HR director’s wellness program is invasive and sexist

A reader writes:

I have some concerns about the professionalism and judgement of our HR director. There have been two incidents in particular.

Senior management recently decided to give all the employees Wellness Kits. The kits contained things like a jump rope, a pedometer, a healthy cookbook and a workout DVD. Sounds great, right? Well, half of the kits contained a Tae Bo workout, and the other half contained a cardio workout called “Buff Brides: Countdown to the Gown.” The bags with those DVD’s were given to the women employees. The DVD’s were selected by the HR Director, and he apparently saw nothing wrong with giving all women employees a wedding-themed DVD.

The second incident: At our company holiday party last month, the HR Director announced the winners of the Wellness Program participation contest. Basically, the region with the most participation won. Employees had been instructed to email the HR Director if they had quit smoking, lost weight, etc. to show participation. The HR Director, in front of the whole company gathered for a holiday party, listed the full names and exact weight loss of these employees. He did not ask their permission before announcing this to the whole company.

Are these things as bad as I think they are? What would you recommend I do?


You’re certainly correct that you do not share anything related to people’s weight without their permission, and you do not give all women employees a bridal-themed DVD while men get a perfectly normal workout DVD. Especially when the DVD for the women has a cover like this one. Ick.

Why not talk to the HR director? Explain that you were uncomfortable hearing people’s personal weight loss information shared without their permission, and it made you concerned that personal information about you could be shared as well. Suggest that people often find weight a private matter, and that it’s not appropriate to trumpet any figures related to someone’s weight to their coworkers. You can also explain that giving all the women in the company a bridal-themed DVD is inappropriate and likely to be experienced as sexist condescension by many.

Consider using the phrase, “I think I’m speaking for many others when I say this,” because you probably are.

If the HR director seems like he gets it once you’ve explained, then great. But if he doesn’t, then at that point I think it’s reasonable to talk to his manager and/or your own. It’s not that these things are the worst crimes in the world, but rather that he’s in a position where he’s representing the company to all of its employees, and he’s acting in a way that’s sure to alienate people and make at least some of them think of the company as backwards and sexist. Good managers would want to hear that input (if they haven’t already drawn those conclusions on their own, which surely they should have, if they were on the receiving end of this stuff too).

But really, all of this is just one more reason for companies to stay out of band-aid type wellness programs. If employers want to do something to promote wellness, they should focus on what they can do to promote it — setting reasonable working hours and encouraging people to take vacations, providing healthy snacks in the kitchen, making it easy for employees to take walks during the day, offering excellent health insurance, and so forth — rather than meddling in people’s waist sizes or distributing condescending DVDs.

{ 125 comments… read them below }

  1. Karyn*

    So completely agree with taking walks during the workday. I work downtown now, so it’s a bit harder to get fresh air here, but my last job was in the middle of a corporate park which housed one of the area’s biggest medical groups, and they had lots of green space and walking paths. I used to go out every day for 20 minutes and walk around one of the ponds – it was wonderful, relieved my stress, and gave me a chance to clear my head. I wish more employers would encourage this!!

    1. Esra*

      That’s something I miss after switching from a corporate park to downtown environment. There was a forest with walking paths behind our building and would see all sorts of wildlife, it was a lovely walk year-round and really refreshing just to spend ten minutes walking around in.

      1. twentymilehike*

        *sigh* That sounds like a dream! We are right in the middle of an industrial area–miles of concrete. The only place nearby to go on our breaks is a crappy mall that takes sitting in ten or fifteen minutes of traffic to get to, then battle for parking because its always a zoo. I can eat lunch there, my desk, the local fast food joint, or a table in our warehouse. Charming, right? I’m so tired of concrete ….

        I wish more (or ALL) places of business would think about theses things. The people building the industrial areas clearly think we were all robots … ha.

    2. BW*

      When the weather isn’t crappy, I make sure to get out for 10-20 minutes. Even when I was working in a place in the city with no green space, I’d still go out and walk. I would head off the main street to a residential area right behind the building.

    3. Elizabeth*

      That sounds great… I worked in several different “corporate park” places, but none of them had any paths. The green space was purely decorative, to look good when people drove up to the buildings. If you wanted to get outside at lunch, you could either walk down the road/driveways (not so safe) or bushwhack through a wooded area behind the building. I admit, I did go explore in the woods a few times, but only on casual Fridays – this was serious scrambling through underbrush, not strolling along a trail!

      1. Elizabeth West*

        That’s how ours was at my last job. And you had to really watch out for truck driver training vehicles. There were plenty of people who walked along the road, but I thought they were nuts. Dodging giant semi trucks driven by beginners? Eep!

    4. Piper*

      I work at for a large company with a huge corporate campus. We have several miles of paved walking/running paths that circle around a large lake. It’s a great place to get out and walk. Such a nice benefit to have during the workday.

