep – obviously latching onto any man I can find is so much better for my health and happiness then living a happy, independent life and finding love if and when it comes! Thank you, spam e-mail!

    5. Penguin

      “go out of their way to invest time and love their children”
      – I wonder if that means the employer gives time off for soccer games etc/ does flexi time/ has breastfeeding lounges?

      1. twentymilehike

        I have found that being married contributes to a lot more time doing laundry and a lot less time sleeping. I love my husband dearly, but I did get more sleep when I was single ….

        1. Meaghan

          It doesn’t sound like your marriage is very egalitarian – my partner and I share our chores equally so that we both have time to sleep more.

          1. Going Anon

            Maybe twentymilehike was using “doing laundry” in the oft-used euphemism sense. She and her husband are so busy “doing laundry” there’s no time left for sleeping. :-)

            1. Jamie

              That’s totally what I thought she meant.

              If Twenty really meant laundry, like …laundry…then I have a very dirty mind and totally laughed out loud at my desk for nothing.

                1. twentymilehike

                  Ooooh you meant Doing laundry *wink wink* … no we’re married now. That ended with the eating of the cake …

                  :)

            2. KellyK

              That’s an oft-used euphemism? Wow, I thought it was something a friend of mine made up (because I only ever hear it in that circle of friends).

              Gotta love AAM…you learn something new every day.

          2. The Snarky B

            Yeah it doesn’t sound like she’s the only one doing laundry- just that it’s easier to streamline your housework when it’s all for yourself

        1. twentymilehike

          At least at one point, the stats were that marriage increased *male* longevity, but not female.

          Hahahaha that’s cute :)
          Yes, it’s the “old married couple” jokes, as always … and yeah, I do more laundry because I’m better at it and I hate the way DH folds the towels. But I spend a lot less time vacuuming because I suck at it and hate it. So I suppose there is a trade off …

          Snoring on the otherhand …. :)

        2. Laura L

          I don’t know if that’s still true, but I do know that married men get a financial bump from marriage and married women don’t (they often are penalized financial by marriage).

          1. Natalie

            Interesting, as I’ve heard that’s true in divorces, as well – the woman’s quality of life tends to go down and the man’s tends to go up.

            1. Laura L

              Hmm… I haven’t heard anything about that. I think that, on average, women are hit harder financially by divorces because they often earn less than their spouse, only work part-time, or are full-time stay at home parents.

              That would definitely affect quality of life.

        3. Liz T

          I do know that men are more likely than women to leave a partner with cancer, for what that’s worth. Dan Savage used that as evidence that being gay isn’t a choice–otherwise all women would learn this statistic and immediately choose to be gay.

    6. Malissa

      Um, we moved my Father-in-Law onto our property. I can tell you that did nothing for our life expectancy. I’m pretty sure by the time it was all over that I may have lost a few years of my life to stress.
      Nothing like the nutty Mother-in-Law calling the sheriff out on trumped up accusations just to see if they’d give her a cigarette. Especially when the Deputies are your coworkers.

    7. Heather

      Is there a formula to calculate how long you’ll live? Like, I’m married, so +2, but no kids, so -3. How many points per cat? And do I lose points for having parents who have saved their money and bought long-term care insurance so they won’t have to foist themselves on me?

      1. Jamie

        I really don’t want to see the results of a life calculator.

        I’m pretty sure my answer would come out, “Oh – you’re still here?!”

            1. Megan

              Oh man – I’m sitting at the reference desk and cracking up right now. I know, I should be looking available – but this thread is waaayy too entertaining!

              1. Lucy

                Oh man! As an unemployed librarian, I’m SO glad to read that an employed librarian is reading an advice column on the clock! Awesome! Keep up the great work! Hope you never lose your job, Megan!

                1. Anonymous

                  Hi, Lucy and AAM,
                  I have worked in academic reference services for 20 years. One of my professors in library school said to be really great at reference, you must keep up with all kinds of current events. He is a most valuable person to have as a Facebook friend, always posting fascinating things he’s run into doing his current reading.

                  So, reference librarians should be using ‘downtime’ at the desk to do this kind of reading. It’s not such intense work that you look unapproachable and aren’t aware of what’s going on in your ‘domain’ –noticing someone is having trouble logging on or is wandering aimlessly through the print stacks–but it’s not shopping for Christmas presents on the clock! It’s part of your job as a reference librarian nowadays to know about good career sites.

                  To take it one step further, we often collaborate with other campus departments. What if this librarian is working on a library guide or a lunch n learn in collaboration with career services on resources for job-seekers?

                  Lucy, I wish you the best of luck. It’s tough out there in the library world nowadays. It took me a year to find my last job. I did a lot of volunteering, professional reading and brushed up on my computer skills. I’m about to be unemployed again, so I guess another round of that will be in order for me!

                2. Liz in a Library

                  Anonymous–I almost replied earlier, but decided not to.

                  You are completely right. Actually, my boss recommends AAM to her staff as professional development reading.

            2. Heather

              I bet not having the stress of writing a eulogy adds a little time to his life. He’s clearly headed for the Blue Zone.

              1. HR Gorilla

                Welp, feel doubly-honored, Heather, because you killed me dead, too. AND made me spray teeny little particles of parmesan cheese onto my keyboard.

                Funnies!

      2. fposte

        OMG–my university actually did one of those for each student when we entered college, with an estimated age at death and how many years we’d gain from changing particular behaviors.

        I really don’t think that was a great idea.

      1. Jennifer

        Yes, I believe it is some kind of cult.

        And as Bella DePaulo frequently points out, the entire coupled world is designed to make single people feel like crap. Believe me, if I could have stomached settling for the first creep who would have me, I would have by now.

  4. Bridgette

    Wow. I really want to tell the Blue Zone and that HR to stuff it. To quote Ron Swanson before consuming a massive amount of steak, “I am going to eat both at the same time, because I am a free American.”

    They really are creeping too much on lifestyle choices. I don’t really care what the trends are for centenarians…I’m going to do what I damn well please. OP, I would say something to HR – in an intelligent, thoughtful, non-emotional manner. I sincerely hope you don’t get punished for it but that is a risk. I think this program is to encroaching to just sit by and ignore it. Maybe if you got a group of people together and voiced your concerns, that would help.

      1. moss

        seconded. “I think I will have that 3rd porterhouse… Ok who wants to go for an after-dinner omelette?”

          1. Jamie

            Understand I don’t mean a lot of bacon and eggs. I think you heard “a lot of bacon and eggs” but I mean give me ALL the bacon and eggs that you have.

            I totally want to go to breakfast with you guys, now.

            1. AdAgencyChick

              I don’t, because I ain’t going to breakfast with someone who wants ALL the bacon!

              (unless you’re sharing!) ;)

    1. twentymilehike

      I don’t really care what the trends are for centenarians…

      You know this got me thinking … my grandmother is 98 and I can assure you that I do NOT want to live to be 100 … she is in really, REALLY good health for her age and he is NOT having a good time. I really don’t want my life reduced to watching Oprah reruns, complaining about not being able to go walking like I used to, and wishing I hadn’t outlived two husbands, a child and all my friends. No thanks.

      1. Suz

        I thought the same thing. All of my grandparents lived to at least 95 but alzheimers hits around 75. I am not looking forward to spending 20 years not knowing where I am or who anyone is.

        1. Bridgette

          My maternal grandmother went through the exact same thing and died at 94. It’s hard on the person and their family members, and I don’t want to put anyone through that if I can help it. My husband has told me the minute he starts losing his mind, put him down.

      2. Not So NewReader

        Yeah, right on. Let’s say I retire at 65. Just to have a number let’s figure I need 40K per year to support my current life style. If I live to be 100…. I will need to have saved up 40K times 35 years….

        Whoops, I forgot inflation, tax increases, health care expense increase…..
        Wait…I think I feel a headache coming on….

        1. KLH

          Yup. I don’t understand this long life enthusiasm. I figure 70-75 years is a nice life span. My maternal grandmother made it to 96, and that was with 60+ years as a smoker. The only thing that killed her off was the loss of my father, her favorite nemesis. Thankfully his family all dies off super early, so I might be good. Miserable, but good.

  5. Mike C.

    As an atheist myself, I understand the frustration of someone telling you that you have to “find religion” to be a healthy/complete/whole person. It’s such a personal decision that HR has no business being involved in. Disgusting.

    And the part about children need to be loved so that they’ll take care of you when you’re old, holy crap. “Yes, Mr. HR Rep, I’ve started to breed children like purebred dogs so that I’ll have an army of servants in my old age”. I’m sure all the parents reading this had children with that in mind.

    This whole thing sounds like a cult wanting instituting a franchise system.

    1. Jamie

      Yes! Cultish – that’s exactly the feel.

      And won’t I feel stupid when I’m old since I only had three kids and Mike had the foresight to breed an army. He will live like a king and I’ll be lucky to get my soup.

      1. KellyK

        Hey, at least you have 3. I’d better get a move on, or I’ll have to settle for training my dogs to bring me soup. On the plus side, if Mike is breeding an army, we could probably steal a couple without him noticing.

        1. fposte

          Apparently we’re supposed to have purpose in life, too–it could be raiding one another’s child army! If we do it to create a new religion, we’re ticking three boxes.

