8 ways to promote employee wellness that would actually work

Employers are increasingly launching wellness initiatives aimed at creating a healthier workforce and lowering their own health care costs. But many employees roll their eyes at these efforts or are even actively alienated by programs that push them to make lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or changing their eating habits; they find the initiatives invasive and paternalistic.

What’s more, one study by RAND researchers found that workplace wellness programs that encourage employees to lose weight, manage their stress better or make other lifestyle changes, with the aim of saving employers money on health care costs, actually resulted in no net savings at all.

Rather than pushing employees to make lifestyle changes and putting the burden on them, employers would do better to focus on what they themselves can do to promote wellness. Here are eight things that employers could do that would actually work to promote wellness – without alienating employees in the process:

1. Provide easy access to healthy meals and snacks. Offices are often well-stocked with candy and chips, with a steady stream of cake and other sugary foods for birthdays and other celebrations. People tend to eat those foods because they’re there, but many employees would be delighted to instead have a regular supply of fresh fruit or other healthy snacks. Employers could even arrange weekly fruit deliveries for employees to share or set up arrangements with local restaurants to make healthy soups and salads available at lunchtime.

2. Make it easier for people to exercise. Employers that really want to promote employee wellness could offer standing desks to anyone who wants one. Or they could install showers so employees who bike to work or exercise at lunch have a place to freshen up.

3. Stop the weight-loss competitions. Too often, companies focus on weight loss when they address wellness. Some go so far as to host weight-loss competitions, in which employees or teams compete to see who can lose the most weight. This can be hugely problematic, since not everyone needs to lose weight. Plus, some employees may struggle with eating disorders and would be harmed by this kind of competition. And, of course, weight is a poor substitute for addressing health issues such as cholesterol, high blood pressure and overall nutrition.

4. Offer great health insurance. Workplace wellness initiatives aren’t going to ring true if an organization isn’t doing its most basic part to promote employee health: offering excellent health insurance benefits. That’s the first place employers interested in wellness should look. Do their plans offer free or low-cost preventative care? Do the lower the barriers for doctor’s visits and medical attention? If not, the rest of their wellness efforts are unlikely to matter.

5. Discourage people from coming to work sick. Too often, companies say they want sick employees to stay home, but then subtly (or not so subtly) discourage people from using sick time. Managers should be clear with employees that they should be at home taking care of themselves when they’re sick, not spreading germs to co-workers at work. Employers should also set an example by heading home themselves when they’re sick, because no matter what the official company policy says, people are likely to take their cues from their managers for these cases.

6. Stop requiring doctors’ notes for sick employees. Companies also should drop policies that require doctors’ notes to use after a certain amount of sick time. It’s insulting to employees when they’re forced to go to the doctor when they have a cold or flu so they can get a note. This policy drives up health care costs by pushing people into medical offices when they just need rest and over-the-counter medicine, and it encourages people to come to work sick, since that’s often easier than getting a medical appointment on short notice.

7. Provide reasonable amounts of paid sick time. Companies that don’t provide paid sick time to employees can expect to have many workers come to work sick, thus infecting other workers, who in turn will also show up sick. No company that wants employees to take wellness initiatives seriously can afford to not offer sick leave.

8. Encourage people to actually use their vacation time. Too many American workers don’t use all the vacation time they earn, either because they can’t get the time off approved or because their managers and workplace culture signal that they would be seen as a slacker if they take time off. Vacation time helps people de-stress and relax, and that’s a health measure employers have real control over.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 262 comments… read them below }

  1. Arbynka

    They had yearly health insurance meeting at my husband’s office recently. New volunteer wellness program was announced. Participation is voluntary but if you won’t, in fact, participate, they will charge about 30 dollars a paycheck. Also it might become mandatory next year and spouses and kids on the plan will have to participate also. I wish I was kidding.

    1. TNTT

      We have this (just me and spouse, no kids yet). The wellness program is hilariously silly – no points for going for a run, working out, visiting a doc. Instead you get points for watching videos *about* working out or writing a journal entry about the run you took yesterday. So, so dumb.

      1. Arbynka

        From what understand, our wellness program entails the insurance company sending someone once a year to measure, weigh you plus draw blood. Then they will tell you what you have “not passed” and you better improve it before the next round of check up. I don’t think it involves any supporting programs or anything.

          1. Arbynka

            There was talk about penalties but I am not sure what kind. The thing is, usually when things changed around insurance, we would get handout with information. This was just announced in meeting.

        1. Anx

          I go into vasovasal syncope sometimes when I got my blood drawn; I could have to go home early or risk divulging an embarassing medical condition to my employer if this was done where I work.

          (I’ve had this done for places where I’ve worked, but it was necessary to check for ABs for chicken pox in a place where it was relevant).

      2. Ed

        Does anyone typically get anything out of those boring videos HR makes us watch (regardless of subject)? If a company could actually produce interesting content about work-related subjects they would probably be wildly successful.

        1. Samantha

          Right before I left my previous job we got a new online learning system with thousands of professional development videos. There were some were sort of The Office style – really, really funny. By far the best I’ve seen of that kind of video.

            1. Samantha

              I believe that particular line of videos was Cutting Edge Commmunication Comedy Series. The one on how not to give a performance review was particularly funny.

      3. Cordelia Naismith

        Well, to be fair, the company can’t actually tell whether or not your went for a jog unless they’re secretly spying on your every move — but they can tell whether or not you wrote the journal entry by, you know, reading it.

        But, yeah, very dumb.

        1. TNTT

          Yeah, I think I would feel differently if it was just self-reported – like “check the box” for whatever day you worked out and it’s on your honor. A minimum 200 word essay for every workout is what gets me. “I ran. It sucked.”Ok 196 more words to go.

          1. Elysian

            My favorite part of my run was when Fifth Harmony came on my ipod because I like that song. My least favorite part of my run was when man loitering outside the low-income housing project that I run by shouted that he liked my legs really loudly at me while I waited for a traffic light to change.

            I think that gets us about 25% of the way there.

            1. Molly

              See, that first part almost made me want to run (“BOSS! Michelle Obama! Purse so heavy–“) and then I got to the second part and went “nah, I’ll stick to the bike. Faster getaway.” Men with entitlement issues ruin everything.

          2. Joe

            I ran. It sucked very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very much.

        2. Julie

          Which is something they’ll eventually be able to do by charging everyone who opts out of wearing a fitness tracker.

          1. Callie

            Fitness trackers are annoying becuase they only measure things like walking/running. If you lift weights, it doesn’t accurately record what you’re doing. And I assume they’re not waterproof enough for swimming? I don’t know.

        3. AnotherAlison

          We’re in the nth year of a corporate wellness program, and we switched to Vitality this year. You have to wear a fitness tracker to get credit for a jog. It sucks, but the threshold is fairly low (200 cal burned OR 30 min. at 60% heart rate). You get 10 points for this, or you CAN self report, but you only get 5 points.

          1. Cat

            Well, that is literally the creepiest thing ever. It’s straight out of The Circle by Dave Eggers.

        4. themmases

          My former employer used to give rewards for self-reported physical activity, among other things. It was a really popular program actually! I never heard about suspicions that people weren’t being honest; it takes a long time to build up those rewards and I guess I just don’t see why most people with a job would bother. When we changed the program, it was to incorporate annual health surveys and measurements and to reward people for getting vaccinations and routine health care like going to the dentist.

          I think we were only supposed to report 30+ minutes of vigorous exercise, 1+ hour of moderate exercise, or walking/running/etc. 1+ mile as a unit of physical activity. And we could only report one such unit a day. We could get extra points for events like running a marathon, and for that you would need some sort of proof such as your registration. We all loved it.

        5. Kerry (Like the County In Ireland)

          Yeah, but I wrote all my 8th grade language arts journal entries the night before my notebook is due, and all my high school Spanish journal entries the same.

    2. davey1983

      If they are charging you for not participating, then it is mandatory.
      It irks me when companies do this– all they are doing is playing semantics by claiming that it is not mandatory.

      Spouses and kids to? How is that going to work when Johnny or Betty is off at college but still on Mom and Dad’s insurance? Do they expect your kids to miss a week of school and fly home so they can have a 30 minute check up?

      1. HR Generalist

        Nope. They are raising everyone’s rates – just those who participate get a discount from the new rate. Or at least that’s how they always word it.

        1. davey1983

          Again, that is just semantics.

          What is the difference between leaving the rate the same and then charging a fee for everyone who doesn’t participate (penalty for not participating in the mandatory program) versus raising the rate for everyone and then giving those that participate a discount?

          The answer is: Nothing. I pay X if I participate, but I pay X+Y if I don’t participate under both scenarios. The only difference is how I have worded it. Hence, it is just semantics.

          1. Lindsay J

            Yeah, it’s like how gas stations offer a “cash discount” vs a penalty for paying with a card.

            The net effect is the same, no matter what you call it.

      2. Mallory Janis Ian

        Ha. “Not mandatory” like at the sibling fiddle show I went to at Branson, MO, where the mother of the performers reportedly told them, “You don’t have to practice every day — just on the days you want to eat.” That kind of “not mandatory”.

        1. Anx

          I suppose it’s mandatory for receiving a full benefit package, but not mandatory for keeping your job?

    3. More Cake Please

      We’ve had a similar deal for several years now, except they frame it as participants as receiving a “discount” instead of a penalty. They keep upping the number of required activities to receive the discount each year. At this point I don’t see how the money off is worth the number of hoops. I have to do 6 different things to get the full benefit.

      1. davey1983

        This is always a fascinating topic for me– people are more motivated by the possibility of loss than a reward. Hence, if you want people to go along with it you frame it as a penalty (there taking something away from me!).
        In your case, the company is framing it as a reward, hence fewer people will go along with it (which leads to a ‘who cares– it wasn’t mine to begin with’ mentality). However, from an objective standpoint, you get the same thing by acting or not acting.