      We also have outdoor tables where people can actually set up their laptops and work for the day. Another nice bonus.

  2. kristinyc*

    Ugh. That’s offensive on so many levels.

    Also, as a non-smoking, underweight person, I am so tired of wellness programs that think the only ways to be “well” are to lose weight and quit smoking. I’ve worked at companies that offered nice rewards for people who quit smoking/start weight loss plans, but did nothing for people who didn’t need to do those things. (If they had offered more in stress management, encouraging exercise for strength building/other reasons, I would have been fine with it).

    1. Anonicorn*

      Exactly! I don’t need to stop smoking or loose weight either. But I don’t exercise enough and I certainly don’t eat a healthy diet every day. I guess there aren’t really any objective numbers to base “eats more broccoli” off.

      1. BW*

        Totally! I have never smoked and have been underweight all my life. I am always disappointed when I see a company offering a “wellness” program, and it’s all about dieting, weight loss, and quitting smoking. Don’t the rest of us need some “wellness” too?

        Our cafe vendor did offer an incentive to people for buying the “My plate” entrees – modeled off the new “My plate” nutrition servings thing that replaced the food pyramid. I loved this. I suck at putting together balanced meals, especially when it comes to including veggies and fruits. I was one of the first ones to complete my 10 meal card and get my freebie. :D

        1. Katie in Ed*

          Oooh, I like this idea. Mostly because it’s clearly voluntary. The incentive is a good one (everyone likes free food), but not so good that it’s prohibitive (so you don’t have to eat certain things just to maintain affordable health insurance).

          I wonder how those with food allergies might respond, however.

          1. fposte*

            About being unable to win a free helping of food they couldn’t eat in the first place? Seems like not much of a problem. I think it would be a problem if the company’s only rewards of any kind were for eating, but I don’t think everybody has to be eligible for every incentive.

            1. Katie in Ed*

              I was thinking more of being categorically kept out of one of the my plate categories. For example, there’s a little circle on the plate for dairy – but what if you are lactose intolerant? I agree, it’s not too big of a problem. Just something I thought of.

              1. BW*

                I am lactose intolerant. (sadly, I love love love milk – I used go though a quart a day before I figured it out! Ice cream…I only eat it at home where I live alone!) The card took care of the main plate, but the additional dairy and piece of fresh fruit were optional. As long as you bought the main entree plate, you got a punch hole. Those items were, however included at no charge in your freebie meal if you wanted them, and the cafe is willing to sub things if you have a food allergy.

                The entrees were always different, so if you didn’t like or couldn’t eat something one day, there would always be something else another day, or sometimes there would be a choice of items. There were occasional vegetarian choices, though I would have liked to see more. Many people I work with are vegetarian.

            2. BW*

              You can’t please all of the people all of the time, and not everyone will be interested in every incentive no matter how inclusive you try to make it. I don’t even have much objection to a weight loss program, but I think it’s best if it’s just one option out of many.

  3. Verde*

    First off, that’s bad. Really clueless and bad. And secondly – I appreciate that last paragraph of the answer a lot. I see ads for, and get solicited on, wellness programs all the time, and I’ve been feeling like I should be doing something more for the staff. And as a non-profit, not a lot of budget to work with. However, we do have great insurance, I recently got a trade deal on weekly fruit delivery (staff LOVE it), and we start a deal with a local restaurant that provides a vending fridge full of healthy soups, salads, and sandwiches. Now I feel a lot better about what we are doing, and that we’re on the right track and not neglecting anything after all.

    1. Arts Nerd*

      That sounds wonderful! Just don’t forget about time to rest, which can be difficult at nonprofits.

    2. COT*

      As a nonprofit employee, that all sounds awesome. I want fruit delivery! Good insurance is #1 in my book–it lets people access the care they need without worrying so much about cost. For instance, my insurance is so good that I can see a counselor once a month, while my friends at other nonprofits can’t afford that. They’re jealous! Being able to take care of myself makes me a much happier employee.

      I agree with Arts Nerd that promoting leave time is really important, and sometimes tough at busy nonprofits. Make sure people get good time off benefits and can actually take it. (My favorite: when people get their birthday as a paid holiday!)

      Sometimes folks can’t afford to take actual vacations, and that prevents them from using their leave time. Maybe a “tips for staycations” resource could help them get excited about fun inexpensive ways to enjoy their own city or really unwind at home. Make sure that they don’t get called/emailed at home–that people respect it like a “real vacation.”

      When possible, make it easy for people to flex their schedules to fit in workouts or doctor’s appointments, respect work/life balance, and help people manage their stress. Those will go much further than any gimmicky contests.