        2. ChristineH

          Hmpf…at least you have dogs to bring you soup. I’ll be lucky if our two cats will give us the time of day ;)

          1. Jamie

            I have dogs and cats and this is absolutely true. We may be able to train the dogs to bring soup – although how appealing that bowl would be after they tasted it is another matter…but while the dogs are learning to heat up raman the cats will be online figuring out how to make themselves beneficiaries in our wills.

            1. Heather

              I was wondering what my cat was doing sitting in front of the computer. Better go check the 401k beneficiary info.

      1. Anon.

        I’m confused by the encouragement to drink 1-2 glasses of wine and have babies at the same time. Is there an exception to the drinking rule when you’re pregnant to comply with the have babies rule?

        1. Bridgette

          I don’t think BlueZone can handle logical contradictions like that. Their AI Overlord probably shuts down at the mention.

  6. Josh S

    Can I just say that things like this demonstrate the huge disconnect created when our employers are the source/provider/payer of our health insurance? I don’t know what (or even *if*) there’s a good fix out there, but having a multi-payer, divorced from payment-at-time-of-service insurance system is creating these goofy situations where the workplace is focused on things apart from work and compensation for that work.

    It needs to change.

    1. Mike C.

      Yeah, I’d hate to see what would happen if my employer were in charge of my car insurance.

      “No, you’re only allowed to drive a Volvo. No coupes for you.”

        1. Chinook

          That makes no sense. My healthcare is government paid for (and I have lived in places with provincial auto insurance) and I have never seen anything like some of the stuff that you guys mention coming from private providers. Maybe the difference is that government health insurance is, by definition, not-for-profit and is focused on long term goals AND also required to follow constitutional rights (i.e. the Alberta government can’t pressure anyone to join an organized religion because that would be illegal) ?

          1. Heather

            I think you nailed it, and that the not-for-profit part is key. I can’t understand why people think it’s fine to have an insurance company deny a life-saving treatment so their profit will go up, but are convinced the government is going to kill Grandma for sh!ts and giggles.

      1. N.

        My old company prohibited doing company business in a convertible without a roll bar, and motorcyclists without a helmet had to walk their bikes on property (same with bicyclists). You are not that far off…

      2. Jamie

        “No, you’re only allowed to drive a Volvo. No coupes for you.”

        That requirement would certainly bring up a conversation about compensation for a lot of us.

    2. JK

      I agree! My company is in the middle of our open enrollment period, and we have been told that we (and all covered dependents/partners) have to get biometric screenings. We have to either go to a doctor’s office (co-pay and/or c0-insurance involved there) or get a voucher to go directly to the lab. They will take blood pressure, BMI (height, weight, waist measurement), cholesterol, triglicerides, and blood sugar levels, and all information goes directly to the health insurance company. If you don’t do it, there’s an additional charge of $30 per paycheck per insured person for your health insurance. It feels like an aggressive invasion of privacy to me.

      1. Kaz

        Our company does the exact same thing, and they actually kind of gave me some annoyance for wanting my doctor to see the results and not just the insurance. Not sure what they actually do with it though other than have nurses call you and tell you to eat less cheesecake.

      2. Going Anon

        Wow, that’s probably equally invasive as mine (they take blood for similar tests, too, in addition to what I spelled out in my earlier comment), but they make you PAY for the privelege? At least my company has health screeners come to the office, so we just miss a half hour at our desks (paid) but aren’t out any money or personal time for it. Wow.

        1. Jamie

          Yep – I worked at a place that did that once.

          Screenings in the office – nothing like my co-workers all lining up to be weighed and have their blood drawn and asked a series of personal questions within earshot to make me VERY glad I had insurance through my husband’s employer.

      3. Heather

        Thankfully they haven’t made the biometric screenings mandatory here yet – they’re still framing it as “take charge of your health.” They do have an online “health survey” that gets you a $100 discount on your year’s insurance premium. I declined.

        1. Gracie (OP)

          Ugh. My company just had those biometric screenings but:
          — *it was completely voluntary*
          — employees who participated will receive an automatic extra $75 in one of their December paychecks
          — you’re also entered into a raffle to win an iPad.

          1. Gracie

            And I’m not the letter-writer for this question. I didn’t realize that “OP” was from something else. Sorry!

      4. Not So NewReader

        This is so hugely wrong, on so many levels, JK. I am sorry this is happening to you and others.
        So much for civil liberties, eh?

  7. EngineerGirl

    Clearly written by people with no understanding of statistics. Causation is not the same as correlation. There is a correlation with going to church and happiness/life expectancy. That doesn’t meanit is caused by it. These people clearly have no understanding of scientific analysis.

    Given the situation with the boss I would just throw the material in the circular bin. Stuff like this lasts 1-2 years maximum.

    1. Mike C.

      This was bugging me as well. Not to mention that a whole lot of “living to be 100” most likly has to do with the luck of not getting cancer or being hit by a bus.

      1. fposte

        Actually, the original research focused on very specific populations, so there’s also a huge genetic component.

        Can’t sell that, though!

      2. Michael

        Recently I’ve seen a few things saying life expectancy is closely related to DNA. Basically, either you’ll live long or you won’t. You can of course influence your time with how you spend it but to insinuate that you’ll live to a hundred if you do x, y and z is fundamentally flawed.

        1. moss

          a good lawyer should be able to figure out how to get compensation for a too-early death… “But Papa did everything BlueZones said!”

          1. Kelly O

            Did everything Blue Zone said, and took up BASE jumping.

            Because Blue Zone clearly indicates you’ll live to 100, so other risky behavior should be just fine… right?

      3. Laura L

        I was going to reply with something about genetics, but others have taken care of that, so I’ll just say this:

        Who says I want to live to 100? I don’t want the body of a 100-year-old, I just want an extra 10 years with the body of a 20-year-old!

    2. Heather

      This is one of the things that drives me insane about the media in particular. They tell you that drinking from a chocolate teapot increases your risk of stomach cancer by 40%, but they don’t mention that it’s an increase of 40% of some teeny-tiny number, so your risk is still negligible.

  8. Kat M

    As a Baha’i (yet another religious group that doesn’t drink), I’d be kind of annoyed with this. Not overwhelmingly so, since I’m used to teetotalers being in the minority, but definitely frustrated. Especially since I consider not drinking one of the *healthy* choices in my life that I’m proud of!

    Also, bad science annoys me. Grr.

    1. Jacob N.

      I totally agree, Kat. I am not Baha’i, but I long ago made the decision to not drink for health reasons, and it is one of the “healthy” choices that I am very, very proud of. Also, I’m as WASP-ish as one can get, and this still bothers me. I hate imposing religion on others. I don’t myself, but for a company to do it is just wrong. Ugh.

      1. In Recovery

        Thirded, because I am someone who follows a 12-step program, and I wouldn’t want to be told by my workplace to drink alcohol. I’ll be in the teetotalers corner with you guys.

        1. Bridgette

          I partake in the beverages but I’m just as annoyed, for all these examples listed here. Also, just because some red wine every day MIGHT help some people, it’s not guaranteed to help ALL people, and especially not help ALL people hit the 100 mark.

          And check this out: http://retractionwatch.wordpress.com/2012/08/17/seeing-red-wine-another-retraction-for-dipak-das-making-count-13/ The researcher pushing the red wine benefits has actually had numerous retractions of his research on red wine’s benefits because of misconduct allegations. So red wine might not be so healthful after all.

            1. Cindy

              I’m in recovery too. I just lol when I see advice like this. I used to have 1-2 daily… five or six times every day. I’m going to live forever!

          1. The Snarky B

            Yeah Bridgette, I’m with you. I drink (plenty) and I also think this is super wrong.
            As someone who drinks and is agnostic (not quite atheist), former Christian, I disagree with everything about this program. I mean, can the workplace just stay out of it? I’ve heard of good workplaces that have happiness committees- you can hear about “life improving” stuff if you want, but it isn’t forced on you. I mean, nothing is as innocuous as it could be. Why religion? Try: “It’s been proven that it’s good for your health to feel a part of a community- any community.” Why health stuff? People try to tell me all the time that yoga will make me more “Zen.” I have scoliosis. Yoga sucks for me. Git out ma bidness.

              1. Jamie

                I’ve actually been trying that visualization stuff (that I totally don’t believe in) to help my back.

                I watch youtube videos of chiropractors and rolfers and will it to somehow help me.

                My husband thinks it’s the craziest health care plan ever…I defy anyone to find one more economical.

            1. Kat M

              Ha! I have a ligament disorder that means stretching is BAD for me. Quit telling me I’m going to injure myself by exercising without stretching! I’m actively trying to reduce my range of motion here, so take your yoga someplace else. ;D

    2. Anon

      I really liked having a cocktail on the weekends, but I have discovered that my stomach can’t tolerate it, so those days are over for me. If I eat or drink anything that bothers my stomach, I’ll be in pain for at least two days, so that’s not going to happen. Plus, I’m agnostic, and I want nothing to do with organized religion or organized anti-religion. It’s strange that an HR department would use a program that’s so weirdly (or stupidly) specific about what people should do in order to be healthy and happy. Maybe the HR people never read through the stuff they’re sending out.

  9. Kat

    Why does this company care if people to live to be 100? Chances are you’re not going to still be working for them… Not if they keep shoving this stuff down your throat anyhow.

    1. Anonymous

      I don’t think they really do, I think it’s more of a health initiative that employers hope will lead to reduced health care costs.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      There is a big push in HR circles right now around “wellness programs” — company initiatives to reduce obesity, promote allegedly healthy choices, etc. It’s tied into their insurance costs, and it’s quite obnoxious, but it’s a huge new trend.