        However, to complicate things, the fee/punishment system potentially creates anger and hostility (but does alter behavior) while the reward system creates apathy (and little/no change in the behavior).

        1. Michele

          Punishment alters behavior, but not necessarily in a good way. Something I consider to be completely under explored is that some people, especially girls, will eat out of rebellion or as a way to gain control over their bodies and lives. We talk about anorexia as a tool for that, but never overeating.

          I know that it happens because I used to do it. Punishing people for weight just encourages them to say eff you, and eat out of spite.

          1. Vanilla

            ITA with you. I’ve been an overeater in the past and have been in treatment for other eating-related problems. I have to admit that I’ve eaten out of rebellion in the past as a result of our wellness programs.

            And might I add that the only person they I’ve known that ever met our standards for weight is someone who is seriously underweight and (I believe) is suffering from an eating disorder. That’s so discouraging for all involved.

          2. Dynamic Beige

            “We talk about anorexia as a tool for that, but never overeating.”

            From what I understand, it’s pretty common for girls/women who have been sexually abused or assaulted to over eat. Partly as comfort, partly as defense “if I’m fat, then I’ll be repulsive, no one will touch me like that again and I’ll be safe.” A friend I had a long time ago confessed that she gained weight so her husband would leave her alone (yes, they divorced eventually). It’s hard to see gaining weight as a method of control when we automatically associate it with being out of control.

          3. Jaydee

            Yup. If I’m punished or denied things in the rest of my life, at least I can buy myself a cupcake.

        2. Sospeso

          Awesome points. I also wonder how – long term – a program that frames the reduced cost as a reward might affect participating employees. Are they less likely to make lifestyle choices like cooking healthy meals and exercising if those things are rewarded? The research suggests that, yes, incentivizing these things now will lead to less intrinsic motivation in those areas in the future.

          In general, I am surprised by how many companies have wellness programs, but how little research there is about their efficacy.

          1. HR Generalist

            They frame it as a “discount” for legality purposes, there isn’t any thought (as far as I know) into theories behind reward/punishment. This way it’s not mandatory, it’s voluntary but there’s a “perk” for joining (rather than a penalty for opting out).

        3. More Cake Please

          Thinking about it… yes I’d be more likely to go along with it this year if they told me they were going to charge me $30 more a month next year. Now that makes me think $30 x 12 = $360 out of my pocket instead of an extra $360 in my FSA.

          And now I’m remembering that our bargaining agreement is dead and part of that deal was a substantial increase in the amount of the insurance my employer picks up… I may have to do it in order to avoid financial ruination in 2016….

    4. Michele

      Do you work for my company? They started doing that to us this year. Of course, their questionaire for health habits was a complete joke. It assumed that people are sedentary. I am a triathlete (I know, we never shut up), and I train about 15 hours a week. On most days I do doubles, some days I do triple workouts, and I typically take one rest day a week. When we filled out the questionaire, I was burned out on swimming and taking a few weeks off from it. One of the questions was are we working out as much as we think we should. Well, no, I wasn’t, but I needed a break, and I was still running, biking, and weight lifting. At the end of the thing, it told me I needed to work out more and that I should try to work out at least three times the following week. I remember that I took the test on a Wednesday and had already worked out 5 times that week. But I didn’t fit into their narrow ideas, so that is what it spit out. It also told me that I eat too much salt even though I have low BP and need extra salt because of how much I work out.
      Plus, it really makes me mad because I have struggled my entire life to develop healthy eating habits and be a healthy weight (I used to be obese). One of the things that I had to do was decide that I was going to be healthy for me and not care what other people thought. Suddenly, if I don’t subject myself to evaluation by these jackasses, I have to pay an extra $400 a year for insurance. It is so counterproductive!

      1. AdAgencyChick

        As a weightlifting enthusiast who eats (mostly) Paleo…I feel you. I really, really do.

      2. Anonathon

        I hear you. Luckily, my company is very hands-off in this area. But I feel that these mandated wellness programs can be, ironically, alienating to athletes. I’m a distance runner and I have to follow a super specific training plan, particularly for marathons, or I get injured (and stuck in PT for 3+ months …). When I’m in serious training mode, I can’t just toss other initiatives in there. Plus I need to eat significantly more than I would otherwise.

      3. Stranger than fiction

        Now that’s the kind of thing id show to HR or whoever heads up this thing so not fair

      4. Artemesia

        I probably average about 50 drinks a year, maybe less — I supposedly need to ‘watch alcohol consumption’ according to the last round of my companies ridiculous ‘wellness’ effort, at the time I retired (probably in a drunken stupor.)

      5. Jessa

        Yeh and it terrifies me as a disabled person. I simply cannot do these things. Not don’t want to, cannot. And right now the EEOC is fighting with Congress about how they’re going to write rules about wellness programmes that meet the ACA guidelines but fail on the ADA side of things. Congress seems to be leaning on if it’s good enough for ACA then the disabled are stuck.

    5. nonegiven

      At DH’s job they have to fill out a form with what they eat and how they exercise and other types of things. They were told if they wanted to they could make it all up, they just had to fill it out for the insurance to cost the company less.

    6. Bea W

      We had a rather intrusive “voluntary” program instituted this year. I did the math and figured out that the additional charge would have no impact on my take home pay. In fact, I came out a couple dollars ahead compared to if I had participated. The higher premium is still a pre-tax deduction. More pre-tax deduction = less taxable income. So I didn’t expect to take a huge hit to the wallet but I couldn’t crunch numbers until open enrollment when the premium amounts were released (and by then it was too late to “volunteer”. What I didn’t expect was that I would be taking no hit at all. :)

  2. Cath in Canada

    One thing my work did that was actually pretty fun was to organise a month-long stair climbing challenge. It was 100% optional (sign up by email) – you paid $5 and opted in to having your key card swipes registered in a log of who’d climbed the stairs from the ground floor to our space on the 5th and 6th floors. For every day you took the stairs at least once, you got one entry into the draw. They had multiplier days, where if you took the stairs twice or more you got multiple draw entries. They also hid small prizes in the stairwell throughout the month. At the end, they did the draw and a grad student won a few hundred bucks.

    1. AdAgencyChick

      Oh my goodness, this reminds me once again how bloody annoying it is that my building completely restricts upward stairway access. You cannot access the stairway from the ground floor, and you can’t enter a floor from the stairwell, only exit out to the stairs.

      So even if I wanted to (and sometimes I do want to), I can’t take the stairs, at least not up. Way to encourage activity!

      1. Allison

        I had this issue at my first job. I could take the stairs down, but not up. I figured it was a security issue, since the building was in the middle of a city.

      2. JMegan

        I worked in a building like that once. The worst of it was, our offices were on the 7th and 8th floors, so we had to take the elevator even for that one flight!

        On the flip side, I later worked in a different building where they designed the stairwells to be used. They were wide, had natural light, and the floors and walls were cleaned and painted regularly. So they made the stairway part of the office, rather than something that was meant to be mostly ignored.

        1. Connie-Lynne

          When a company I worked for finally signed a lease on the full fourth and fifth floors (instead of full fourth and partial fifth), one of the improvements they put in was a lovely huge staircase.

          All the employees were so excited! The elevators were slow and awful but that staircase was full of natural light and visits with your coworkers. It was wonderful.

      3. Cath in Canada

        Bummer!

        At our place you need a card to swipe into the stairwell from the lobby, and to get from the stairwell onto one of the floors. But you can get into the stairwell from any other floor, and out into the lobby, without a card. So only card holders can go up, but anyone can go down and get out.

    2. JMegan

      That is a great idea. Completely opt-in, small prizes as well as bigger ones, and an actual health benefit for people who participate regularly. Love it!

          1. Cath in Canada

            Yep, that’s what the money was for. I think they should have had two or three winners, with smaller amounts, but they decided to go for one big prize. I’m glad it was a trainee who won!

    3. Beancounter in Texas

      At Old Workplace, I would totally get behind that! I was in the third floor, which was convenient enough to take the stairs and didn’t require a long wait an an elevator either.

  3. Michele

    The first point is definitely true. Our cafeteria has the most unhealthy food I have seen in years. I typically brown bag my lunch because everything is smothered with cheese and I don’t want to have to choose between fries and potato chips for a side.
    Also, I wonder if flex time helps. Some departments where I work have flex time and others don’t. I see a lot of people taking advantage of flex time to run during lunch or come in early so they can go to the gym after work.

    1. Sunflower

      I actually think flex time could be a bigger benefit than PTO. I could see people being much less stressed and more productive if they could pick and choose when they wanted to work and take breaks. I also think the simple fact of knowing you can get up and run and errand or take a break whenever you please would be so refreshing.

      1. Sospeso

        I agree! My last position was loads more flexible than my current one, and the rigidity of my current schedule is definitely a stressor.

      2. Anx

        I know we’re few in numbers, but we abnormal sleepers could really benefit from flexible hours.

        When I’m trying to be productive in my not-at-work time and maintain daytime wakefulness, I inevitably have to pull a few all-nighters. Delayed start jobs are a godsend.

  4. baseballfan

    I would LOVE it if my office had a shower where I could go for a run at lunch and then freshen up. It might make my lunch a little on the long side, but I could squeeze in 2-3 miles which is a good weekday run for me. That would also give me the option of working out near the office in the morning, then cleaning up and going to work. There are some really nice trails near here and morning is a nice time to exercise.

    1. VictoriaHR

      Same! I just switched jobs. My old employer had a full fitness center with showers. My new employer has nada. So now I get up at 6 am to go run before work. Bleh.

      1. HigherEd Admin

        I’ve been tossing around the idea of trying to be one of those people who gets up early to work out (I prefer spinning to running). How do you motivate yourself to get up early every day?