      1. COT*

        Ooh, also an employee volunteerism program (give people a certain amount of paid hours per year for them to volunteer at other nonprofits) is an inexpensive way for people to feel good and stay connected to the community.

        1. Verde*

          Our NP has a community partnership initiative, where we spotlight another local NP each month (we’re media, so we can give them exposure) – we give them interviews, online presence, and sponsor a concert that they get the proceeds from. It’s pretty neat. We don’t pay our staff to volunteer elsewhere, as actually that would look really bad on the books (we’re not a foundation, so our funds need to stay in our programs), but many of our staff are involved in the community in other ways.

      2. Verde*

        We actually have a really great leave time policy, too, so yes, we encourage that as well. The place where we get buried is, of course, the day-to-day. I will work three weeks of 12-hours days in a row and not even realize it until I’m an exhausted heap. But we’re working on that, too. :) I fee very lucky in where I work and love what I do.

    3. Beth*

      I love the idea of a healthy vending fridge and a fruit trade!

      I’m in HR at a non-profit and started a wellness committee made up of employees from various departments. We sponsor challenges with voluntary participation with themes that are more standard like exercise to others like reading or bike commuting and wellness fairs where we invite businesses in to share information with staff (one gave free massages). It is a challenge with little to no budget but we leverage what we have and that we’re a non-profit and having it run by employees makes a big difference.

  4. Jamie*

    After seeing the cover I would have been so tempted to return the DVD and letting the HR Director know that even if I were to get married again, I couldn’t wear white so…you know…thanks but no thanks.

    And not that I would ever share my weight loss with my employer – but had this been me – I might have started to hyperventilate and I’m being serious.

    That kind of thing trips triggers on many people in various stages of recovery from eating disorders even if it’s not about you. Seriously, I’d have made a stink about this assuming I was speaking on behalf of a lot of people who wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking up.

    Just – ew.

    1. twentymilehike*

      After seeing the cover I would have been so tempted to return the DVD and letting the HR Director know that even if I were to get married again, I couldn’t wear white so…you know…thanks but no thanks.

      Oh, that’s funny. My first thought was, well maybe they had thought the actual workout was good and really wanted to share it, but then again, I thought that (1) the people who would probably find humor in it are either already married, or happily unmarried; and (2) the women who aren’t married, but really want to be might have an emotional breakdown–what a slap in the face! They should have given everyone the same general DVD.

      I would have been case number two a few years ago … Before I got married, I wanted my BF to propose to me SO BADLY. I had already graduated, and we were all set to go on a cruise the week after he graduated. I hinted at it being the “perfect time” and his response was basically “Hell No.” We broke up two weeks before the cruise. It had been booked and paid for 6 months.

  5. VintageLydia*

    I wish people like this HR Director would stop saying wellness when they really mean weight loss. Strongly correlated, yes, but not even close to being the same thing (think back to the body builder who wrote in. I’m sure his BMI is off the charts because muscle is much heavier than fat.) Suggestions like Alison’s are good because they really do promote all around physical and mental wellness. So when is she starting that company so I can hitch my car to that train? ;)

    1. bearing*

      This. Even if the population on average could stand to lose a few pounds, it doesn’t mean EVERYONE is in this circumstance. The office worker in our family is my husband, and it bugs him that their fridge of “healthy food” only has low-fat stuff in it. If he ate only low fat food, he’d blow away.

      My kids are all slim, and it annoys the heck out of me that the pediatrician is always telling me to switch them to skim milk.

      1. Ellie H.*

        Also, many (not all, but many) low-fat versions of food have added artificial sugar and other chemicals in order to make them low-fat, and are just generally more processed. I have my own idiosyncratic ideas about healthy eating (I’m pro-fat in food) but I think we can all agree that the fewer chemicals and the less processed, the better.

        1. BW*

          That’s my philosophy. Fat makes you feel full actually. Feel full, eat less. For people who want a low fat diet, stay away from the processed crap. What fat gets taken out is usually replaced by chemicals and sweetner. I avoid the stuff like the plague unless I read the ingrediants and see that it’s not crap.

        2. Natalie*

          As far as I can tell, a product can have reduced fat, reduced sugar, or reduced salt only by increasing the other two categories.

          In my experience, low fat and fake sugar foods aren’t very satiating anyway. If I’m going to ersatz eat I’ll just chew gum until I can get a high quality snack.

  6. ElinBlue*

    One thing that my company does for wellness is to reimburse for gym membership (of your choice up to a reasonable limit) for any months where you go at least 5 times in that month. This promotes exercise, while giving employees a lot of choice in how they want to participate (if at all).

    1. Jennifer*

      Ours doesn’t reimburse (or have any kind of minimum amount you must go), but the person who volunteers to do wellness at my company got deals with various gyms for discounted rates and extra friend passes, which has been great.