      1. KarenT

        Yes, the OPs letter reads like a poor attempt at a wellness program. Wellness programs can be a lot less obnoxious. For example, my company offers free lunchtime yoga classes, subsidized gym memberships, and free healthy lunches once a month. And free nutrition/diet counselling through our EAP. No one has suggested we take up religion or “wine at 5.”

      2. Going Anon

        Oh, yes. *sigh* My company has opt-in wellness programs, which are annoying when 90% of the office is gone for an hour and a half to go work out and you need someone for something, then they all come back all stinky and sweaty and loudly talking about their workout. But at least they’re optional. For the past few years, we’ve also had a “discount” on our share of insurance premiums if we pass certain health criteria, including whether or not we smoke, whether our blood pressure is below a certain value, and what our WAIST CIRCUMFERENCE is.

        Now, I’m obese, and while I’m not proud of it, I don’t deny it. I do know it could cause higher health care costs. But it’s my employer’s choice to have gone self-insured (they pay the actual medical costs we don’t pay, not an insurance company, up to a certain point). They call it a “discount” on the premium if you DO meet the criteria, but of course it’s actually a penalty to those who don’t. And the waist circumference goal is 35 inches for women. There’s a TINY woman in the offic whose waist is 32 inches, so what hope do the rest of us have? When I hadn’t fully gone through puberty and was underweight, I wore a size six dress (not sure of my waist size in inches). I’m not sure I’d ever fit into a size ten even if I was at my ideal weight, after birthing a nine and a half pound baby. They don’t take build into consideration at all.

        But…they make it all better by allowing you to show that you’re making an effort toward improving whichever requirement(s), and if you do that, you’ll still get the “discount.” Those who fail the blood pressure test have to sign an affidavit that they have discussed it with their doctor and are working on improving their blood pressure (not sure if the doctor also has to sign it). Those who smoke and/or fail the waist measurement have to take a six week online program (and you can’t just slam it out, because it forces you to wait a week before you can take the next module, and the health screenings are only like eight weeks before the new insurance year starts, so you better not be taking vacation or you’ll have to log in while you’re gone). But here’s the kicker–for all three of them, you only have to jump through the hoops. You could gain 50 pounds (or start smoking twice as many cigarettes) in those six weeks, and click the box that says “no, I didn’t do what you suggested” each time, and you’ll still get the “discount.”

        So it’s actually all pointlessin the end, which makes me resent the whole thing more. Well, I take that back, I think I’d resent it most if I was penalized for being fat and NOT allowed to get the discount somehow. But I think they should just set what the employee portion of the insurance premiums will be and leave it at that, without all the rigamarole.

        1. moss

          I know exactly what you mean. My waist will never again see 35 inches, but I eat right, work out, etc. I’d rather be given credit for what I DO do then punished for what I DON”T do.

        2. Anonymous

          I find no problem with these discount programs. Health insurance rates are based on the group as a whole, and a few unhealthy people certainly drive rates for everyone through the roof. Last year our rates went up almost 10% because a number of people decided to get lap band surgery the prior year and our claim dollars went through the roof. I think rewarding people for not smoking and being healthy with a discount is a great incentive. Of course, the people who don’t qualify for a discount will complain— but then again everyone complains every year when their insurance premiums go up, even the people current being treated for all sorts of illnesses. Why not reward those with low utilization because they are healthy, and allow those who are utilizing the insurance to pay more, considering they are a huge chunk of any reason for increase in premiums to begin with.

          1. Going Anon

            But they don’t reward people with low utilization and penalize those with high utilization. They do reward those who are statistically likely to have low utilization over their lifetimes, but since our company is small and self-insured, you can’t really use lifetime trends over large populations. We already have a high deductible health plan for which our employer contributes a good chunk of the deductible into our HSA for us, which means that if we spend more than the employer contribution but less than the deductible, it comes out of our pockets (either directly or in the form of our own contributions to our HSA). If we spend more than the max out of pocket, then the company is paying it again. It’s actually a generous plan, but it already builds in that if you tend to spend a lot every year, you’ll be paying out of your own pocket, but if you stay under the employer contribution most years, and have a freak accident/medical issue one year, you’ll have to contribute some of your own funds, but the employer will pay the first chunk of money AND the amount over the out-of-pocket max.

          2. moss

            But the lap band surgery was to treat the condition of obesity. So theoretically those people will cost less than the scoundrels who chose to stay fat, in the long run… right?

            Basically you’re asking everyone who’s not already perfect to pay more.

          3. Heather

            It wasn’t my lifestyle that gave me a lump on my thyroid that I had to have it removed and go on medication for the rest of my life, and it wasn’t my lifestyle that gave me a predisposition to severe depression, either. I don’t smoke and I exercise, and neither of those does a thing to prevent my needing medical care.

            1. fposte

              Those behaviors still do likely reduce your individual need for medical care over your lifetime, though. (Not that that justifies the employer intervention thing–just pointing out that the behaviors are still beneficial.)

          4. KT

            My work has this and every year and I just can’t bring myself to participate (even though I know I would pass). I find the program far too invasive for work purposes, and quite frankly, it’s just another pointless pain in the butt thing where I have to jump through all these hoops and waste my time for little return. I can’t get on board with these things. I lead a very healthy lifestyle. I shouldn’t have to prove it to you in order to get a discount. TOO MUCH!

          5. fposte

            Low utilization isn’t the same as low potential for utilization, though; these plans tend to overfocus on the behaviors with cumulative effect and ignore the behaviors that are more coin-flippy, where you’re fine except when you’re not. Got any, say, nice, healthy, non-smoking hang-gliders in the mix? One bad weekend and they’ll cost you more than all your lap-banders for a decade.

            1. Jamie

              This – it’s all about how the stats shake out.

              And don’t forget people like me who cost plans almost nothing because I so rarely seek medical care for anything (literally in the last 7 years I’ve had two trips to the doctor for flu shots)…so if I die at my desk at some point I’m a bargain compared to a health conscious co-worker who is continually getting medical treatment for work-out related injuries.

              See – people like me aren’t lazy – we’re just trying to keep costs down.

      3. Laura2

        What I find really obnoxious about some corporate wellness programs is that they tend not to address what the employer can do to help people make good diet and exercise choices – things like providing fruit and vegetables in the break room or making it possible for employees to get a decent amount of time to eat lunch or eat lunch and take a short walk, or making sure that people get home at a reasonable time to make a nutritious dinner.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          This is such a good point. If corporate wellness programs focused exclusively on what actions employers could take rather than employees, I think people would have a very different reaction to them.

          1. moss

            Other things employers could do:

            Advocate for clean water and air
            Advocate for safe, affordable child care
            Set sane working hours so people will get the proven-longevity-increasing number of hours of sleep and relaxation

            All of these would give greater benefits and reduce costs than investigating what a given employee’s waist size might be.

            1. Kelly L.

              Another thing is fixing problems like mold infestations. I have worked, and know other people who have worked, at places with huge mold problems that resulted in allergies, headaches, etc., which can’t help productivity any.

            2. Later

              Sounds like Finland, where all of that is pretty much guaranteed. They have gated play areas for kids in airports! It blew my mind. Also where the President has just announced that he has voluntarily reduced his salary due to the economic situation.

              It is fascinating to me that all these things we keep wishing for actually exist- just not where we are.

          2. fran melmed

            This is a really fascinating discussion. I’d just like to point you all toward the Blue Zones work designation requirements, for much of what you talk about here in terms of creating a workplace that supports health in myriad ways not only programmatic ones is baked into their thinking: http://s3.amazonaws.com/BlueZonesProject/docs/certification/Certification+Overview_FINAL_3+15+12.pdf

            I thought it’d be useful to see what it is they specifically require of workplaces to expand the slim, more marketing-based language on their site.

            Cheers,
            f

            1. Jamie

              There are so many things about this that rile me up, but I absolutely laughed out loud at the suggestion that workplaces institue kickball.

              Now make it dodgeball, with the inherent office politics, maybe that could be fun.

        2. TL

          Hear, hear. I would appreciate it MUCH more if companies went to the trouble of changing their behavior to encourage employee health, versus asking the employees to shoulder the entire burden, when so much of it is out of the employees’ control.

          Not that I’d make use of an employee gym on the premises; that would feel awkward. But plenty of time for lunch (newsflash: thirty minutes is not enough time to eat lunch, take a walk, and freshen hair and makeup post-walk), encouraging employees to take breaks instead of obstructing them, ergonomic workspaces, properly lighted offices, etc. would go a long way.

        1. danr

          oops… didn’t see fposte’s responses with the links.

          As for blood pressure, I’ve found that the ‘cure’ for myself is not working. Since I was laid off, I’ve dropped two of three medications and if I lose some more weight, I’ll probably go off the last one too.

          1. twentymilehike

            As for blood pressure, I’ve found that the ‘cure’ for myself is not working.