        1. AnotherAlison

          The easiest thing to do is just adjust your schedule. If you go to bed earlier and get up earlier, it is not that difficult. Also do it 7 days a week. I don’t get up at 5:00 am on Sundays, but I don’t sleep until 9:00 or stay up past midnight on Saturday, either.

          I wouldn’t even recommend trying to get up earlier to work out if you are not going to get at least 7 hours of sleep (or whatever you personally need to be well-rested). Sleep has a huge impact on health, too. You would be better off to focus on nutrition and sleep than to squeeze in exercise.

          1. Oryx

            Yes. I always joke I’m an old lady because I go to bed so early, but it’s the only way I can feel well rested when I wake up so early.

        2. College Career Counselor

          Find someone else who wants to go running with you at zero dark thirty. That way, you’re both in it and are more likely not to want to let the other person down. Besides, misery loves company! ;-)

          (I am so not a morning person)

        3. AggrAV8ed Tech

          I tell myself, “If you run before work, you get beers after work.”

          Strong motivator. :)

          1. The Office Admin

            I tell myself this when I go to the gym at 4:30!
            Just think of the wine and chocolate!

            1. Sospeso

              Haha during particularly tough runs, I sometimes chant to myself, “Ice cream, ice cream, ice cream.” It’s surprisingly motivating. I usually eat ice cream later, though.

        4. The Office Admin

          I’d love to work out early instead of after work!
          I usually go to the gym at 4:30 pm. The crowds. THE CROWDS. Share your machine, bro-who-skipped-leg-day.
          But I work for a construction company and there are few things construction companies like more than starting work at 6am and taking 3 day weekends.
          So, I wake up at 5am. By July, we’re starting work at 5am so I’m up at 4am.
          I am NOT working out at 3am. Just. No.

          So I brave the after work crowd…you know…all the people who work 8 to 5 but don’t work out in the morning.
          See what I did there???! I made the early evening crowding the fault of the person who doesn’t go to the gym before work!
          Brilliance.

        5. Oryx

          I’d much prefer getting my butt up at 5 am to work out then spend all day with the “have to work out” after work hanging over me, which inevitably turns into the guilt of not working out because I’m too tired when I get home.

        6. CheeryO

          If you aren’t extremely pressed for time, you could let yourself get used to getting up earlier before you add working out into the mix. Gradually start adjusting your schedule, and use the extra time in the morning to just relax/drink coffee/check emails. Once you’re getting up early enough to fit in your workout, you should have beaten most of the zombie feelings.

          Otherwise, I like sleeping in my workout clothes. Nothing feels more shameful than taking off clean workout apparel to get in the shower!

        7. mess

          I think it’s easier to get up and get the workout over with first thing – a hundred things can come up during the day that can make me stay late at work, or make me too tired, or unmotivated (like last minute plans). Signing up for races/classes/things that will help me be accountable helps too!

    2. AggrAV8ed Tech

      My building on campus, thankfully, has a shower. Problem was, it wasn’t working for about 9 months up until last month. During the regular semester here, that wasn’t too much of an issue as I could wait 30 minutes after my morning 4 mile run and then walk over to the rec center on campus when they opened at 7:30am and take a shower there. But during the summer? Rec center didn’t open until 10:30am. I learned the wonder of no-rinse shampoo and ShowerPill wipes for those few months.

    3. Michele

      We have showers and locker rooms where I work, and we are right next to a multi-use path. There are quite a few of us who run, bike, or walk during lunch. It is so convienent.

  5. LOLwut

    Companies promote ridiculous wellness initiatives specifically to avoid doing any of these. They couldn’t give two sh*ts about actual employee wellness, but it makes them feel better about themselves to run another Biggest Loser challenge.

    1. Joey

      Ha. They do give two shits. Unhealthy employees are ridiculously expensive both in lost time and insurance costs. After all, most insurance rates rise if claims are high.

      1. LOLwut

        Hey, if your company does all these things, I’d love to work there. Few do. For them it’s not about wellness, but the perception that they care about wellness.

          1. aebhel

            It doesn’t matter if they ‘care’ emotionally–it does matter if they have the common sense and foresight to not screw over their employees and shoot themselves in the foot by creating a work environment that prioritizes the short-term convenience of, say, not having to find someone else to cover a shift over the long term benefit of not having your entire staff catch the flu.

            I mean, it is manifestly true that it’s in the employer’s best interests to have a healthy staff. It is also manifestly true that most of the ‘get healthy’ initiatives do basically nothing at all to further that goal. They’re dreamed up by people who want to look like they’re accomplishing something without actually having to make meaningful changes.

  6. JoAnna

    How much sick time/flex time per year do you think is enough? We get 8 days per year and I always run out midway through and have to dip into my vacation as a result (but I also have kids and sometimes need to take flex time if they get sick).

    1. misspiggy

      In my UK experience 14 days’ sick leave per year is often the norm, but in white collar jobs you can go over that as needed. More than 5-6 short periods of sickness a year tends to trigger disciplinary action, however. But in most offices I’ve worked in, parents don’t default to sick leave when their child gets ill – they often work at home, take compassionate/carer leave of up to 3-4 days per year, or take unpaid leave if they are using up too much sick time.

    2. puddin

      I don’t know what is reasonable or the norm really…but this is what I think should be considered when making such policies:
      1 day per month for lady stuff (not sure what to include for the male population as a sub)
      6 days per year for cold and flu – self
      6 days per year for cold and flu – family
      4 personal ‘don’t feel like it’ days/misc

      If you take any day off – you cannot and should not work at all. PTO is only for those days when you are totally incommunicado. If you choose to work from home instead, then you do not use that PTO day.

        1. puddin

          I am not saying you call in with that as your reason. I am advocating that this issue be considered when deciding what your sick PTO policy is.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            12 days a year for lady stuff across the board seems like an awful lot. Most people, as far as I know, don’t even take one day a year for that. I understand some people do need to, but I wouldn’t incorporate it as a universal assumption into a formula like this.

            1. puddin

              I think it is a lot too. At the same time, I would like employers to take monthly issues into consideration. Perhaps that is best done on an individual basis and part of a policy, as you mention.

              1. Tinker

                Based on my experience from having folks taking issues related to menstruation into consideration, which is to say that it is the gory death of my personal credibility in any area where we have a disagreement (indeed, even regarding the fact that a true disagreement actually exists), I absolutely do not want any more people doing that. Especially not employers.

                People of all genders encounter various physical frailties, and the rates and causes for individuals varies widely. I don’t see any great advantage in having a special Lady Time clause that is separate from the consideration that might be given to a person who has migraines or IBS or a flaky back or weekend warrior syndrome.

              1. Liz

                Taiwanese women are entitled to THREE days a month!

                (I’d probably use five in a year, but I have a friend who could easily burn through 36 days of menstrual leave.)

              2. Morgan

                It’s become much less of a thing in Japan over the last couple of decades, though, because of how much it was impacting on the equal hiring/pay debate in the early 90s.

        2. LizB

          I think puddin was saying that these are the illnesses companies should factor in when deciding how many sick days to give, not that you’d have to specify these reasons when you called in sick.

      1. Kate McKee

        28 days of sick time per year, every year?
        Paid sick time? Plus vacation?

        You realize, of course, that this is the equivalent of being out of the office 10 percent of the workweek. If everyone in my company suddenly was out 1 day every other week, that would result in at least a 10 percent drop in productivity and revenue.

        I suppose I could give this many sick days, then compensate the budget by cutting salaries by 10%. Sure that would go over well!

        1. Jaydee

          But how many people at your organization are going to use 28 sick days plus every single vacation day they get every year? If it’s more than one or two employees, you’ve probably got bigger issues to address.

          There’s no magic, universally best paid leave policy. But I hate the idea that a generous leave policy will, invariably, invite rampant abuse, and the employer will have no other option than to reduce salaries as a result. Because then you end up with a self-fulfilling prophecy. The employees start thinking “Well, the boss doesn’t trust us to only call in when we’re really sick and to catch up on our work when we get back. In fact, she trusts us so little, she’s cutting our pay by 10% on the *assumption* we will abuse the leave policies. I guess we’d better get our 10% back by using every day of our sick leave, whether we’re sick or not.”

          How much productivity and revenue do you lose when sick employees come to work, perform at less than 100% and spread their illness (and reduced productivity) around?

        2. kitty

          Guess what, where I work they don’t limit sick days at all. You get sick, you stay home, no paperwork necessary unless it’s long enough to need temporary disability.

          The result: people only take sick days when they are really sick. Nobody tries to take 10 days because they can. Not only that, most people work from home if they are contagious or too sick to drive but not too sick to work from home, after all nobody cancels the schedules because you are off, and if someone does your job while you are off this person will get credit for it and not you.

          The minimum number of vacation people have is 3 weeks, those who’ve been with the company longer get more. The result: the vast majority of people don’t even use up their vacation.

    3. Sospeso

      We get 5 sick days at my job, and for entry-level work in my field, that seems to be fairly standard. I’d love those extra 3 days. I find myself forcing to come in even if I am not feeling so hot because I don’t want to burn through my days.

    4. HR Generalist

      We have a very generous sick leave policy, but it doesn’t need to be used very often because we have other types of leave.
      5 days of family-related leave
      1 day for personal leave
      11 days for stat holidays
      Up to 5 days for bereavement leave
      5 days in a row for sick leave/illness (any more than that in a row has to be approved by our insurance provider – multiple bouts of sickness in a year can put you above the average and into the “attendance management” program)
      10 days vacation minimum (up to 30 based on years of service)

      We also have leaves like relocation, military, compassionate care, unpaid leave, etc.