    2. Victoria HR*

      That’s always been my favorite. I can’t afford to join a gym on my own, but my current employer has a deal with the college on whose campus we are located, that we can use their rec center and fitness area for $10 a month per employee. Love!

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I would go for that. Gym memberships are expensive and they are so crazy about cancellation policies (and autodebits, zombie accounts, terrible collection practices, etc.) that I don’t want to join.

        1. Natalie*

          I don’t know what the price is like in your area, but in my experience the YWCA usually doesn’t have contracts or cancellation fees. Not sure about the YMCA.

        2. T*

          Try a university gym and ask to talk with the manager about special memberships – you can really haggle out the membership price there.

  7. Sasha*

    What is with these crazy HRs and their crazy wellness programs??? Ew. Just ew. I’m not sure which part of it bothers me more.

  8. AnotherAlison*

    I don’t think these two moves necessarily move the HR director into the category of sexist neanderthal. What if you found out he got the workout DVDs for pennies, but there were only limited quantities of each available? I’m sure the budget for wellness kits isn’t huge. Personally, I’ve been married for 15 years and would never consider that type of DVD (or workout) anyway, but they didn’t have to give anyone anything. As for the weight loss, it sounds like they announced lbs lost, not current weight. People who signed up to participate should be proud of their progress.

    1. Anonymous*

      What if you found out he got the workout DVDs for pennies, but there were only limited quantities of each available?

      I’d say don’t give out the DVDs if you can’t afford to do it in a non-offensive way.

      While you don’t find the DVD choice offensive, a lot of people would. I agree they don’t have to give people anything but that doesn’t mean if they give me something that offends me I have to be grateful…that’s not how it works.

      Example: If I had gray hair and HR gave me a box of L’Oreal, I’m not obligated to thank them & be grateful just because they didn’t have to give me anything.

      1. apostrophina*

        Agreed. I imagine if these were belly-dancing or pole-dancing workout videos, both of which are available, they’d never* have been purchased no matter how good the deal was.

        *Reading the archive on this site has convinced me that “never” is probably too strong a word for any weird office behavior, but let’s live in hope!

    2. VintageLydia*

      But why THAT DVD? If there was a limited quantity, couldn’t he have bought two gender neutral DVDs and just mix up who gets what? Besides, reading the Amazon reviews for the Buff Brides, it’s not even a good workout. He really would have done better by just not giving anyone anything.
      I won’t get into why a DVD targeted at brides handed out to women in the workplace is sexist. It implies a lot of assumptions on the HR director’s part on what appeals to women. He might not intentionally offend, but that’s the “fun” part about sexism (or racism or whatever.) The person is usually too ignorant to know when they’re stepping their foot in it and don’t care enough to learn better once it’s pointed out (normally because the wimminz are just being “too sensitive”.)
      And I see what you mean about citing pounds lost versus overall weight, but again, best case it’s misguided. If Jane needs to lose 50 pounds to be a healthy weight, and lost 20, but Janet only needs to lose 10 to be at a healthy weight and loses all 10, who would be considered the bigger achiever here? The person who got to a healthy weight because she literally could not lose more and still be healthy or the person who lost more pounds but still has a ways to go to meet their goal? And what about those who are already at a healthy weight, or those that are at a healthy weight but are otherwise unhealthy?

      The entire endeavor is weird and inappropriate from multiple angles.

    3. A Bug!*

      I don’t think it’s the HR Director’s decision who “should” be loud and proud about their weight loss.

    4. Katie the Fed*

      Then he could have given everyone Tae Bo. Or give everyone the bridal DVD. There’s no need to differentiate.

      And regardless of how you think people *should* feel about their progress, weight is very sensitive and personal for some people. They emailed him their progress for his own internal use, not to have the information blasted to the company.

    5. KellyK*

      As for the weight loss, it sounds like they announced lbs lost, not current weight. People who signed up to participate should be proud of their progress.

      How proud they are of it is for them to decide, as is who they want to share it with. They volunteered their participation for their group to win a prize, not to be singled out individually.

      Trotting out the numbers also adds to the implication that wellness = weight loss, and the more weight lost the better. Cindy only lost 5 pounds and Sue lost 50? Sue must be healthier, right? Never mind that Cindy’s exercise program didn’t result in tons of weight loss, but she has more energy and her blood pressure is lower, while Sue’s crash diet is wrecking her metabolism and her heart.

      Congratulating people for weight loss puts a big stamp of approval on whatever behavior caused the weight loss, regardless of whether it was a healthy behavior or not.