            SO. TRUE. My husband was in a horrible accident a year and a half ago and was off work for four months. Once he was off meds and moving around again, his borderline high blood pressure was well below normal average and he was so happy and relaxed! Now he’s back at work and his doctor is considering starting him on meds for it. What a bummer :(

      4. Joey

        What’s obnoxious about it? Those who are at risk to cost the company more in medical claims have to pay more. That’s all it really is. Thats fair isnt it? Same as most other types of insurances. I think too many people see health insurance as the solution to all of their health problems and don’t really put enough priority on preventing as many problems as possible in the first place. Now im sure someone will chime in about unpreventable health problems, but what you probably dont realize is that for most employers the data shows that most of the healthcare costs are associated with controllable conditions that arent being controlled. When the expenses rise it only makes sense to pass it onto the folks who cause it to rise. That’s wellness programs in a nutshell.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Except that many wellness programs are inappropriately invasive, unhelpful, and give bad info (like this one). They also tend to put all the burden on the employee, rather than actions the employer can take (as Laura2 pointed out above).

          1. Joey

            It’s just change. The invasiveness feels worse because its new. But I agree with you that lots of employers approach it the wrong way. That’s usually because its a fairly new approach and executives can’t yet see the return so they’re apprehensive to invest appropriately. its a huge challenge for those folks to try to create a good program without the appropriate budget. And if you dont have a great wellness manager its next to hopeless. But once they start seeing some significant savings it usually results in a better program and better incentives.

            1. Rana

              Well, no. It feels invasive because it is invasive.

              The fact that we’ve become numbed to the ways that corporations (whether insurance companies or employers) interfere in our lives doesn’t mean that when we actually notice how invasive that interference it’s merely because it’s “new.”

              1. KellyK

                +1

                Also, it’s my job to work hard and do a good job for my employer. It is not my job to manage my personal life in such a way as to make the insurance company happy.

        2. Anonymous

          Here’s an example – we have the usual corporate wellness initiatives that amount to some pretty basic info on eating and exercise. Employees have asked about things like putting in a shower so people could exercise at lunch or bike to work and have a place to wash up. Or about getting stand-up work stations. The answer on the shower was “no” and the stand-up desks? The answer many months ago was that someone in HR was “pilot-testing” one and loved it but there was no plan to roll it out to the employees.

          Most of us here sit at a desk all day and all recent evidence is that sitting all day — even if your work out and eat right – is absolutely terrible for your health. So having stand up work stations would be a big step in improving employee health. But that’s not happening and I know it’s a $$ issue. That said, if there isn’t $$ to do stuff that will actually make a difference, being bugged with this ineffectual info and invasive ‘screenings’ is a little annoying.

          1. Jamie

            I have heard a lot about those desks recently – how does that work? Is it strictly standing or is there a standing/sitting option with maybe the monitor keyboard surface on a lift or something?

            I know I’m lazy – but standing for 10-12 hours a day would be a nightmare for me. I am just surprised by how many people want this as an option…I think I’d quit.

            Off to google…

            1. Amouse

              I wouldn’t mind it if my company paid for one of those cool inflated ball chairs that you can either sit on as a normal chair or use as a ball chair. Standing all day, no thanks.

              1. Jamie

                That is fascinating. I have a timer set so I’m trying it today – 2 minutes standing every twenty.

                Just a little test to see if maybe this will cause my back to be a little less creaky when I leave at end of day.

            2. KT

              They’re awesome. You can move it up to stand. Or move it down to sit. I want one, but I’m not important enough =)

            3. Dana

              We have them here in some offices – you can control the height of the desk with an up/down switch. It doesn’t have drawers, but people have little rolling drawer sets to store your stuff in. I wouldn’t want to stand all day either, but it would be nice to change it up a bit throughout the day.

            4. Rana

              My own experience is that they’re not for everyone, or at least not for everyone all day at once. I’m capable of walking several miles with no break, no problem, but if I have to stand in one place for more than ten minutes, I get light-headed and my back starts to hurt. Normally I have no back pain at all.

              (I like the idea of standing desks, but me and long-term standing just doesn’t work.)

          2. Going Anon

            I do have to give my employer credit for doing their part to promote wellness. We are provided snacks, and a few years ago they removed the soda fountain and switched to healthy snacks, including fruit, cheeses, nuts, and low-fat low-sodium snack mixes.

            Anyone who wants a stand-up desk can have one (even though it isn’t cheap), and to answer someone’s question, a lot of people have a barstool-height chair (or stool) so they can also sit, plus they have those squishy mats you sometimes see at cash registers, so the standing isn’t as hard on their bodies, either.

            When the building was built quite a few years ago, they installed three showers – one in each gender-specific bathroom plus a unisex. The company organizes various wellness intiatives throughout the year–things like Biggest Loser, counting steps (with the reward being a trip to somewhere exotic), and a working out. They encourage being active to the point that some employees go for two walks a day that are 30 minutes each, plus are gone at least 90 minutes for working out three to four days a week, all counted as paid time, pretty much (the workouts are in the middle of the day, but they still have to eat when they get back, so they’re probably unproductive for at least two hours, and paid for all but whatever their lunch period is, which could be only 30 minutes for some people). Bitter much? Sorry. :-)

            So yes, we also have flexible schedules (sometimes to the point of ridiculousness) which can also benefit work/life balance, and having those kids which will lengthen our lifespans. :-)

            But yes, for all my complaints about the ridiculous health screenings elsewhere in this thread, the company does at least put their money where their mouth is in providing wellness benefits TO employees as well as requiring what I think are invasive and ridiculous things FROM employees.

        3. Laura L

          That can lead to discrimination. For example, women of child-bearing age tend to cost more to insure than others. Not to mention discriminating against various conditions people have (e.g. cancer, mental illness, etc.)

          1. Joey

            Most wellness managers are smart enough not to discriminate against any protected class or to try to control costs for medical conditions the employee can’t control.

            1. Laura L

              Except all of those things (being female, a history of cancer, mental illness) are things that have been and are currently used by insurance companies to deny coverage or increase premiums and other costs. It’s not just a hypothetical, it’s something that’s happening.

              Also, the idea of what someone can or cannot control is nowhere near as clear cut as everyone thinks it is. Too many issues with this.

              The point of insurance is to spread the risk over a wide pool of people. Why don’t we just charge everyone equally?

              1. Joey

                Traditionally thats whats been done and it hasnt worked very well. it contributes to ever increasing medical costs and employee premiums year after year. So now we’re trying to get a handle on the costs that can be contained. That’s the controllable conditions.

                Your position is sort of like trying to argue its better for power companies to charge everyone the same. The more you consume the better deal it is right? That wouldnt be fair, would it? Or smart for keeping costs down. Same thing.

                1. Going Anon

                  Except power is something that can be measured, and they’re charging the consumer for what they use, which is fair.

                  Medical INSURANCE is insurance–a product designed, as Laura L said, to spread the costs around. It is common in the insurance industry to charge higher-risk customers more (higher premiums for life insurance the older you are or if you have certain diseases, higher premiums for younger, less experienced drivers, and so on), so it isn’t unheard of for the insurance companies to charge different premiums to different groups based on risk. But when employers start playing that game, it gets a lot more touchy.

                  Life insurers have the ability to just not insure you if they deem you too high risk (ever tried to get standard insurance if you’re a private pilot, or enjoy skydiving?). Auto insurers have some hope that the other guy will pay if you’re in an accident that was another driver’s fault, so they’re willing to insure you mostly based on YOUR risk. But medical insurance is a different game, I think. Sure, there are risk factors that can make you higher risk for certain diseases, such as the correlation between obesity and diabetes. But being overweight doesn’t necessarily mean you will get a weight-related condition, and being an ideal weight certainly doesn’t protect you from either those diseases OR freak diseases or accidents like brain cancer or breaking your leg skiing. I’d love to see some statistics on the actual correlations between certain supposed risk factors and the actual medical costs when aggregated over large groups. Do people with a BMI in a certain range really have more medical expenses than skinnier people, or does it kind of average out with all the other factors involved?

                2. Rana

                  Joey, just a guess – are you a young, fit person with few or no health problems?

                  Speaking as someone who self-insures, and who has been penalized repeatedly for a family history I literally have no control over, despite being myself a healthy, slender, non-smoking, reasonably fit non-drinker who doesn’t engage in risky activities like motorcycle riding, you have no idea how callously naive you sound to me right now.

                  I could be a world-class triathlete for all the insurance companies care. Instead, they see that my mother once had malignant cells in her breast, and that my father had a heart attack at age 55, and BAM “high risk” gets stamped on the file, with the premiums to match.

                  So when I see you talking about how people who are considered likely by insurance companies to require extra medical coverage should just expect to pay more since they’re likely to cost more, what I hear you saying is “Rana, so sorry you have shitty genetics. It’s not enough that you have to deal with the possible health risks associated with that; let me dump some higher costs on you as well. It’s only fair, right? Maybe if you jog more you can get a discount to offset them or something.”

                  Whether or not that makes economic sense from the point of view of beancounters in Accounting and in the insurance company’s office, it’s a pretty mean thing to tell one’s employees, especially if one’s simultaneously spinning that policy as being an example of the company “caring” about its employees.

                3. Joey

                  Going anon,
                  You’ll change your mind if you ever get a chance to look at the stats your benefits department gets to see. I agree that medical insurance plans are there to spread the costs, but when the number of folks with preventable or controllable conditions keeps increasing an the costs increase exponentially there are fewer and fewer healthy people to offset. If youre saying healthy employees should share the cost of their co workers preventable problems we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

                  Rana,
                  Depends on how you define young. But, yes I am cheap so I take every measure possible to lower my healthcare costs however I can. And I’m not talking about stuff you have no control over. i just cant understand how someone who has a preventable condition doesn’t feel accountable for their increasing medical costs. I’m talking about the people who make unhealthy choices, complain about their healthcare costs, and wonder why their insurance premiums go up every year. That’s who wellness programs are targeting because their unhealthy choices are costing everyone else lots of money.