    5. Ann O'Nemity

      The BLS reported that in 2012, private employers offered an average of 8 sick days for year 0-9 employees, 9 sick days for year 10-19 employees, and 10 sick days for year 20+ employees. (By “year 0-9 employees,” I mean those who have been with the employer for 0-9 nine years.) Vacation days and combined PTO are listed separately.

      Source link coming below.

    6. aebhel

      We earn 1 day/month, which rolls over annually but is capped at 90 days (after 90 days, you can get your additional days paid directly to you, but you can’t accumulate more than 90 days). We also have a very generous vacation policy, though, plus paid holidays, 2 personal days, and 2 floating holidays per year.

      Civil service, though, so I think this is far from the norm in the U.S.

  7. ThursdaysGeek

    It’s about time for my morning walk with my co-workers. A lot of people here go out for walks for our breaks.

    1. Rebecca

      I do this! I get two paid breaks and one unpaid lunch period (30 minutes) and I use all of it to walk outside. I managed to get outside almost every day, even all winter long, and missed just a few days because I had the worst head cold ever. It does so much for my productivity, too!

    2. Ed

      I just got back from my daily lunchtime walk along the river. It’s just nice to get out of the office. I eat quickly at my desk afterwards to not push my luck but my manager doesn’t care.

  8. Not Good At These

    I have an issue with the suggestion to stop requesting doctor’s notes for taking a certain amount of leave. I understand why employees don’t like the practice, and the impact it has on the health care costs, but it doesn’t help to manage chronic absenteeism or those employees who call out for extended periods. Some employees are absent 4-5 days per month, and requiring notes for chronic absences can help curb the absenteeism. Also, what if an employee calls in sick every day for two weeks straight – this should trigger FMLA, but without medical certification we don’t know that the employee is eligible.
    For short term absences, I totally understand why requesting a doctor’s note is silly – if I’m out with a cold for two days it would be silly to go to the doctor. But if an employee has a track record of leave abuse, or will be out for an extended period, I think a doctor’s note should be an option. Unfortunately, that means you will have to apply the requirement equally to all employees with absences over a certain number consecutive days or set a threshold for what constitutes “leave abuse”.
    Anyone else have thoughts?

    1. Helka

      Then that is something to address with that specific employee, not by slapping everyone in the company with a restrictive policy.

      “Jane, for the last five months you have called in sick a minimum of three days, and last month you called out eight days in a single month. Do we need to have a discussion with HR about FMLA possibilities?”

      My job has an attendance-specific version of a PIP, which can be enacted for a given employee who is showing chronic absenteeism. Something like that is a much better solution.

      1. KathyGeiss

        I agree 100%. Fair is not equal. If specific employees are causing challenges or giving you real reason to doubt their honesty, then it makes sense to ask for a doctor’s note. But, it should be a policy for everyone as a whole for all the reasons Allison mentions.

        1. Chriama

          And honestly, how do you define abusers? People who claim they’re sick when they’re out partying? Or people who take sick time when they could be working from home, or take 3 days when they really only need 2? Doctor’s notes won’t prevent that kind of abuse, and shouldn’t be a substitute for managers actually managing their employees.

      2. Allison

        Agreed, if my boss felt I was taking an excessive number of days off due to “illness,” I wouldn’t really blame her for saying “I know this is a personal issue, but you seem to be getting sick a lot more than most people, I’d like you to see a doctor about this and provide documentation once you’ve done so.”

        1. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)

          Providing that if it is a recurring issue, you’ll accept one note instead of one a month.

          I’m one of the people mentioned above that for 12 years, needed 1-2 days off every month (shout-out to the Mirena, by the way. Lifesaver.) My boss knew this, and knew that my high absenteeism was due to vomiting for 36 hours every four weeks. Then that boss left, and new boss told me I needed to bring in a doctor’s note every time I’m sick. Wouldn’t accept a note from my specialist stating that this was a chronic issue (and, frankly, she could have checked the calendar and she would have seen the pattern). Nope, every month I had to trot along to my doctor and ask for a note for having my period. It made me feel like I was in high school gym class.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger

      I think the goal is to treat employees like grown-ups and trust what they tell you. If you can’t do that, then you have either an untrustworthy employee, or you have a management problem. Whichever it is, doctor’s notes won’t fix the root of the problem.

    3. YandO

      I am a chronic migraine sufferer. I usually have to take 2-3 full sick days a year and about 2 times a month I need to either leave a few hours early or come in a few hours late.

      It would be ridiculous to expect a doctor’s note from me. There is not a test I can take that “proves” I am in pain. Employer either believes me or not. My work ethics and extremely responsible personality has proven to inspire trust in my employers and I have not had an issue with having to take time off for migraines.

      1. katamia

        I don’t have migraines, but I agree. What if you’re dizzy or throwing up and just can’t get to a doctor, or your doctor is busy and you can’t get an appointment? If I’m too sick to work, I’m usually too sick to drive, and public transportation would take so long that it wouldn’t be worth it and probably wouldn’t even be possible–more than 90 minutes and a mile walk just for one way, and then I’d have to do the reverse when I was done at the doctor.

      2. Sospeso

        Migraines are often protected under FMLA. In line with what NotGoodAtThese proposed above, a doctor’s note listing migraines as the reason for your regular schedule changes might prompt a conversation about FMLA and intermittent leave. I don’t know if that’s ridiculous… Although your employers sound accommodating, not all employers are, and a requiring doctor’s notes for sustained or regular absences can be an important part of the job-protected leave process.

      3. BeenThere

        Migraine sufferer over here too, averaging one a year. It’s always fun waiting for the first one to appear at a new job and seeing how they react.

        I get the migraine with aura so I can’t really see very well then there’s a pause before the pain and nausea hit. I’ll send an email to my team saying “going home now sick kthksbai then hope that I the occular symptoms clear and I can drive home before the pain kicks in. I always call my SO and let them know that they may need to come rescue me from my employers carpark if the visual light show continues. However my migraines take a fairly predictable path in timing and escalation of symptoms. I’m lucky.

    4. Beebs

      It is important to manage the employee’s work and performance. If they are chronically absent it will likely show in their work and management can then address that directly. Especially if they go beyond their PTO.

    5. Kyrielle

      I agree you need to manage that, but handling it via requiring doctor’s notes from everyone over X days is ridiculous, IMO.

      If I have the flu, a doctor isn’t going to do _anything_ for me. Except provide a note. And now you’ve wasted my money on the copay, wasted the doctor’s time that could have been spent on a patient that needed to see him, risked the health of others at the office (even if I take all appropriate precautions, I’m still there _with the flu_ when I should be home and not exposing people), and for what?

      A note that says I saw the doctor because I was sick. What’s he going to say? He’s not going to run a “flu test” on me, he’s going to write a note that says I claimed in and, based on the symptoms I describe, I sound like I have the flu and I can go back to work when I am feeling better.

      (It’s even more fun doing that for a cold, a bad allergy attack, or worse, something like a migraine, which is largely without provable symptoms, I would think. Although at least allergies and migraines aren’t contagious. Though migraine sufferers will suffer more being out and about than at home in a dark room, as I understand it!)

      1. Lipton Tea For Me

        This!
        I don’t have the money to see a doctor.
        Who can get an actual appointment on the day they call in?
        And a cold or a flu affects folks differently depending on other health conditions as well as age for that matter. So telling me to come to work as it is just a cold isn’t all that helpful when the asthma is trying to kill me!

  9. themmases

    I really appreciate that you cover this issue, Alison. These programs are alienating and not proven to work, and the worst programs potentially discriminate against employees with health problems. Many programs use flat discounts or penalties that disproportionately affect their lowest-paid workers; others intrude by forcing employees to use specific health care providers or get check-ups somewhere they wouldn’t otherwise share their health information, or by forcing covered family members to participate. My former employer– a hospital!– did all three by the time I left.

    Employers that want to reduce their health care costs need to provide moderate, proportionate rewards for healthy behaviors (not personal characteristics over which many people have limited control, especially if they are in poor health), opportunities to engage in those behaviors (fruit in the kitchen, unlocking the $%^! stairs!), realistic ways to manage stress, and flexible time off. This isn’t only important when employees are sick and contagious. For example, I just came from a course where we were discussing how hard it is for people to get a colonoscopy– a procedure lots of people don’t want to have anyway– if you can’t take time off, because the prep + procedure takes 2 days. And yet late stage colon cancers are preventable if more people just access this procedure.

    1. Ed

      Speaking of getting a colonoscopy, have you seen that new Morgan Spurlock series called Inside Man? I think it’s on either CNN or MSNBC. He did an episode on medical tourism where people go to cheap countries for medical procedures and it was fascinating. Anyway, he got a colonoscopy where he swallowed a tiny camera that filmed while traveling through his body and then I guess it floats when it eventually ends up in the toilet. I think it took about 8 hours and he just went about his day. You still had to prepare by drinking that awful tasting stuff the day before (which is the worst part) but this beats getting put to sleep.

    2. puddin

      I am “OK” with our current wellness program. But it is implemented in a once size fits all pattern. What gets my goat is that the concept is marketed to be helpful and make positive choices, so we are incentivized with discounts on our insurance to enroll in the different activities.

      Yet, if you are not using the company health insurance you are not allowed to enroll in the programs at all. Really? So much for wanting a healthier work force. The company is trying to reduce health care costs, which is admirable. But why not allow all employees to do so, not just he ones you are directly paying for? It is very short sighted and the opposite of holistic wellness.

    3. AndersonDarling

      Agreed. I hate that these programs are weight loss programs and not nutritionally balanced programs. I don’t need to lose *much* weight, and so I don’t want to be on a diet. But I sure could use a program that could tell me healthy dinner recipes, or tell me what to make for lunch.

      1. LizB

        Last year, my workplace gave out free calendars that had detachable recipe cards with healthy, seasonal recipes for each month. It was awesome. This year they gave out nice plastic cups instead (to encourage drinking enough water during the workday), which were cool, but I was sad I couldn’t get another calendar.