      1. VintageLydia*

        Reminds me of people who lost weight due to a chronic or terminal illness trying to hide that fact because the last thing they want to hear is “Sucks you’re sick but at least you lost weight!!1!” as if that’s an achievement to be proud of :/ Or people taking medicine that make you gain weight being urged to stop taking it because “You don’t want to be fat!” as if taking the medication is a choice they can make if they want to, you know, live a happy and healthy life.
        The priorities in our culture can be appalling.

        1. Chloe*

          Gosh its good to hear someone else say this. I’ve had some serious illness in my life and lost a lot of weight on two occasions. People would say exactly that – so sorry you’ve been so ill, but wow, you look amazing! In other words, losing all that weight has been GREAT. Forget that you nearly died twice, the main thing is you’ve lost weight! Can’t express how much it annoys me. And now the multiple medications I’m taking have made me put weight on, and one of my health professionals tells me I could “stand to lose some weight”. Sure, I’m exercising 5 times a week and eating well, so since that doesn’t work would you like me to stop taking the life saving medication?

          Sorry to go off on a tangent, but this is the first time I’ve seen someone actually understand how frustrating this can be for someone in my position!

          1. Arts Nerd*

            Those on the sidelines are angered by it too. My terminally ill mother was told over and over again how good she looked with her early weight loss, and she just sucked it up and said “Thanks, but I don’t recommend the diet.”

            I have a policy of never commenting on weight unless the other party brings it up first.

            1. Arts Nerd*

              And even then, I’m very particular and stay FAR away any “thinner is better” language.

              1. saro*

                Yes, I’ve had a similar experience and unless I know the friend is trying to lose weight, I never comment on their weight. Instead I say, “Girl, you look great!”

                And I only compliment my friends on their looks!

    6. Laura L*

      “What if you found out he got the workout DVDs for pennies, but there were only limited quantities of each available?”

      This is so unlikely, the most probably explanation for the DVDs is sexism. It’s pretty common to assume that men will like something that’s geared toward both genders, but that women will only like something made specifically for them.

  9. PPK*

    Ha ha. I can totally picture this result in a Dilbert cartoon. Someone says, “Maybe we should tailor the workout for genders” and somehow it ended up with a Bride-to-be workout DVD.

    I would guess that the HR guy thought he was doing people a favor by listing their weights — as a point of accomplishment and encouragement. But, as we know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

  10. Mike C.*

    The invasiveness and inappropriate paternalism is really disturbing.

    OP, anonymously send this post to the HR manager using a burner mail account.

          1. VintageLydia*

            Well I wouldn’t say our culture treats brides badly, but it IS hypercritical of brides. I do not miss planning my own wedding and finding out who I was going to be piss off with my flower selection or choice of DJ or whatever stupid little detail someone was SURE I got wrong. And it was rarely my own friends and family giving me crap, but people like vendors or strangers on the street who saw my engagement ring and asked about my wedding (I was too young and nice back then to have perfected my Eff Off That’s None of Your Business face.)

  11. Katie the Fed*

    This reminds me of the Office episode where each branch is competing to lose the most weight.

    1. VintageLydia*

      The hospital (!!!) my MIL works at does this. The woman doesn’t need to actually lose weight, but she’s pressured big time to do so to improve the entire department’s numbers :/

        1. Katie the Fed*

          seriously. I have a thyroid disorder. Like, legit diagnosed thyroid disorder, not the pretend condition most people think fat people use so they can snarf pizzas all day. With proper treatment I’ve lost a lot of weight but it’s never more than a half pound a week. It’s nobody’s business but mine and I will rain holy hell on anyone who wants to discuss it with me.

          1. Lora*

            Katie, I am terribly hypothyroid and thin as a dime (yep, backwards) due to a weird genetic quirk–I totally sympathize, I despise anyone other than my endocrinologist and primary care doc having an opinion on what constitutes “healthy” for me. I NEED to eat a whole grocery bag full of food in one sitting to maintain my weight and bone density.

            That said, I think my employer Did It Right on wellness programs: We have a company gym with free classes offered both during the workday and during off-hours, and the gym is open early and late for anyone. There are “unhealthy” snacks available waaaaay in the corner of the cafeteria, but the ones prominently displayed are all veggies, fruit, cheese & crackers, hummus, etc. Cafeteria food is generally of the healthy sort, with lots of baked/steamed/grilled options and not too many carbs or cream sauces. If you sign up to use the gym, they provide you with a personal trainer session on your birthday as a birthday “gift,” and the trainer focuses on exactly what you ask for help with–nothing else. I’m a dancer, so I asked for help with balance and flexibility and foot care, and she was great: she taught me some new stretches and exercises for toe strength, and she showed me how to use some of the gym equipment for balance work. We also have employee-organized but company-sponsored sports teams for hockey, softball, skiing, etc.