                4. Rana

                  See, you keep using these words like “unhealthy” and “choices,” and that’s the whole problem.

                  You claim that you can distinguish between people with health problems that are due to bad luck and those that are due to bad choices, but it’s not nearly as easy as you seem to think.

                  Three skinny people: one is that way because she comes from a family of people who are tall and thin and have slender bones; another is that way because she smokes and is anorexic; the third exercises rigorously and watches her diet carefully, eating only unprocessed foods with lots of fruits and veggies.

                  Three fat people: one is fat because she takes medications to regulate another condition, and weight gain is a side effect; one is fat because everyone in her family is large and stores fat easily, and her being a triathlete doesn’t change that; one is fat because she has no time to exercise since she is working two jobs to get by while caring for two small children, nor access to good food that she can afford.

                  Three people with high cholesterol: one comes from a family where everyone has high cholesterol due to genetics; one has high cholesterol because they live on bacon and never exercise; one takes statins (expensive!) to control it but the numbers are still high despite exercising regularly and eating a low-fat diet.

                  Three people who are going to need surgery (expensive!) before the year is out: a woman who just became pregnant with twins; a marathon runner who is about to blow out a knee; a young man who will need heart surgery to repair a defect he didn’t know he had.

                  So… in all of this, how do you come up with a nice easy way to allocate who gets rewarded for “healthy choices” and who gets punished for “unhealthy ones”?

                  It’s not so simple as “people who exercise and eat well are less expensive to insure than people who don’t.” It just isn’t, no matter how much you try to claim it is.

                  Wellness programs that offer employees a chance to improve the quality of their lives with employer support don’t bother me, but trying to turn it into a system of rewards and punishments is not only inherently unfair, it’s cruel to those who are unable to meet whatever arbitrary standard has been set up as the desirable one.

                5. Joey

                  Your argument is the same as a safe teenage driver who doesn’t understand why their insurance rates are high. And then wonders why they get need to take defensive driving to get a discount.

                  And I’m not aware of any forced wellness programs. It’s a choice with incentives and disincentives, but its still a choice.

                6. Rana

                  Joey, you are still not getting the point I’m making.

                  What if you are imposed with disincentives simply for the misfortune of having a body of the type some actuary considers expensive?

                  I don’t care that such bodies may well indeed cost the insurance company more. Persons living in those bodies still need care, and they still deserve respect and a decent paycheck, instead of being punished for the misfortune of being born the way they are (which is what a disincentive entails, however much you try to talk around that).

                  As for your teenage driver example, one, this isn’t about me; I’m self-employed and self-insured. (And trust me, the insurance companies don’t give a rat’s whether I exercise or not – my rates are just as high all the same.) Two, you’re missing the point that car insurance is optional in a large sense, in that people do not have to own or drive cars in order to exist (not to mention if your teenage example waits a couple of years, her rates will go down through no effort on her part one way or another).

                  Look. People don’t like being told to jump through hoops – in a nearly literal sense – in order to receive the health care and salary that they earn by doing their job. If the company wants to pay people for eating well and exercising more so it can get an insurance break, then make that part of the job description and stop gussying it up as being concerned about employee “wellness” because it’s not.

                  No one tells the teenage driver that she should be lucky to be allowed to take defensive driving at work, or docks her paycheck if she doesn’t, or set up department competitions as to who has more graduates of the program, or busybodies who monitor what she eats at lunch (no heavy meals! might reduce alertness!), and so on.

                  You’re trying to make this about the logic of insurance. I understand the logic of insurance.

                  What you are not getting is that the emotional and health costs of the program to individual employees does not, in my mind, justify imposing that logic on one’s employees.

      5. Elizabeth West

        I think they’re fine, if they offer alternatives that aren’t so pushy. My old company had a thing where they would help pay for you to quit smoking. You had to ask for it, though; they didn’t FORCE you to do it. And it didn’t indirectly criticize you for not doing it, either.

        Also, can a potential employer legally ask you in an interview if you smoke? I don’t anymore, but was asked this not long ago.

          1. twentymilehike

            Wow… that’s interesting. What about landlords? Mine has a not smoking on the property rule. We have one smoker in our building, and from what I understand she is the first one after a long time of having none. Its funny to see her walking out in her pajamas in the morning to go smoke in the street.

            1. fposte

              Unless you’re in an area where it’s a protected class, they can set whatever rules they like (and I suspect even in those areas some smaller owner-occupied rentals might be excluded from the protection).

              They’re looking at making a law requiring rentals to be completely non-smoking in town here.

              1. twentymilehike

                They’re looking at making a law requiring rentals to be completely non-smoking in town here.

                FWIW I’m not a smoker, but I don’t know that landlords should care if there tenants smoke on their property–I mean, at least outside the building anyways. I could understand like where I live where there are units within close proximity to one another.

                But then again, if it were to greatly reduce the risk of a fire or something, then that could make sense.

                I have a slightly tweaked perception and opinion of smoking since I live in CA … where it seems like smoking is practically banned everywhere public.

                1. Rana

                  Well, there’s also the smell and tar factor too. If you’ve rented a unit to a smoker once, it becomes a lot harder to rent it to anyone but smokers afterward.

                  That said, if a landlord wants to take on that risk, I see no reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to.

          2. Elizabeth West

            Hmm. Thanks.
            Apparently my state is one that has a protected statute (which makes sense since it has a high tobacco use rate). But it doesn’t say if they can’t ask you about it.

            At least I can say No. Also, no more going outside in the cold, which I didn’t mind when I smoked but am glad now I don’t have to do. :)

  10. Joey

    It’s sad, but too common among wellness people. They tend to base decisions on stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with making real progress on the health of their employees. Im not sure where that actually comes from but they like to do stuff that just sounds good without any real measurable outcome. She should really be looking at the aggregate health info of her employees and looking for trends that she can impact with a strategic program. Typically those are controllable conditions like diabetes, obesity, etc. Its much easier and more effective to build incentives around things that are actually measurable.

  11. Amouse

    oh wow this makes my blood boil.
    How dare your workplace impose this “initiative” on you. This is ludicrous. Please speak up and let us know what happens with this. I don’t think I would be able not to go to HR if I were in your positions. Alison makes a great point; even someone whose life does happen to fall into the values prescribed by this group might be a very private person equally offended by it. It’s just wrong on so many levels.

    This reminds me of a time I was starting out at one of my very first jobs working the cash at a pharmacy/convenience store. I came in one day to a document on the cash register quoting the bible and petitioning for signatures to make gay marriage illegal. A few co-workers and I were absolutely disgusted that we were being put up there as if we were representatives of that petition by default and disgusted by it on principle. But I was so young and inexperienced that I didn’t realize then what a non-existent impact that job would have on my future and i was afraid to speak up. To this day I wish I had.

  12. Tiff

    I saw some stuff about Blue Zones recently, and it was interesting. Not something I’d want at my job, but interesting to read. This is most likely one person’s “big project”, and if it goes off he/she will put a big ole feather in the cap along with the senior leadership. And if that’s the culture that the private company wants, aren’t they within their rights to do so?

    I wouldn’t send an email about it, I’d just ignore their emails and discard their literature. Hopefully someone at the top will notice the growing piles of Blue Zone materials in the recycling and the rolled eyes and heavy sighs that accompany any communication about the project and stop being so pushy. Hopefully.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      They’re within their legal rights, absolutely. But that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t appreciate learning how their employees feel about it (as reasonable companies would), or that — totally separate from that — employees shouldn’t speak up to say they don’t want it.

  13. N.

    OP thank you for writing in. I am not sure how you will eventually proceed, but I am glad you were able to put this into words. Alison, thank you for pointing out that employees do not like it when HR dictates a lifestyle.

    Because of this (among other things) I left my previous position. Suffering through company-sanctioned, drawn-out, and pointless, weekly meetings over what was going on in our home lives became intolerable. Especially when they had the nerve to tell me our life work balance was lacking after 10-12 hour days 6-7 days a week became mandatory working hours for my crew.
    That might have been bearable if we weren’t given “homework” assignments to do with our families during our offtime. Non- participation got you targeted by the wrong people, so the old timers would just make up stories (I know this because they told me so), the younger workers either bristled at the intrusion (like me), or didn’t think it was a big deal.

    Ultimately it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, I tried to hint that many of us felt it was invasive, and implied that more than few of us felt resentful, and was told that I needed to change my negative attitude by the program’s administrators because no one else felt that way (they did, but since they only gossiped loudly and never complained directly, they were safely ignored.) Had I not come away everytime with a vague sense they were trying to brainwash me, I might have accepted some of their well-meaning advice better.

    Honestly, it bugs me more than it should when I hear from ex -coworkers that their reign of terror continues on, unfortunately are some of the only game in town so most people learn to just ask “how high”. Had I known in advance this was the culture at this company, I may have reconsidered taking the position to begin with though at the time I did not have the luxury of turning down jobs.

    I don’t know if this any help, (maybe you can print out your query and the general consensus here and drop it off anonymously…) but no matter what you decide to do good luck, you aren’t in a good position, I hope you are successful whatever you try, and hope to hear a follow – up one day!

    1. Jamie

      That might have been bearable if we weren’t given “homework” assignments to do with our families during our offtime.