    4. More Cake Please

      Yes, my employer now has a clinic that you have to attend if you want a free health screening and discount off insurance. After seeing some of my coworker’s come out of that place with both their arms bruised black you could not FORCE me in there, free or not! I will not let those monsters near my veins.

  10. Allison

    I would also say that flexible schedules, when possible, can really help fit in exercise. People could work out in the morning, come in a little later, and stay later, or people could come in early, leave early, and take part in various activities or classes in the evening. If someone’s workout of choice is a simple run or visit to the gym, there’s a ton of flexibility in when they can do that. But if someone prefers to stay in shape by dancing, rock climbing, or, I dunno, kayaking, there’s usually less flexibility in when they can do these things, and it helps to have a flexible work schedule that allows for it.

    1. Kelly O

      Absolutely! There is nothing worse than reading about a company’s fabulous partnership with a gym or a Y and then realizing you have no time whatsoever to go, because your behind has to be in a seat from 8:00 to 5:00 (and beyond.)

      While I don’t necessarily agree with other commenters that these programs are useless or a waste of time, I think it says a lot about a company’s priorities when you see how they actually treat wellness on the job. The things Allison has listed really do make a difference, and even something as simple as not being upset any time someone is away from a desk (whether to walk something to another department and get a few extra steps in, or just taking a lap around the building for some fresh air) can help encourage stress relief, wellness, and an overall sense of true concern for your well-being by the company.

    2. Mike C.

      Not to mention the issue of unscheduled overtime! The biggest thing about building healthy habits is to make them a habit in the first place. Having your schedule all over the place really makes this difficult!

  11. Ed

    I wish my company would have someone come onsite to give flu shots. I wouldn’t even mind if we had to pay out of pocket. I simply never remember to get one.

    1. KathyGeiss

      My company offers this and its a great perk. You can bring your family too!

      It’s completely optional as well and there is absolutely no pressure if you prefer not to get a shot or prefer to get it elsewhere.

    2. Rebecca

      Yes, I love that my company does this! Our flu shots are always covered by insurance whether we get them at work, at the pharmacy or at the doctor’s office. But it’s nice to not have to worry about scheduling an appointment or make an extra trip to the pharmacy.

    3. Hlyssande

      My company gives free ones (if you have the insurance, they bill for copay if you don’t).

      I love it because I would never get a flu shot otherwise. The only reason I (and others, I’m sure) do it is because it’s free.

  12. Joey

    What’s interesting is many people want these things but few actually use them? I know there’s plenty of research out there that show people are more willing to act when there’s a penalty vs. a reward.

    It kind of reminds me of the water issue in California.

    1. Mike C.

      How few use them? I’m sure plenty of folks use vacation and sick time (if they’re allowed), and flextime is great but also subject to management approval in the same way.

      1. Joey

        I’m talking about newer things that are specifically designed to reduce claims like gym memberships, heathly foods, weight watcher discounts, free pedometers, free flu shots/biometric screenings, free physicals/preventative screenings, etc.

        It’s almost like a lot of folks just have no desire to put in any work to get healthy until it starts getting extreme like penalties.

        1. Sospeso

          Are you referring to these opportunities when they’re offered at work, specifically?

          I am reluctant to get involved in these kinds of programs in the workplace primarily because I like my privacy. My work world and my personal world are pretty cleanly divided, and I like it that way.

          I don’t know if it captures the whole picture to say that “a lot of folks just have no desire to put in any work to get healthy until it starts getting extreme like penalties.” That strikes me as reductive, when there could be plenty of other reasons for the lack of participation in these kinds of things, like my preference for privacy at work, for example.

        2. Hlyssande

          I think it depends on what is offered and how it’s offered. And honestly, some people don’t have time or mental energy to deal with such things because they’re utterly exhausted from working and doing everything else they need to get done.

          If they’re covering all costs for me when I go to my doctor for a physical, awesome. If they want me to see a random PA or NP they bring in on site for a physical or screening, then hell to the no. That person doesn’t have my medical records or know my medical history.

          Weight Watchers is practically a scam. I’m sure there are some nice groups for it, but every one I’ve heard of through friends/family has resulted in public humiliation, weight cycling, and failed outcomes.

          Flu shots yes! Healthy, cheap food on site, oh lordy yes please. I’d say yes for pedometers too, but if that’s what the company is offering as a way to get your discounts, it’s a terrible idea because it excludes people with (visible or invisible) physical disabilities.

        3. aebhel

          Okay, but weight loss is not synonymous with health, some people have medical issues that prevent them from exercising regularly or vigorously, and ‘healthy habits’ do not necessarily correspond very closely to actual health. I have the eating and drinking habits of a frat-boy on Spring Break, but I’m almost never sick. I have a dear friend who’s a health-conscious teetotaler and catches every little bug that crosses her path. Some people just have lemons for bodies, and penalizing them for that is incredibly unfair.

  13. KathyGeiss

    My employer just offered a “Know your numbers” clinic where a nurse would take your blood pressure and BMI and talk to you about health. A lot of people signed up but it made me really uncomfortable. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I read Allison’s word “paternalistc”. to me, this is something I talk about with my primary care provider not some random nurse hired by the company.

      1. KathyGeiss

        I see how it sounds weird and not everyone may feel that way about it. For me, it’s paternalistic in the way that I don’t need my employer to help me manage my health. By promoting these types of programs it’s telling me that they assume that I can’t manage my own health.

        Maybe paternalistic is the wrong word but it just “feels” weird to me.

        Flu shots are different because it’s literally a one off thing. I can get it at the grocery store so it’s just convenient to get it at the office.

        Blood pressure and BMI should be part of a bigger discussion with someone who knows more about by health than 2 tests.

        1. LizB

          There’s also the fact that BMI is not a particularly useful measure of health on an individual basis. Plus, for me, I feel it’s often more productive and less invasive to focus on behaviors rather than characteristics. Getting a flu shot is a behavior, and is a positive step you can take to improve your health; I would find it weird if my company offered to evaluate the strength of my immune system with one or two tests, then talked with me about disease prevention based on the results. Similarly, I like things like the take-the-stairs challenge a commenter described above, or the optional 5-a-day veggie challenge my work did a while ago, because the focus is on adding positive behaviors.

        2. OhNo

          I 100% agree with your last sentence. Having your employer hire someone to tell you all about your health based on two tests and maybe a 5 minute rundown of your medical history is just weird.

          ‘Paternalistic’ might not be quite the right word, but ‘condescending’ might be. To assume you know more about how my body works than I do because you have a number on a piece of paper? Yeah, that ain’t right.

        3. Hlyssande

          Yes, this!

          I don’t want to get a screening of any sort by someone who is not my doctor (or associated with my doctor) and doesn’t know my medical history.

        4. Chriama

          Ok, but how many people have a primary care provider? If it’s mandatory (either explicitly or by effect) then I think it’s a little invasive. But you have to remember that people are at different ‘stages’ when it comes to managing their health. A discussion like that, coupled with resouces for finding a primary care physician or some plan for ongoing health monitoring, is incredibly valuable to people who maybe have never thought about it before.

          1. Juli G.

            The number of people with a primary care physician is so small… part of it is the big shortage of GPs but my company has tried to incentivize having a GP with discounted office visits and it’s had little impact.

            My favorite thing is that we now have a NP onsite for sinus infections, bronchitis, etc. So much easier than seeing the doctor!

        1. fposte

          Separating out the “trying to help,” though–this is deeply relevant to the health insurance people get from their employer. Which I think is a bad arrangement for many reasons, including this one, but when they are literally having somebody else pay part of the premiums, I don’t think it’s surprising that that somebody else has an interest in keeping them down. I mean, the original paternalism started with the health benefits themselves, really.

    1. puddin

      I get that. Healthcare providers can/should form significant bonds with their patients. Having some essentially random person tell me my BMI is too high and then read off a list of things to reduce it is really a waste of my time from a healthcare perspective. But I do it so I can get the discount off my premiums.

      And do not get me started about specific medical conditions. I know more about my illness than any wellness nurse has ever exhibited. And yet I am pushed into these resources so I can get that discount.

      1. Elsajeni

        Yeah, BMI especially is not a great screening tool at the individual level — I’m not really interested in having a health conversation with someone whose only knowledge about me is my BMI. If the goal is to improve employees’ health by giving them the opportunity to have some key tests and measurements done and talk to a healthcare provider about them, a better way to do that would be to make it as easy and cheap as possible for them to go to a doctor who actually knows them and has more than 2 minutes to spend with them.

      2. Kelly O

        I do think that it needs to be carefully balanced by input from an individual’s primary care doctor, and if you choose to have the blood work done by your primary, that shouldn’t be an issue.

        Additionally, there are certain genetic factors that can play into something that might appear “irregular” to those not familiar, and which may not respond in a “normal” fashion.

      3. Allison

        You make an excellent point, there’s something to be said for having a bond and a history with a specific doctor. And having the right doctor can make all the difference.

        1. Andrea

          I didn’t realize how true this was until I found my current primary care doctor two years ago. It has made all the difference for me. She really listens and helps me come up with solutions, and because of her help, my asthma is more under control now—I’m 35 and have had asthma for my entire life—than it ever has been before. Ditto with my (formerly lifelong) insomnia issues and my various allergies (well, the allergies are ongoing but I have better remedies now). I feel better than ever, and I feel empowered to work on other health and wellness goals, too, because I know I have a doctor who is working with me on these things and who wants me to succeed. It seems so basic, but it is really true: Having a good doctor who listens and cares really matters. And that’s not something that can be replicated or replaced by a stranger who comes to your workplace once to talk with you about individual health concerns.

          1. Anx

            You know, I went to the doctor the past few years after the ACA was passed and preventive and wellness visits became less dangerous for your future insurability.