            We also have an occupational nurse at each campus who gives out flu shots and first aid, who is certified in occupational health and has deep knowledge of the safety aspects of the particular site, including the MSDS systems and the job hazard analyses. This is something many of my past employers really should have had!

  12. skylark*

    I hate these office rituals with a passion; the birthday parties being the most odious. There’s always a cadre of tyrants convinced that everyone wants to be recognized on their birthday and to announce their age to the world. I don’t and I can’t believe the vaste number of people do. Ask as the weightloss announcement, it does not sound intrusive to me since you did voluntarily report it.

    1. Ariancita*

      Ha! You’d hate our office then. We’re all a bunch of champagne tipplers and any excuse to cork a bottle is used. Although we do always accompany that with: “Happy 29th! Again!” Nobody knows the year anyone was born. It’s a rule.

      1. skylark*

        Unfortunately, that age rule would not work in our office of insurance salesmen and women whose bread and butter depends on their ability to squeeze personal information out of their prey.

    2. Anna*

      I also sometimes “voluntarily report” to my employer that I would like to contribute X% of my salary, which corresponds to $Y, out of each paycheck to my retirement fund. That doesn’t mean it would be anything other than a gross breach of trust for my employer to announce that fact at a public meeting, even if they were doing it to congratulate me on my frugality.

      1. KellyK*

        Exactly! HR of all groups should be able to respect people’s privacy and keep things confidential.

    3. Mike C.*

      Just because you “voluntarily” reported it doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate to report publicly nor that it stops being intrusive.

      These issues are really uncomfortable for many people, have some empathy rather than telling people they got what they deserved.

  13. Sharon*

    Agree with the Dilbert reference, this is truly over the top. Setting aside the sexism of choosing a bridal workout for the women, it’s utterly stupid because it ignores the fact that many of the ladies may already be married. If I was handed this by my HR, I’d have to laugh, put on my best Miss Manners dry expression and ask “really…?”

    And it’s not like there aren’t a million gender-neutral workout videos on the market.

    1. Sasha*

      Right! Why not just grab a bunch of P90X videos or something? With such a vast assortment available, the Buff Brides choice is way too intentional to ignore.

      1. Sasha*

        *Someone above mentioned those might be all he had. Thus my super obvious, I didn’t catch it in time to cancel the reply comment. Please ignore my banality.

    2. Ariancita*

      Also, depending on the state, he might expect the recipient to ask: “Shall I take this as a sign you’ll be helping me to promote marriage equality?”

    3. NotBuffBride*

      My thoughts exactly. They are so many other choices. They had a budget, but there are SO many other neutral choices. Heck, give me Sweating to the Oldies – that is cheaper! And Richard Simmons is awesome.

  14. Sharon*

    Oh, I want to add that I’ve seen corporate workers slammed into sensitivity training for less than this. The fact that this is coming from HR is hysterically funny.

    1. Jane Doe*

      Yeah, that was my first thought too. It’s also disturbing because it makes me wonder how seriously HR takes sexual harassment (and other) complaints.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yep. And not just harassment — if I were a worker at that company and I had concerns about sex discrimination on my team or in my manager, I’d be concerned about what kind of reception I’d get from that HR director.

        1. Mike C.*

          Not to mention if any of the employees were say wheel-chair bound or something similar. A jump rope is really useful there. :p

        2. NotBuffBride*

          OP here. Thank you very much, Alison, for the response and all the feedback from the comments. I am still weighing how best to tackle this. Frankly, I think I will get blown off, but it seems wrong not to try.

          I am very concerned about how he would handle serious issues such as discrimination and harassment. In addition to the wrong caused to the victim by issues being dismissed or ignored, he opens our company up to liability if something is mishandled.

          Does it make any difference that he, and his staff, are a contracted “professional” HR company? I also believe that his professional relationship with the President of the company goes back many, many years.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It might make it more egregious — you really expect the company you’re contracting with for a service to know what they’re doing and not inject problems like this into your workplace. Of course, that’s true of direct employees too.

  15. nuqotw*

    Did the HR director read off his own name and weight loss at the holiday party? If not, you should ask him and announce it so that everyone can drop by his office to validate his participation and accomplishment!

  16. KimmieSue*

    I’ve always assumed that these Wellness programs were promoted heavily by the health insurance companies. They offer significant discounts to companies that participate. I’ve been curious as to whether or not they get some kind of kick-back from the Wellness Program sponsors. My gut is that they do…especially after reading about that BlueZones project (where much of their financial backing is from Healthcare companies). I’d love to hear a Benefits Director and/or Insurance Rep weigh in on this thought. I really think it’s more about the money and less about the health.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s absolutely driven by employers’ desire to lower health care costs — it’s acknowledged pretty openly in the materials geared toward employers.