      I’m curious – what did this entail?

        1. fposte

          I think you mean “employment at will” there–“right to work” is about not having to be union (people do use it to mean the first thing, but that’s because they’re not aware that it doesn’t :-)).

          1. Rana

            Thanks for the correction! I knew I was getting something wrong there. While being employed in a right-to-work state might work that way in practice, but that’s not strictly what it means.

    2. Suz

      I’d live to hear what some of the made-up stories were. I’d come up with some crazy stuff just to spite them.

    1. N.

      Anything more would have been viewed as insubordination, or I would have risked being blunt. Frankly I agree with you, my subtle arts left no lasting impression but it wasn’t worth mentioning after awhile, since they did not care anyway.

        1. Josh S

          Many powers-that-be want you mind and body–not just the action, but the genuine belief that the action is good as well.

          Let’s all repeat together, “I love Big Brother.”

          1. JT

            That’s fine, but it seems to me you that if you’re not willing to say what you want clearly, at least once, you can’t expect the other side to change. And if you’re not trying to get the other side to change, why bother to “hint” or “imply.”

            Now the crazy bosses can truthfully say “No one ever said they were unhappy with this.”

            1. Josh S

              Ah, now you understand! If everyone is forced to toe the company line (under veiled threat of retribution), then the powers that be can legitimately say, “But we heard no complaints! How could we possibly have known!?!”

              This is the reason that creating a pervasive culture of negativity/dangerousness/yes-man-ish-ness can be so harmful in the long term.

              1. JT

                Not just now. I’ve been pushing speaking up for most of my professional life, and as long as I’ve been posting on this blog.

                1. N.

                  Not sure if I made it clear enough, but I will put it to you this way, I felt compelled to walk away from a job that paid me close to 60 grand a year in an area where most people only make around 10 to 12 dollars an hour, because I could not tolerate being a “yes man”. The company and community at large valued conformity above all other things.

                  Barely hinting at ANYTHING, ever, got you targeted; once I got my entire department scrutinized, because my boss decided that my notetaking during important meetings was “disrespectful.” According to him, it meant I was not devoting my full attention to the speaker (wha..?) since I was not making constant eye contact (my bad, for forgeting this was required). Anything less then spell- bound attention for this speaker was grounds for a write up because “we don’t tolerate ‘attitude’ around here.”

                  I had to leave this job, my self -respect, and trade the wrath of my superiors for the wrath of my family, because speaking up put me on the short list. The shame I feel everyday I could not reach a compromise with my former company still overwhelms me; the consequences of my choice to walk almost put my loved ones on the street. For MY principles, I HURT my family. I refused to watch my subordinates and people I respected be retaliated against because I opened my trap. If my principles had been easy to quiet, I could have stayed and saved for a car that wouldn’t almost kill me on the way to my new “sorta fun-but-pays-next-to-nothing” job. When advocating acting on principles, remember that they don’t always keep you fed.

                  As for the job, you were offered three choices: you learned to toe the line, were driven to resign, or you persisted until you were fired. I suspect that Alison may suggest the fundamental problem was that company and I were a bad fit, and I would agree; I also see her mention frequently that it is not the company’s job to be fair, and in light of both of those things, it was actually run quite efficiently. Those who did not share the same values, both official and unspoken were either driven to leave or dispatched after every attempt at conversion failed. Did this win them fans? No, it fostered fear and suspicion. Did this foster innovation and improvement? Not exactly. Did the naysayers get weeded out in favor of a more docile and compliant bunch that stuck through thick and thin? Yup. Did they get what they wanted? You bet they did. And I am sure it was business as usual and well within their rights.

                  My responsibility was not to be blunt, nor was it to force change however I personally saw fit. My responsibility was to decide whether to continue working for a place the views of which were proving incompatible with my own. I did not take any of this lightly by the way, I did what I thought was the right thing to do, as with any decision one makes. I bid you to consider that if the company chose to ignore the loud whispers and not so subtle implications, a direct attack would have had less chance in getting the desired result. The problem wasn’t ignorance, it was a lack of receptiveness.

                  Point of this, (alas!) is only the OP knows what they are willing to live with when deciding their course of action, only they know how their suggestion will be met by their “crazy” boss and whether or not it is worth mentioning. To counsel anyone to take the hard line, one needs consider what is at stake first.

                  Thank you for your time. I am still learning, and I only write in hopes that maybe someone can take my words and benefit somehow.

      1. Jamie

        +1. As awful as this is for the OP, and it really is, you guys are cracking me up.

        Seriously – when the absurdity is this obvious and a source of humor what is HR thinking? Don’t they have some insurance forms to file or labor to billing ratios to calculate?

      1. Jamie

        I was just asked today to start working on my goals for 2013 as my review is coming up.

        And thanks to moss I now have my goals. Should make for an interesting lunch with the boss.

        1. moss

          If your boss is a dude, hopefully he can give you some drinking pointers since he didn’t have to waste any time on the breeding phase of life.

    1. J.B.

      If a female got pregnant, would this initiative be license for her to sleep at work? Because of growing the all important future support. Speaking of support, time to put that kid to work–completely useless!

  14. ChristineH

    I usually ignore these kinds of things, to be honest. But if it does start getting overbearing or even to the level “N” describes above, then I would most definitely say something, at least to your manager. If there are several people with the same sentiments, even better. Be professional, of course.

  15. Anonymous

    I work at a Catholic workplace, and I don’t get this kind of sh*t stuffed down my throat. There’s a healthy workplace initiative here, but it’s very low-key, and you get a discount on your insurance if you participate – but even then the only requirement is just some minor bloodtests (like sugar and cholesterol).

    1. Jamie

      Yes – if any post needs an update it’s this one.

      That website said there are over 500 companies signed up with this initiative. Small in the big scheme of things, but scary nonetheless.

  16. Snow

    Regarding religion in the workpalce: A former boss once told me, “We’re going to find a way for you to get more religion in your life.” I looked at her as if she were crazy. When I told her I’m an atheist, she totally ignored it and went on to say how “everyone needs religion.”

      1. Snow

        It was one of the worst places I’ve worked. Incompetent bosses. Clueless coworkers. And a shady business owner. So yeah, pretty close to being hell, actually…

    1. Nichole

      If you “needed religion,” you would have been seeking it on your own by now, right? It’s almost as bad to be a mainstream religion member who doesn’t attend church. I consider myself a Christian and have a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” and all that, but I think organized religion is a sham. I would happily join a church if I found one where I felt comfortable. Which I haven’t. Ever. Including when attending with friends who told me how great and different and inclusive their church is. If church is enjoyable for you, have fun, but don’t give me the “uh huh, right” look when I say I’m a Christian but not interested in your church.

  17. OP

    Hi, I wrote the letter. Thank you Alison for answering my question, and thank you everyone for your comments–you crack me up! I will send an email to the head of HR similar to what Alison suggests. I don’t want to be the “squeaky wheel,” as some have mentioned, but I’ll feel better knowing that I spoke up.

    One reason my workplace is trying to get this Blue Zones designation is that the city I live in is trying to become a Blue Zones Community(tm). (Yes, everything is registered and trademarked.) That’s odd, because this city is known as a place unique in the state where people can be freaky and free to do what they like, and I wouldn’t think people would be excited about another set of rules to follow. The (Republican) governor is behind the Blue Zones Project because he says he wants to make this the healthiest state. (The pigs will fly out of their feedlots before that happens.) All summer there were Blue Zones people at the farmers market, but I felt free to avoid them. It’s squirmier when your own HR department is promoting this to a captive audience.

    1. Laura L

      Oh! Oh! Time to play “guess where the OP lives.” I say Texas!

      You don’t need to respond to that :-)

      But do tell us how HR responds. I’m curious.

      1. KimmieSue

        Looks like it could either be California or Iowa is a possibility just based on website info deductions. To me this makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It’s like some kind of creepy mix of Pleasantville-meets-Stepford Wives-meets-Heavens Gate. Only worse, because it’s got big money behind it (Blue Cross Blue Shield). Scary, scary, scary.

      2. Brook

        Texas? No way. We won’t voluntarily submit to programs that make sense and are tied to funding, much less this nonsense.

        My money is on Iowa.

        1. Laura L

          Noooo! But I love Iowa. It’s my favorite state and I’m not even FROM there!

          Also, didn’t realize that Iowa had a Republican governor.

        2. Laura L

          Wait, the website only lists California and Minnesota as states with cities participating in this Blue Zone thing. So it’s NOT Iowa!

    2. Mike C.

      Uh, why in the heck is the government trying to achieve a designation that, in part, requires religious participation? There are some serious issues at play here.

      1. fposte

        Maybe they’re fudging “group” enough to include the secular?

        Honestly, I could get behind this on a community level if it were about making a lot of these things more possible for the residents, but if it’s just about using the municipal voice to tell people what they have to do, they can bite me.

  18. Nodumbunny

    It’s good public health intentions gone bad. The Blue Zone research was interesting (huge National Geographic-funded population-based study) and reflects the fact that 30% of the health of a population/community can be attributed to health behaviors like tobacco use, diet and exercise; 40% can be attributed to socio-economic factors like education/employment/family social support. Only 20% is attributable to the health care services a population receives (or doesn’t receive). Several communties have undertaken Blue Zone projects and used them to make some real changes in their community. If the employer were using the Blue Zone idea to make changes in the employee environment that were really meaningful – not just mouthing the words “work/life balance” but actually committing to changes that permit it; giving employees time and support to walk/move around at work, etc. then it would be great. But if they are just using it to share platitudes and poorly-thought-out advice, that’s bad.