            To be honest, I can’t think of anything that that doctor actually found or treated, but I felt so much more confident about my health and self since.

    2. Michele

      I don’t like it, either. If they want to make it easy to have your cholesterol and other blood work done, that is one thing. However, what adult doesn’t know how tall they are or how much they weigh? That is very condescending.

      1. rphillips

        Ha, according to my biometric screening, I’m an inch shorter than I thought I was. My BMI needs that extra inch, lol.

  14. LiptonTeaForMe

    Number 6!!!!!
    I am just on the south side of 60 and have two auto immune diseases, they are chronic and they do flare up on occasion. It irritates me to no end to be required to get a doctors note for something that I manage with medication and rest. The doctor cannot do anything but give me a note and all that note proves is that I spoke with the doctor in some fashion. I also find it incredibly insulting at my age to have to deal with this!

  15. AnotherAlison

    I’ve bitched about the Vitality wellness program on here before, so I won’t do that today. In fact, I’m 4 months in and am almost to “Platinum” status and have already met the “Gold” status that is required for our insurance rate reduction (with almost no points contribution from my husband).

    But, I will bitch about one aspect of corporate wellness that bugs me: these programs almost always subscribe to conventional medical wisdom. This crosses everything from promoting statins for cholesterol reduction and the “healthy diet” recommendations they promote to universal recommendations for mammograms and colonoscopies. I don’t really want to get into philosophical screening and treatment debates here, but I think most people would prefer to be in charge of their own health decisions, no matter which side they agree with. I feel like these wellness programs take that away from us, or if they aren’t already, they will in a couple iterations.

    1. Mike C.

      At the same time, I would be really pissed off if the health coaches were telling us to start taking unregulated supplements or other bullshit “alternative medicines”. Telling me I should get off my butt and move around is pretty scientifically sound, after all.

      1. Sospeso

        Sure, that would make me raise an eyebrow, too.

        But there are some alternative medicines out there that have been gaining support in the scientific research literature that don’t seem to be typically incorporated in these wellness programs (acupuncture for pain management, for example). I can understand why AnotherAlison wants to see broader recommendations to choose from.

        1. Mike C.

          If there is scientific research supporting the use of X and Y to treat Z, it goes from being “alternative medicine” to “medicine”. Yet it’s the nature of medical and scientific studies that they take a long time to confirm, there’s a lot of bad reporting about them, and there’s a great incentive for folks who have something to sell to misconstrue what is going on in the first place.

          1. AnotherAlison

            Yes and no. I’m not talking about things like alternative cancer treatments. I’ve read some of the literature on that, and I don’t know. . .some things might work, some might not. . .I’m not ballsy enough to risk my life that way.

            OTOH, a ketogenic diet is a mainstream treatment for epilepsy. I’ve read that it can help other conditions, such as managing Parkinson’s symptoms, but my uncle was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s and his first-line treatment was medication. No one recommended diet changes.

            I have also been having fantastic success with ART on my gluteous medius muscle, which injury to manifested as hip pain for the past 18 months. The course of dx and treatment from my primary (and then ortho) was xray, MRI, cortisone injection, and regular physical therapy. None of that helped. They also insisted I had IT band syndrome, even though I had no lateral knee pain. With 2 weeks of ART, I completed a half-marathon pain free last Saturday.

            So, I’m not sure I agree. I feel like primary practitioners make their money from primary practitioner treatments, and alt. ones the same same. We’re starting to see more integration – our local uni med school hospital has a functional medicine department. But, it’s going to take a while for that to trickle down to all the GPs of the US.

        2. fposte

          Acupuncture has inconsistent performance in research, though, and there are strong indications that it doesn’t matter where you put the needles, either.

          1. Sospeso

            Well, sure, it’s not uncommon for new treatments to initially have inconsistent performance in the research literature, especially if the mechanism through which the treatment is effective isn’t well understood yet. That doesn’t mean it’s ineffective, and, in my anecdotal experience, I’ve noticed that as Western medicine “vets” alternative medicines through the usual Western methods (e.g., scientific method, peer-reviewed journal articles, etc.), there tend to be these hiccups. Link to JAMA meta-analysis to follow.

    2. Sospeso

      I agree with this bit in particular, “…but I think most people would prefer to be in charge of their own health decisions, no matter which side they agree with.”

      How do you think these wellness programs will take away your ability to make these choices? If this program is at odds with your beliefs about medicine, can you opt out?

      1. AnotherAlison

        First, I have to have this annual on-site screening. Trust me, I don’t need it. I’m in the “green” range on everything and always have been. So, even though I am very healthy, they force me to prove it every year and take away my ability to determine when I need medical attention.

        Other than the screening and smoking cessation, nothing else is forced. You will lose points, but there are other ways to make up points. So, if I don’t want a flu shot, I don’t have to get one. If I did get one, I would get 100 points or something.

        My concern is that like the screening, other things would become truly mandatory to keep your reduced insurance rate.

        1. AnotherAlison

          Additionally, while I can make my own choices, because I know the alternatives, not everyone does. Total cholesterol 200 TCL number. Taking statins is not harmless, so it over diagnosis is harmful. (Obv. you have to go to a real doctor for medication prescriptions, but some of your family doctor’s don’t do any further in depth screening.)

          1. AnotherAlison

            Ugh, I somehow lost a bunch of that post before posting it. Should have also said,

            Even the Mayo clinic’s website says, “Total cholesterol, when considered alone, is a poor predictor of heart disease and heart attack.” The wellness screening looks at TCL >200 and dings you for that. They should be looking at HDL and LDL, but even those really need further review of particle size to determine if you’re at risk.

        2. Sospeso

          Ahh, got it. The additional information helps. I don’t know that I’d feel very strongly about the screening and smoking cessation requirements, but… yeah, my company penalizing me for not participating in additional exams/programs/whatever wouldn’t sit well with me. I guess the argument from the company is that you can always opt out of the additional recommendations – you just have to pay a higher premium? Problematic.

          It is also interesting (and kind of chilling) to consider all the possible ways this could evolve as health tracking becomes increasingly automated and detailed (e.g., the newest FitBit, which tracks workout details, sleep, heartrate, location, etc.).

          1. AnotherAlison

            Yeah, I’m not horribly upset about the screening & don’t smoke anyway, but I get mad when I see that I can earn extra points for a mammogram, which I don’t need.

            I’m with you on the chilling possibilities. I have Garmin FR15 that has the same wellness tracking features as their Vivo, but I only wear it on runs and log the runs for my wellness program. Will getting enough sleep be a future wellness thing? Hope not. Or, maybe they will decide that going over 80% of my max HR is unhealthy, or that running for over 2 hours is unhealthy. Not everything I do is to optimize my health.

            Our premium is much, much higher, so I don’t see people opting out to avoid extra recommendations.

    3. Joey

      there are far more people on the other side though- that would complain that a company thinks they know better than that’s universally recognized

  16. My Name

    Awesome article, Alison! I eat right, exercise, have good coping skills for stress. But I feel like it’s not my employer’s business. Many employers are the cause of stress in their employees’ lives which results in illness in their employees. Employer’s need to think about this rather than misguided workplace wellness programs.

    1. Girasol

      This! I’ve seen training in good leadership and anti-bullying programs prescribed for wellness. That seems more appropriate in the workplace than current prying wellness programs and more likely to make a difference. I’ve read a number of times that many wellness programs don’t give a good return on investment anyway.

  17. Juni

    A memory to share: one year back when I worked in corporate, we all got a letter at the end of the calendar year (which coincided with the start of open-enrollment period, starting 1/1) that read, in part, “It’s been a great health year for Acme Corp and employees around the country. Diane in accounting at our Duluth office had triplets, and all are healthy and thriving…” and so on and so forth. And then at the end, they have the gall to tell us that they’re raising our premiums by 50% due to the “overwhelming participation by so many employees in our health plan.”

    They were literally punishing us for having so many expensive health problems, and trying to get us to drop the plan during open enrollment by raising our premiums. It worked. The plan was rendered so unappealing and unattractive that most everyone who was eligible for something else under a spouse or so-forth left during open enrollment.

  18. Bend & Snap

    My company does all of these except encouraging people not to come to work sick. There are also weight watchers meetings, walking and running clubs and gyms (with showers) in every building on campus.

    My soon to be ex husband just had his “optional not optional” biometric screening and prostate exam at work. The cost of insurance without this testing was so high it wasn’t affordable.

    1. TychaBrahe

      I hope you mean that the tests were required by work, not that they were required to be done *at work*. That would freak me right out.

        1. fposte

          Okay, no. No rectum-touching at work. I didn’t think we needed to make a rule for this, but apparently we do.

  19. Not an IT Guy

    My company offers generous monetary incentives for completing certain health goals. Of course each year I decline to participate since there is no guarantee that the metrics they collect can’t be used against me.

  20. Mike C.

    Interesting thing my company does for the gym – if you visit 8+ times a month, you get the fees for that month waived.

    1. Joey

      isnt it a pain to do the reimbursement though? That’s one of the reasons why ours fizzled. Of course the other one is lots of people have a hard time sticking with going to the gym.

      1. AnotherAlison

        The Vitality program reimburses you automatically, as long as you’ve logged 4 trips to the gym and signed up for the reimbursement program on the Vitality website. The crappy part is the reimbursement is much lower than it was with our old program that was a PITA to submit.

        1. rphillips

          For the record, this varies by employer. We use Vitality here, but we don’t participate in gym reimbursements.

      2. Mike C.

        How so? My understanding is that at the end of the month they count up the number of card swipes. If it’s >=8, nothing, otherwise they put the charge on your paycheck.

        So yeah, I guess I don’t know if they reimburse you or if they don’t charge you in the first place, but it feels like it would be an easy computational thing to do.