      1. BronxRosie*

        I am insurance broker and this looks like a home-grown program that the HR person put together (or had a really poor advisor suggest it). In the past, there were premium discounts for companies that offered and participated in wellness programs by the carriers — that no longer exists in the industry. The hope is to see a reduction in medical claims, workers comp, absenteeism, etc.

        Whether the programs achieve those goals is still unclear to me because the ROI numbers are difficult to pin down.

        I have never seen a kick-back to the employer (or to a broker) from a legitimate wellness company. A well put together program includes a variety of services so all employees can find something that is helpful in their life. And, the basis of that program should be anonymnity. No person in the organization should have access to any person-specific data for so many reasons.

        Not saying there aren’t really awful programs out there or that there are inept or corrupt people who could abuse the situation, but I don’t think that is the norm.

  17. Steve*

    One comment regarding the advice. AAM suggests using the phrase “I think I’m speaking for many others when I say this,”

    Whenever I have someone come in and tell me that they are speaking for others they lose credibility with me. I appreciate and value when people share their opinions. However, I find that often times when people come in and tell me that they represent others they are mistaking lack of objection for agreement with their usually strongly held personal beliefs.

    1. Anonymous*

      I don’t think that’s a fair thing to do. You don’t know for certain if the person isn’t speaking for others. It could be a case of “they were elected to speak for all” so that you wouldn’t have 50 people complaining about the same thing.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think that’s true when it’s something like “Sue talks too loud.” But in a case like this, assuming more than 5 women work at this company, I can guarantee you others felt the same about that DVD. It’s just patently offensive. I take your point, but I think when something involves racism, sexism, etc., it’s worthwhile to point out that it’s something that many reasonable people would find offensive.

      1. Jamie*

        This. It’s what we were talking about in another thread about people who can stand up for this kind of thing having the obligation to do so.

        If something like this happened I know this would offend people who would never in a million years say anything. So I, since it never occurs to me to be intimidated until long after I’ve said something – would bring it up.

        I go to management review meetings – it’s an obligation to try to address things which are causing legitimate concerns for people who aren’t comfortable plopping down in a chair in the office of the company owner and having a chat.

      1. Chloe*

        People might not want their name used, which is kind of understandable given the power inbalance in these situations.

  18. Nyxalinth*

    “If employers want to do something to promote wellness, they should focus on what they can do to promote it — setting reasonable working hours and encouraging people to take vacations, providing healthy snacks in the kitchen, making it easy for employees to take walks during the day, offering excellent health insurance, and so forth — rather than meddling in people’s waist sizes or distributing condescending DVDs.”

    Absolutely agreed. I suspect they choose the second over the first is because it’s cheaper, easier, and makes for better profits to them overall. /cynicism

  19. EngineerGirl*

    I’d just like it if they left lunch hours free of meetings so we could go work out at lunch.

    I think we should also bring up that “Buff Brides” is discriminatory based on marital status. Are all the women now supposed to be married?

    This HR person should be fired.

    1. mh_76*

      Agreed. I wonder if this was in the South? I don’t mean to dump on the South but their values tend to be more um “old-fashioned” than those here in New England or on the west coast. I remember being in a conversation, a few years ago, with my own Southern relatives and how shocked they were that marriage / family aren’t even on my lifetime to-do list.

      1. NotBuffBride*

        OP here. You wonder correctly. We are just about as far South as you can get in the US. It’s an interesting place for a Yankee like me. I don’t want to say the south is all awful, but there certainly is a ingrained old fashioned values culture. You might call it anti-PC? This HR behavior would never happen at any of the other places I’ve worked.

      2. Job seeker*

        I think the South does seem to be more old-fashioned in values, but is that bad? I am old-fashion in many respects but I do respect others values. No, as a Southerner not everyone in the South thinks marriage/family are on a lifetime to-do list. But, I do believe some people that have never grown up in the South or even lived there are misguided about what Southern people really believe. The south is not awful at all. It is a place where many of us still believe right and wrong.

        1. NotBuffBride*

          Hi! No, the South isn’t awful. It is awfully humid though! Ha.

          “It is a place where many of us still believe right and wrong.”

          That is a very interesting statement. With the kindest intentions, I ask you, do you think that the “North” or “other places” do not believe in right and wrong?

          1. Job seeker*

            I believe many people from all over believe in right and wrong. It is just I know as a Southern-born lady we do value the religious beliefs we are taught. Remember the sweetest and kindness from the old show Andy Griffith. I am from the bible belt and I appreciate that more and more. I want my children to know that everything is not OK. I have also lived in the North and there are wonderful people there too. It is just there is no place like home.

            1. Jamie*

              It is just I know as a Southern-born lady we do value the religious beliefs we are taught.

              With all due respect, the phrasing of this does imply a certain degree of moral superiority. Perhaps that’s not how you intended this to come off – but it’s there.