    1. fposte

      Yes, I don’t actually have much quibble with the original studies of behavior, but there are considerable problems in turning them into mandates for other people’s behavior.

    2. Laura L

      “40% can be attributed to socio-economic factors like education/employment/family social support.”

      So, what’s the employer doing to help that? Paying for college? Paying higher wages? Paying for therapy for unsupportive family members?

  19. Nodumbunny

    I feel the need to defend this and other public health efforts. There have been debates in the comments section before about folks not wanting to pay for other people’s choices (children). We all pay for each others’ bad lifestyle choices – to smoke, to not exercise, to live an isolated existence with no family/friends as support. One of the major factors contributing to unsustainable health care costs is these “social determinants of health.” Given that shared cost, I don’t think it’s inappropriate for the government to share information with people about what works and what doesn’t work, generally speaking, to stay healthy. I agree it is a little more questionable for employers to do so, but the fact is they do bear most of the cost of health insurance and they are where we spend a huge percentage of our time. So if they do it right (see my comment above), it could be very helpful.

      1. fposte

        There’s agency in choosing to go out and interact with people vs. choosing to stay at home (and yes, I know you can interact with people over the internet, but my impression is that those contacts haven’t been identified as being as effective in extending life), and that really is evidence that that’s genuinely causal.

        I think it’s worth separating a hamfisted attempt to be coercive about popular interpretations of studies from the actual findings of the studies.

      2. Nodumbunny

        Wouldn’t you agree that in many cases, if people have neither family NOR friends/communities/groups that they feel connected to that it is a result of choice? Certainly there are exceptions. I know many people who don’t have children or other family members to whom they are close, but they’ve built “families’ of friends that do the job just as well.

        1. K

          I actually think that if people don’t have family or friends or communities or groups they’re connected to, that’s pretty likely to be a result of mental illness. Maybe we should think about giving people adequate mental health support instead of shaming them for their “choice.”

          1. Nodumbunny

            I don’t see sharing information as shaming, though. I’m totally with you on the more support for mental health, by the way. Look, I’m an introvert who struggles with depression. I know as well as anyone that when you are struggling it is hard to reach out for help or even contact with others that would help. And I’m aware that there are instances of mental illness that are so severe one cannot reach out and even if one did, that wouldn’t be enough to make a difference – those are the exceptions I meant. But I do think there are people making a choice to not create or maintain connections with others and all the public health officials are doing it telling you that population-based studies have shown that people who have connections of one sort or another – whether it is family, friends, church or some other social construct – live longer.

            1. moss

              If that’s all it was, like, Hey here’s an interesting piece of information: People who are lucky enough to be popular and surrounded by a happy family are more likely to live longer, then fine. Thanks for the info.

              But as the OP’s letter shows, people are NOT just giving information, they are influencing job security and invading private lives even unto the bodily fluids level. I find that creepy and invasive and I cannot support it. It’s creepy to say, oh you’re not popular enough, you’re choosing to cost me money with your health problems.

              There’s also the question of picking and choosing evidence. Marijuana, for example, may help the aging brain. http://www.worldhealth.net/news/marijuana_compounds_may_benefit_aging_br/ Are they going to recommend or supplement medical marijuana for everyone? No. And that’s for political reasons only.

              So these “initiatives” are picking and choosing the science they want to use. And they are invading people’s privacy. I have a huge problem with that.

              1. Rana

                It’s creepy to say, oh you’re not popular enough, you’re choosing to cost me money with your health problems.

                I agree. “Oh, hey, your life sucks, and you’re not healthy either, so let’s make it even more fun for you by hectoring you about it at work and taking money out of your paycheck for the privilege of failing to jump through our stupid hoops.”

      3. moss

        I would definitely not agree that it is a choice. Making friends/building a community is a skill that not everyone has.

        1. Jamie

          I agree with Moss on this.

          For some people that’s not in the skill-set. Just like not everyone has a choice to be a nuclear engineer…no matter how much better your life would be if you were or whatever…some people just don’t have the tools for that to be an option.

          And I’m aware that was a very specific example – but it’s like I’m sure there are studies saying that life is easier for people who make more money because there is less financial stress. Not everyone is going to have the ability to pull 6 figures.

          1. fposte

            There are individual cases where that’s true, sure–where very little will induce an individual to come out. But unless you want to chuck free will out for all human behavior (and that could actually be an interesting discussion), this one is like the rest of behavior, where there’s some pretty good indication of agency playing a role even if it’s not the total answer. The lethal Chicago heat wave, for instance, was a tragic but informative lab for this–the old and infirm in the same kind of building died at very different rates depending on the social patterns of the predominant culture in that area.

            Biology and socioeconomics can inflect the likelihood of your taking up behavior or positioning yourself to maximize the benefits, but that doesn’t mean agency is out of the picture. People do all kinds of things they don’t enjoy and aren’t skilled at if they think they’re good for them; human interaction doesn’t have to be treated any differently from inoculation in that respect.

            1. moss

              Sorry but getting a shingles vaccine is totally different from enduring weekly bingo sessions. Agency may play some small role but to say being isolated is a “choice” is just beyond ridiculous.

              1. fposte

                But I think this is where we unjustifiably don’t treat social behavior like other behavior. There are a lot of people who find exercise unpleasant and who can’t find one they want to stick with. Isn’t it still a choice if they couch-potato instead?

                I wouldn’t say any of these things were *only* a matter of choice, and even the choice they do involve is often not a choice of the moment but a choice of habitation, or career–nothing you can just undo to get out and walk/picnic/breed at the moment. Nor does choice mean it’s equally easy for everybody–it’s not a “which item on the menu do you choose” thing. But yes, we have a choice about the amount of human contact we have in our lives.

            2. Jamie

              I do think it’s different because while, yes, one can attempt to construct a social network absent family – it isn’t entirely within the individuals control.

              I alone determine whether or not I smoke or exercise and the healthfulness of my diet. I don’t need anyone’s buy in to make good choices which will benefit me.

              Whether or not I have a social network isn’t just up to me. I can join a community, I can put myself out there…but whether or not that results in real relationships and a real community as opposed to just attending isn’t just up to me alone. It’s up to me and the others who will either accept me into their community or not.

              Now, I don’t do this and I grant you that is a choice I’m making. But if I were to do this I would not be as successful as others who do this – I don’t have the skills to develop personal relationships with people easily. I have a family that I love, and work friendships that I enjoy – and a small circle of close friends cultivated over the years…but I can’t join a church or civic group or whatever and become one of them easily. And I’m fine with that – so please don’t interpret this as whining because that isn’t something I want…but I’m just using my own case to illustrate my point that it’s different when you need the buy in of others as opposed to lifestyle choices which are completely within individual control.

              I don’t have any disabling conditions or mental issues – I’m happy and relatively content with my life (as content as a stress junkie can be) but I don’t have the skills to make that social thing happen except by accident or on a very small scale. And even then it would be more luck than anything I did.

              Some people just don’t have skills past the superficial.

              1. Elizabeth West

                “Whether or not I have a social network isn’t just up to me. I can join a community, I can put myself out there…but whether or not that results in real relationships and a real community as opposed to just attending isn’t just up to me alone. It’s up to me and the others who will either accept me into their community or not.”

                THANK YOU!!!

                I live in a city that has over 150,000 people in it, and I have tried and tried to find people to hang out with. It is the most cliquish place I have ever been! If you’re not 1) a college kid, 2) a mom, or 3) uber-religious, it’s really really hard to meet people. This city prides itself on its “small town feel.” But man, I grew up in a small town, and when I lived there as a young adult, I found more people to hang out with and date than when I do here! And my hometown only has 5000 people! It is frustrating beyond belief, because I’m a friendly, cheerful person. And there is nothing here.

                It SO is not totally up to the individual. I would leave but I have no money and nowhere to go. :(

                1. Jamie

                  You mentioned cliques – and I think it’s a good point about why it’s not always about personal choice.

                  I had a ton of what I called friends as a kid – I was on poms – all in all I had a great time in high school. All of those relationships were completely superficial – people to hang out with is all. I am pretty good at the surface stuff.

                  But there are plenty of kids who aren’t. Kids who would love to have friends and be a part of a group…but end up sitting by themselves at lunch and reading a book at recess…not because they want to, but because they don’t have the social skills to navigate the whole friend thing.

                  There are a lot of lonely people of all ages who would love to connect, but they just can’t. Like the people who would love to be in a relationship – but haven’t met the right person. You can put yourself out there and do all the right things and not meet someone you connect with.

                  Whenever you’re dealing with relationships you can only control your end. It’s other people that complicate everything. :)

              2. fposte

                Sure, but 1) people learn skills (otherwise what’s the point of this blog) and 2) people are again dismissing the superficial relationships. The point isn’t that “if you’re not beloved by people, it’s your own fault”; it’s that “if you stay in your apartment rather than going out and encountering humans in the grocery store, that isn’t as good for you, and that is largely a choice.”

                I’m speaking as a solitary introvert here, not as a joiner who doesn’t understand why everybody doesn’t get with the program. But the evidence is pretty solid–human contact is important in health. And I think people like us need to be particularly aware that if we don’t talk to people because it makes us uncomfortable or because we only want to talk to people if we click deeply with them, which doesn’t usually happen, that can ultimately affect our lives negatively.