        1. T

          Unless you have an onsite gym how would companies know how often you visit without some documentation you have to get from the gym? I haven’t heard of gyms giving this info directly to companies

          1. AnotherAlison

            Vitality does. There are many local gyms on the program, and it’s all linked back to the wellness program. You can check in on an app and stay there 30 minutes or swipe, and somehow that all gets verified with no direct involvement from my employer.

    2. BeenThere

      So many people would love this, myself included, except I’d like it for my yoga classes.

    3. A Cita

      I would love that. My gym is expensive!

      On another note: I think wellness programs and participation are such a tricky think. We have a fairly good one that isn’t mandatory or weight focused, and provides fun challenges (if you’re into that sort of thing). However, the more I log in and meet challenges, the more some colleagues roll their eyes and make snarky comments (they log in and checking my status; I’m not bragging about it). It’s weird. Sometimes it feels no-win. So do it for you if it resonates. Don’t if it doesn’t. And don’t comment on others’ participation either way.

  21. Jader

    My Husband had interviewed for a job (lost to more experience) with amazing wellness benefits. There was a gym in the building and then the benefits were really flexible. You could opt in to basic coverage or upgrade to a number of levels that besides eye care etc had a built in budget you could use for sports programs. They also were really flexible in how you worked your time. He could have worked an extra half hour everyday to take every other Friday off. If he traveled late the night before he could take a half day off the next day. They topped up maternity leave so you’d receive 100% of your wages for a year after giving birth, even subsidized IVF up to $5000.
    We were so upset when he didn’t get the job.

    1. Bend & Snap

      I wonder how common fertility benefits are becoming. My daughter was an IVF baby and we only paid about $1500 out of pocket for testing, drugs and the actual procedures. Amazing amazing benefit.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

        And yet too many companies only provide maternity leave through their short-term disability benefits (yay, 6 weeks at 60% of my salary, right when I have an expensive new addition to my family!).

        1. Jader

          Yeah, we live in Canada. Regularly you would get mat leave for a year paid by EI but it’s only 60% of your income or something. The company is one of the top 100 employers in our province. Almost every company who makes the list has maternity top up.
          The fertility stuff I hadn’t ever heard of before.

  22. Gwen

    I enjoyed our summer “wellness” activity at my office last year. They offered pedometers to staff who wanted them to wear during the work day only, and everyone got a little flag to track their progress around a map of a local landmark. It wasn’t tied at all to insurance, just for fun, and was totally voluntary. There were minor prizes for top steps, but it wasn’t very competitive. Some people wore theirs everyday, some left it on their desk and forgot about it. Personally, I wore mine and then eternally forgot to actually move my flag, but it did inspire me to ask for a Fitbit for Christmas, since I enjoyed knowing how far I walked each day!

  23. M-C

    Those are all -excellent- suggestions, AAM! May I add a small suggestion? Add decent private bike parking to the shower. My last employer thought bringing bikes into the office would make the carpets grimy (as bad as employee shoes!) and cover the walls with scuff marks. So they didn’t let us bring bikes into the building at all. But they didn’t even provide anything to lock them to outside, and expected us to leave them in the equivalent of a parking spot, exposed to the elements and hyperactive neighborhood thieves. Only one guy out of a hundred+ was obstinate enough to bike anyway, and he got 2 bikes ripped off in as many years. One room downstairs as a garage would have been fine, and in fact there was plenty of space in offices for unobtrusive storage.
    And yes, if it gets at all warm where you live a shower is a real big plus..

  24. Bend & Snap

    I am one of the yahoos who ordered the apple watch immediately. Excited to see the health & exercise tracking capabilities!

  25. AggrAV8ed Tech

    My job is actually doing a “Walking Challenge” over the next month, starting tomorrow. Prizes are given for most steps in a day ($50 gift card), most steps over the entire month period ($100 gift card), etc. They even have it so my Fitbit can sync with the program. Normally I don’t sign up for anything at my job because I’m not exactly the extra-curricular type…but considering that I run at least 4 miles most mornings and then do a lot of walking during the course of the day at work – not to mention staying active on the weekends – I think I stand a good chance of winning $150 in gift cards for just doing what I normally do.

  26. Attendance Bonus

    My job offers an attendance bonus in every paycheck if you are there and on time – but they offer only one sick day. This is what they call their wellness program. I am not a fan of it because it encourages people to come into work sick and discourages them from staying home when they’re sick. I have some chronic health conditions and while I’m almost always at work, sometimes a cold affects me more than an average person and 1 sick day isn’t nearly enough.

  27. A Kate

    I worked for a company once that gave employees $200/year for healthy activities in their personal time. You could put it towards a fitness class, healthy cooking class, bike-share membership, etc. It’s a great program, because you can use the money for something you actually want to do and, it’s flexible enough to fit whatever your health/fitness needs or restrictions might be. I used mine for a bike share membership and started biking to work, something probably wouldn’t have done if I’d had to pay out-of-pocket.

    1. Lia

      We have this. I use mine for a gym membership, but in the past, my spouse used it for massage therapy. We get it as a pre-paid debit card, and there are dozens of places around here that take it (the insurance company provides an extensive list).

    2. Anx

      That seems pretty cool.

      I would probably apply it toward the gym or something.

      What would be fantastic if you could use it for anything health-related at all. Then I’d probably upgrade my groceries, use my AC more in the summer, buy lotion and other personal care products I usually have to scrimp on, and the like.

      1. A Kate

        They did have some restrictions. You had to use it for activities, not things. I remember health magazines and running clothes were listed as examples of prohibited expenses.

  28. My Two Cents

    OldJob: health insurance premiums were equal to maximum gross earnings. When I brought this up, the union was like, “Yeah, that’s too bad”. The cafeteria food was overpriced, not fresh, and generally unhealthy. I tried the few healthier options and got sick every time. The employees were rude, which discouraged people from the made-to-order food.

    As far as physical activity, they installed panic buttons on the lamp posts. You could walk from one building to another knowing they were there, for whatever piece of mind that brought. There was a track, but it was behind several buildings, with no security, so not the safest option. There were no programs in place for stress reduction, but plenty of stress.

    I don’t want employer encroachment on my health to the extent I’m reading in most of the above comments, but I’m hoping for at least a cursory concern.

  29. Azalea

    I totally agree with #5.

    My boss kept getting sick last year. Because he’s a workaholic, he kept coming to work. And then passing said illnesses on to me. If I get a respiratory illness, I’m sick for 3-4 weeks. So, I spent months in bad shape because of his insistence on coming to work sick. I lost PTO (because my company lumps it all in together) because there were a few days I was so sick I couldn’t get out of bed. Worst part is that he is exempt – and therefore not bound to the same rules that I am as an non-exempt employee – and therefore I faced getting attendance points for calling out.

    Now it’s on me to do everything I can to try not to catch something from the boss I have to share an office with. It’s at the point where I don’t even touch doorknobs.

    1. Chriama

      That really sucks! Did you try talking to him about it? Is he the one responsible for disciplining you for attendance issues or is that HR? Maybe you guys could work out a plan where one or the other of you works from home to avoid sharing germs?

    2. BeenThere

      I’d show up in full ebola kit….. okay so I’d probably try and have a chat first, escalate to HR then if that didn’t work out comes the biohazard suit. Along with the job hunt.

  30. Kelly O

    I will also add that while I understand insurance costs are increasing, if I put my whole family on my health insurance at my new employer, I will spend nearly $1200 per month on just insurance premiums. When you consider I am not anywhere close to six figures in earnings, it becomes a very significant chunk of change.

    We are actually considering putting our daughter on CHIP, and just leaving the husband uninsured until he finds work, because otherwise we will not be able to manage financially. I wouldn’t mind being able to do something to help bring that cost down (I wear a FitBit anyway) if it were an option.

    The last place I worked simply opted completely out of benefits for their newest iteration. They don’t offer them at all, as an option for anyone, and direct employees to healthcare.gov for coverage. I did look at that, but we did not qualify for subsidies, and the costs were just outrageous. Most of them even more than what I’d pay for all of us at the new place.

    We are working through what our new normal for insurance looks like, but suffice to say I am hoping Mr. O gets a job with great benefits for him and Little Miss O, because I was quite discouraged when I got my paperwork.

    1. The Office Admin

      The company I work for did what your old company did, opted out of providing insurance.
      Our old insurance had premiums about the same, most families paid $1,200+ out of pocket for coverage per month, it was crazy expensive considering most employees make $11-$17 per hour.

  31. The Office Admin

    The company I work for doesn’t even offer health insurance.
    BUT my boss knows I go to the gym 4 to 5 days a week so he doesn’t find it unusual for me to scoot out of the office at 4 to go to the gym.
    By 4 pm I’m already worked a 10 hour+ day, but he and I both consider this a mutual benefit. I skip the 5 pm workout crowd, he has an employee who starts work at 6 am and stays until 4 pm every day.

  32. Meg Murry

    On the “provide healthy food options” another thing for larger companies to look into is allowing their company to be a CSA pickup point. Typically all you have to provide is a few parking spaces on the pickup day, and your employees can sign up to take home a box of fresh produce once a week. No (or minimal) cost and administration to the company, win for the employees. One of the local hospital systems in our area does this, as well as some of the bigger Fortune 500-type companies.

    Another wellness initiative I’ve seen that employees appreciated when done well was offering an additional “wellness” day off. My sister worked at a place that had this – in addition to how many ever sick and vacation days the company had previously offered, the company allowed you to take one additional day – either 1 full day or 2 half days to go get a checkup, screening or preventative exam. So you could use it to get an annual physical, health screening like pap smear, mammogram or colonoscopy, or a dental cleaning or eye exam, etc. It was all honor system – you didn’t have to bring in a doctor’s note unless you were otherwise on a PIP for attendance. It was introduced the same year the company switched to a health plan that was ACA compliant to allow for a no-cost preventative medical treatment, and employees appreciated getting an extra day off to take care of their health – because who wants to waste a perfectly good vacation day on a health screening?