              If you replace the trait and attribute:
              -As a woman I am value good management.
              -As someone who has brown eyes I am good at math.
              -As a married person I understand relationships.
              -As I am a mother I take an interest in my employees as people.

              The above statements infer that being a woman, having brown eyes, being married, and being a mom have some bearing on my management/math/relationship skills…which is untrue but that’s how it comes across.

              I am not trying to be pedantic – but I do think language is important and whether you meant to or not the language you used is divisive, imo.

              “It is a place where many of us still believe right and wrong.”

              Absolutely appears to infer that other places do not believe in right and wrong.

              Again, I’m positive you didn’t intend insult to anyone – so I wanted to point out how differently that came across than perhaps you meant it.

              1. Job seeker*

                Oh, I see where it could be read that way. I am sorry, I definitely did not intend that southern people have moral superiority over anyone. I guess it sometimes just seems to me some people put the South down. I believe sometimes this comes from others that have never lived there. I think some people don’t intend this, but they have this impression of the South that is simply not true. I have respect for everyone’s values and would never want to come off differently. I am very strong in my own personal beliefs and my personal faith and I believe I got this from my upbringing and southern culture. That is what I was meaning. I am sure many northerners and those from other places have strong values and their own cultures. I do enjoy friendships with others that have different opinions and cultures. Jamie, I do however believe that your personal values in life will determine how you live your life. It will carry over from your personal life to how you treat others both at work and elsewhere. It will play a major part in every decision you have. So, even though being a mom, married, having brown eyes or being a woman doesn’t determine the things you stated, your character does. I do believe my being a mom (and you too) helps us understand parent issues. I do believe me being in a successful marriage for over 30 years lets me understand relationships. I do know what it takes to keep a good marriage, I do believe since I was a stay-at-home mom I know how to manage finances, house, problems that come up at the last moment. No, I do not believe having brown eyes would make me good at math though LOL. I appreciate you pointing this out to me because I would never want to insult anyone. Thank you for letting me know how this sounded.

              2. Job seeker*

                Jamie, I also wanted to state that although I think our life experiences count sometimes that is not true. I stated I think I understand relationships because I have a long-term marriage but that doesn’t mean I feel someone divorced doesn’t. My sister has been divorced three times and none of those marriages ending were her fault. Life happens and it is hard so many times. She got hurt so badly and was the best person ever. I never want to come across like a Mrs. Know-It-All. Believe me I know I definitely don’t know it all.

            2. Piper*

              As a born and bred Yankee currently living in the South, I can say that this statement is just mildly offensive. As Jamie said, it sort of smells like superiority. I was born and raised with religious beliefs, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve examined them for myself and decided whether I want to believe them or not. That doesn’t mean I don’t have values or that I don’t value my upbringing.

              It’s fine that YOU appreciate religious values, but that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to be religious. That’s a personal bias and doesn’t make you “right” and everyone else wrong. Also, everyone in the South doesn’t share the values you mention. Are they not good Southern ladies then?

              1. Job seeker*

                Piper, I know everyone in the South isn’t religious or share all the values I mentioned. I wasn’t intending my statements to insult anyone. I am just someone that believes the South is misunderstood at times, that is all. You have a right to believe anyway you choose. I am very strong in my personal beliefs because of my upbringing and I credit the Southern culture I grew up in. That is all I am saying. I am sorry to come across any other way. I have lived in the North also and there are many good Northern ladies too.

                1. VintageLydia*

                  I understand your reaction a bit, as I’m from the South, too, and some of the stereotypes associated with Southern culture is really really outlandish. This is especially, in my experience, because Midwestern culture is pretty similar, especially in more rural areas. The accents are very different, but that was the main difference I noted (religious or otherwise highly policed sense of morals and propriety, good hospitality, etc.)

                  I’d just reconsider how you approach this in the future. It did come off a bit holier than thou.

                2. Laura L*

                  @VintageLydia-Yep. As a Midwesterner, I’ve learned that the only place in the country that gets stereotype worst than we do is the Southeast. At least, that’s been my impression.

                  Although, apparently people are confused about where the Midwest is. The other day a couple people tried to argue that Colorado and Texas were part of the Midwest because they are in the middle of the country. That’s not how this works. :-)

          2. Job seeker*

            Just for the record, no I do not believe this HR director acted in the right way. What this person did was inappropriate.

  20. Girasol*

    Just read a wellness poster at work today that explains that calories are measurements of food energy, and if you take in more than you burn off, you will gain weight. OMG, who knew?? Honestly, wellness programs are so naive that I can’t imagine how people get benefit from them. If the company could take some simple steps to reduce workplace stress, like evaluating performance on something other than who can spend the most hours in the building, I’m sure they’d see more results.

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