                1. Jamie

                  “if you stay in your apartment rather than going out and encountering humans in the grocery store, that isn’t as good for you, and that is largely a choice.”

                  Oh sure – and I totally agree with that if we’re talking about that kind of casual human contact. That’s completely within a person’s ability to control.

                  I thought we were talking about what nodumbbunny said when she wrote:

                  I know many people who don’t have children or other family members to whom they are close, but they’ve built “families’ of friends that do the job just as well.

                  So all my responses (lengthy as they were) were about how we can’t control totally this level of community. Developing friendships so close that they are a stand in for family.

                  To quote Roseanne Roseannadana: nevermind… :)

              3. Rana

                Agreed.

                Since moving here I’ve been very concerned that our social network is so thin. There is no backup for when I’m sick and he has to work, for example; either he carries a double load or we go without groceries. This week, in fact, both of us had the flu, and we’ve been living on whatever random food was in the fridge at the time. Nevermind being able to go see a doctor or have help with things like laundry.

                And yet I try. I go out and do things, I meet people, I’ve had drinks and chats with people I like… but a couple of visits a month with someone isn’t enough to create the sort of friendship that brings you homemade soup when you’re sick (or even notices that you are sick). I mean, it could be, but I’ve been making the attempt for over a year now, and while I have a few more people I can chat with and hang out with in the context of our shared interests, they’re just not that sort of support network.

                Further proof it’s not simply a matter of choice? In the last place we lived, we had that sort of close network within half a year of moving there, for far less effort. I hated the place itself, but I miss that community of friends.

                1. KellyK

                  Yeah, that sort of thing is hard to make happen. It kind of just springs up on its own. (Though I’ve noticed that really consuming hobbies with their own subculture–like the SCA–seem to be really good for building that “family of friends.” I think there’s a whole different dynamic there. Religion seems to work the same way.)

                  Maybe the way to bring casual friends into your support structure is to *be* a support structure for them first. Baby-sit or help them move or something.

          2. Omne

            “Just like not everyone has a choice to be a nuclear engineer…no matter how much better your life would be if you were or whatever”

            I was one, the working conditions are lousy. I’m much happier doing something else.

    1. Mike C.

      You’re going to have to tell me how an employer telling employees to drink regularly, have kids and get religion is a viable and reasonable public health measure.

      1. Nodumbunny

        They are telling you that based on a large population-based study, people who drink 1-2 glasses of wine a day and attend faith-based services regularly and keep their families close, among other things, live longer. It’s population-based advice – not every piece of it is going to apply or should apply to everyone. I agree there is potential for assvice to result and I agree that it may particularly raise hackles for it to come from an employer – but they are valid public health interventions, and by “interventions” I mean valid areas on which public health officials might offer advice and/or make policy changes to encourage them, not interventions in the sense that the government or anyone else should penalize someone who doesn’t do them.

        1. Jamie

          I think where a lot of us are having issues is that the government has no business making interventions or policy changes to encourage anything in the area of attending a faith based service. Ever.

          I’m a Catholic – so I’m not opposed to organized religion. I don’t want my government or my employer to state an opinion on whether or not I should be attending mass. It’s a very slippery slope. This isn’t the same as PSAs telling people get their prostate checked or to get more exercise.

          The slippery slope leads us to ask what’s next. What if a study shows Lutherans in my town live an average of 5 years longer than Catholics. Will they have interventions and policy changes to encourage conversion.

          Yes – that’s hyperbole – but a lot of people REALLY don’t want the government encouraging anything when it comes to our faith.

          1. Elizabeth West

            Exactly. All the people screaming about how God needs to be in the gubmint are conveniently forgetting that separation of church and state means if I’m a legislator, I can’t make a law interfering with your right to practice religion, but you can’t force yours on me by law either. Law is about moral codes, which in most religions are the same anyway. Also civil order. The one thing I remember from political science class.

            Private employers are free to push whatever they want on employees, but I’m also free to say “See ya” if it bugs me.

    2. TheSnarkyB

      Nodumbunny, we’re not talking about a govt or business *sharing* information, that’s called funding and publishing research and I’d guess we’re all in favor of that. It’s the pushing that many here (including myself) object to. Especially when things slip from the pushing territory into the subtly mandatory territory.

  20. Anonymous

    It could be that getting some kind of health initiative will help the company negotiate a better rate for group health insurance. You do need a certain percentage of the population to commit in order to get the discount.

  21. moe

    Any decent email client has filters you can apply so that you’ll never be bothered by BlueZone(tm) email spam again.

    I don’t see the need to be a squeaky wheel about this, unless and until someone tries to force you to participate in some way. Just ignore it.

  22. Omne

    I’d be all in favor of it if I could drink my 2 glasses of wine a day at my desk.

    ” Hey, I’m just trying to be healthy, it was YOUR idea…”

    1. Malissa

      Think of the workplace benefits that would include! We’d all be happier workers. Productivity may slow a bit though…

  23. I wish I could say

    I just want to go on record as saying this is the best web site in the world. Now, back to my glasses of wine and saying my rosary at my desk. I have to pick up my children soon so that I can go out of my way to invest time in them and show them that I love them.

    YIKES.

  24. mel

    I would be kinda excited about “wine @ 5”, as I can’t tell you how many times that being at work made me wish I could take a drink. I don’t really want to live for another second let alone 100 years!!!! O_O Uggghhhh. But yeah, 2 glasses of wine everyday would be a bit excessive even for me. And how are they supposed to drive home after? I get pretty loopy with wine, and what if there are staff w/ driving restrictions? What if they get in accidents, I think that would drive up insurance costs way faster than a little flab.

    I’m totally glad there are other people who don’t think it’s right to have kids just so you don’t have to pay for a nurse later in life! That’s often the first thing people say to me when they find out I don’t want to have kids.

      1. twentymilehike

        Yeah, it’s not like you can guarantee that your kids would be willing or able to take care of you in your old age.

        Ha. Yes! Of if you live to 100, that they will even still be alive or able to do so …

  25. Cindy

    If they want you to live to 100, I assume they are offering you a full pension or matching and tripling your 401k contributions to help support you in your excessively long old age?

  26. Dee

    Am I the only one who thinks the OP was taking the suggestion out of context and looking at it through a microscope? I don’t think this program is a good idea either, but it’s not just because of that one suggestion. We need more information.

    1. Not So NewReader

      I tend to agree with you, Dee. I have not looked at the site so am not in a good place to really comment. My initial impression was that these things are suggestions, not mandatory activities.
      And yes, some ideas will help some people. In other cases the idea will back fire. For example: Take an introverted person and MAKE them join a social group. This introvert is probably going to have headaches, stomach aches and other signs of stress in the process of attending this social gathering. (That is if the introvert even shows up.)

      I am not clear on how we have helped the health of this introvert by inflicting this program on him/her.

      Different people need/want different things. And there are as many different responses as there are different snowflakes.

      Compounding it all- more and more people are questioning “Why would I want to live to be 100?” I have known a few people who lived to be over 100 year old. It is, indeed, a heck of a journey.

  27. Sunday's Child

    OP, I see lots of interesting comments and some very good advice for respectfully bringing your concerns to the attention of your HR department. But before you choose to have that conversation, I agree with the commenters who suggest that you just ignore it. If the messages are coming across as “YOU WILL DO THESE THINGS, OR ELSE!” instead of “Here are some great ideas that seem to improve people’s quality of life and we wanted to share them with you,” then perhaps you do want to say something. Otherwise, relax and ignore them as just another a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to offer/encourage “wellness” choices. Chill…which is just another well-intentioned recommendation!

  28. Anonymous

    I’m confused.

    If you’re aware of behavior changes that could help people live healthier lives, why wouldn’t you want to share your findings with all but your enemies?

    Followup question. Why would you want to work with your enemies?

    Given that, I’d assume that most people rarely work with their enemies. (My arch nemesis won’t even let me into his fortress of doom, much less work with him. You screw up *one* time and set him back 6.5 years on his death ray, and he continues to hold a grudge. Some people!)

    I didn’t see anything about faith-based that would offend an atheist. I should rephrase that. I didn’t see anything about faith-based that *should* offend an atheist. I are one. And I’m not offended. Some of my best friends are Christian. I’ve worked at two places that had active Christian groups and Bible studies. Two of the best places I’ve ever worked. No, I’ve never participated in the Christian antics. Nor have I been pressured to.

    There are health benefits to being an active member of a social group. Even better if members of your social group share your same beliefs. Or non-beliefs. I’ve yet to see any study that shows being a member of a faith-based group creates is negative towards one’s health as long as said group doesn’t rhyme with Haliban.

    I talked with my physician at my last exam about the benefits of drinking. He encouraged me to continue my regiment of three shots a week. I started doing that after reading studies showing the benefits in middle-aged men. Drinking is good for you when done in moderation. I don’t see anything inherently evil in sharing that with people you like and work with. (I’m hopeful that my enemy won’t find out about these benefits. I have no idea what kind of internet access he has anymore on his island.)

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      The issue is that it’s inappropriate to have your employer encouraging you to do anything at all involving religious practices, and it also feels to many people like a privacy violation when they try to insert themselves in your eating, drinking, or health habits. People are at work to work; they haven’t signed up to be proselytized to, particularly by the people who sign their paychecks.

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