    1. Sospeso

      Meg Murry, can you tell me more about what the CSA pickup point was like? Did they deliver the produce at one time for the entire company, and hang around until all employees could pick it up?

      1. CAA

        I worked at a company that did this through the mail room. It was awesome. Every other Thursday I’d get an email saying that my box had arrived and could be picked up at the shipping window. Anything that wasn’t picked up by the end of the next day was put in the kitchen where anybody could take whatever they wanted, but I only saw that happen once.

      2. Meg Murry

        It was a delivery for anyone that signed up for it, and it usually had a window of time, like from 4-6 pm that corresponded to when most people ended their day.

        At the hospitals, it was the neighborhood pickup point – so anyone from the public that lived or worked in the area and signed up could pick up there in the specified time period, the hospital just coordinated it to make sure that it fell around the time that many of the 8 or 12 hour shifts ended.

        I believe at the big companies it was just for those employees, and also corresponded with a “typical” closing time – which meant that if you were working late you had to go out and pick up your share and either take it back in with you or take it out to your car and go back to work.

        One company that isn’t a CSA but rather organic food ordering and once a week delivery that I’ve heard of doing this is blueskygreenfields dot com, if you wanted to see an example of how this could work – each CSA/food delivery handles the delivery/pickup a little differently.

        1. Sospeso

          Awesome, thank you both for the additional information! Our HR team has been discussing wellness pretty broadly, and this could be a fun first project. I’ll see if I can talk my HR manager into it ;)

  33. FD

    We do have showers and locker rooms, and that is SO nice. I work in an area that’s a total pain to park too, so I bus in the winter, and bike in the summer.

    I don’t know that it really has an overall affect on my health, but my pocketbook appreciates it.

  34. tango

    Gym at my employer – $13 a month dues. Shower and locker room. Free fruit at 9 am and 2 pm. Up to $300 deposited in HSA for employee &/or their spouse/partner if they have their weight taken, sugar screened etc. Pays half the monthly dues for Weight watchers if the particpant attends at least 3 of 4 meetings a month (meetings offerred here in the office). There’s others but I can’t remember~!

  35. BeenThere

    Yes 1, 2 and 3. So much. My employer started all this wellness crap but still has the sodas and slim jims on steady supply. I think it’s easier to find a can of the soda you like than a pen.

  36. Vet Tech Gal

    At oldjob, the workplace had a program in place using a blood test to detect nicotine (with smokers paying a higher cost for insurance)–there was a woman who would quit smoking before the test, then light up the rest of the year. While normally would not condone it, I was impressed with her resolve to beat the system.

  37. HM in Atlanta

    Wellness programs, by and large, aren’t about Employee Wellness at all. They are about premium reductions or discounts employers receive when they run them. It’s all about the costs (not something that’s insignificant to the business – health costs are outrageous). The interesting thing to me, as I think Mike C. pointed out above, is that these initiatives really haven’t shown to decrease the overall healthcare costs. My experience after working in this field for 20 years is that it’s because they aren’t really about wellness.

    If you look at companies that have significantly managed to lower their healthcare costs, while still being an attractive employer to job candidates, they focused on two things. (1) How can they address those areas that really cost the most? One company I’ve worked with asks employees with heart issues to use a specialized hospital for non-emergency surgeries. The company pays for all expenses at this hospital (including expenses of spouse and any travel). This is because quality of care is high and re-admittance after leaving this hospital is incredibly low. People require much less follow-up care and are back to work much faster. [Note – if the employee doesn’t want to use that hospital, they don’t have to, but care follows the regular deductible & percentage payments based on the health plan.]

    (2) How can they really make it easy to help people make changes to how people live AND work so they are able to be healthier? Many companies throw one-size-fits all ideas at the wall and then complain when it doesn’t solve everything and they have to get out the sticks. Example – company-sponsored gym in the basement of the building that’s only open 8-5 (and they have a lunch at the desk culture). The company spent a lot of money to put in a gym that, because of their work culture, no one could use. They were confused as to why it was a ghost town. Once they were convinced to open the gym from 5-8 (am and pm), they had a lot more takers. They also provided discounted memberships to a couple of chain gyms (not just one – different types of gyms meet different fitness needs). Suddenly, people are working out.

    These methods require a longer time to see a return (than getting a 2% rebate for getting all your employees to fill out the one-size-fits-all health survey). The return is generally shows in people staying healthier longer (and decreasing recovery times) but businesses don’t want to see a return over 18-36 months.

    And that’s why it’s not about wellness; it’s about short term financial incentives that the corporation receives.

    1. Sospeso

      Excellent points, and I appreciate the specific examples you provided of how companies can do this better. I work for a very large company, so it is interesting to consider how we might implement a more tailored approach to employee wellness. Definitely a challenge.

  38. Anx

    The weightloss thing is the worst.

    I haven’t actually had to participate in one of these, but I volunteered at a place that did. And weightloss was a big part of it.

    I’m a size four. I have no personal desire to lose weight and medical professionals don’t care about my weight.

    But I volunteered somewhere where they revamped their cafeteria to provide healthy options. I think they intended to adjust the prices so that healthy options would be discounted, but it reality all it did was make salad cheaper. Any nutrient dense food with actual calories was exorbitantly expensive (maybe to make up for the discount on yogurt and salad), so I ended up filling up on cheap, calorie dense food because it was much more ‘affordable’ on my token and I wouldn’t be hungry.

    It got to the point where I didn’t even think of my meal token as a perk anymore.

  39. BananaPants

    My employer gives a $200/year premium reduction if the employee (and covered spouse) takes a health questionnaire and submits to a biophysical profile in which they weigh and measure you, take blood pressure and pulse, and do a blood glucose and cholesterol screening (or you can order a home kit to do the finger stick yourself and mail it off). Employees who are deemed in need of health coaching have to complete a specific number of coaching calls within the first 6 months of the year. Only those who smoke, are overweight based on BMI, or have a chronic medical condition like diabetes are invited to do health coaching. If you or your spouse is “invited” to do health coaching and either opt out or don’t get the required number of coaching calls, you immediately lose the $20/month discount and are ineligible for the rewards program.
    The way the rewards program works is that 6 months later employees and covered spouses log in and record their weight. Those who either lost 5% of your starting weight (if overweight) AND did their required health coaching, or didn’t gain weight (if normal weight) receive a $300 prepaid debit card as a reward. So someone who is of normal weight and doesn’t need health coaching gets $300 just for doing the biometric screening at work and logging their weight 6 months later.
    It’s very focused on weight.

    My husband and I did it last year. I had to do health coaching because I’m overweight, he had to do it because he was foolish enough to answer honestly that he was stressed when he filled out the stupid questionnaire. The health coaching was a pain because they called within a 30 minute window – if you didn’t answer the phone before it went to voicemail, you’d be automatically forced to reschedule. Often they called well outside the half hour window. Some of the health coaches were nice and genuinely seemed to want to help. Others were jerks – I had one, who I suspect was a single male in his 20s, who told me I should wean my baby at 4 months old to give myself more time to exercise and lose weight. He seemed genuinely surprised that I might not agree with his suggested plan of action!

    This year we both started the process but due to winter weather my husband’s biometric screening home test kit didn’t make it back to the company in time (he ordered it before the ordering deadline and mailed it by the date they recommended, it just didn’t get there). As a result we were immediately charged an additional $20/month in premiums, kicked out of health coaching, and are both ineligible for the rewards. Honestly the health coaching is not a make or break thing for me, and our premiums for employee + family coverage are high enough that another $20 a month before taxes is barely noticeable. I’m annoyed that we can’t get the rewards Visa cards though; we were going to buy ourselves a new TV with those.

    They want you to lose weight and get healthier – but it will only be incentivized if you do it THEIR way.

  40. Anonymouse

    Has anyone ever used the Monday Campaigns at work? Does that seem too intrusive or do you find it helpful? I’m a member of the wellness program at my workplace. Since we are a government agency and there is no funding for employee perks, I am hoping to read through the comments for ideas to take to our next meeting. Thanks!

  41. Blurgle

    I actually left a job because they pressured me to take whatever “healthy” “nutritious” food they kept shoving at everyone. No, your Peanutty Peanut-Buster Soy Muffins With Added Soy Because Soy Is Perfect are not going to make me healthier. You know what would? NOT PUSHING ANY FOOD ON ME AT ALL, AND KEEPING IT OUT OF MY WORKSPACE.

  42. Mel

    I am so fortunate. I get paid well below industry standard, but my small company makes up for it. We have flexible hours, work from home Fridays, an organic garden anyone can harvest from at lunch (there are only 9 of us), bike and kayak parking, locker rooms and showers, and a personal trainer who comes in three times a week to work with us.

    Anyone can participate in everything or nothing, and we can even bring family members to bootcamp. My company is far from perfect, but when, at 10am I can go work out with a trainer and then come back, shower, throw fresh veggies on the grill (yes, we have one, too), then I’m pretty open to overlooking the downsides.

  43. JT

    I work for a 10,000+ employee company, we started a program about 3 years ago with Virgin Health. I think its amazing and our company boasts a 50% volunteer participation. The reason so many of us participate is we are actually rewarded with money for our health spending accounts to cover any out of pocket expenses not covered by our insurance. I earned over $1200 last year and with a chronically ill daughter every penny counts. Our company has taylored the program’s pedometer tracking to include wellness classes, guest speakers, health action plans, etc. There are different levels of achievement for the most sedentary to the very active. Not all of these programs are bad and ultimately if you can affect the cost of insurance coverage by implementing such a program it is ultimately a win for everyone. I am actually very grateful that my company took this step.

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