my employer is asking invasive questions as part of a “wellness benefit”

A reader writes:

My company recently announced that they would be offering wellness benefits. They didn’t expand on any details in the announcement, and I assumed it would be something like discounted gym memberships or healthy snacks at the office.

Instead, I got a message from a consultant about scheduling a 1-on-1 meeting to discuss my well-being, in which we would discuss the following areas of my life:

• Physical – your health and energy
• Emotional – your mental and spiritual side
• Social – your relationships
• Career – loving what you do every day
• Financial – managing your money
• Community – engaging with the larger world
• Creative – expressing your true self

This seemed bizarrely invasive and a huge overstep of workplace boundaries. There’s no reason my employer needs to know anything about my emotional or spiritual well-being. I already have a doctor, therapist, and financial advisor, so I replied and politely declined the benefit.

My question is about whether I should do anything else. This is my first white-collar/non-service-industry job, so I don’t have a lot of context to compare professional norms. Plus, none of the coworkers I talked to seemed as taken aback as I was.

Am I overreacting to questions that are normal for the type of small company that offers fancy wellness benefits? Or should I tactfully let management know that the new “benefit” has not been universally well-received?

Ick. Yeah, that’s intrusive and over-stepping.

You’re right that if your employer wants to offer wellness benefits, they should offer things like healthy food at work and discounted gym memberships and — most important — great health insurance and ample paid time off. And if they’re not offering those last two, this kind of program is particularly insulting.

For what its worth, they’re probably not going to receive the information you share with the wellness consultant about your emotional, social, spiritual (!), and financial (!) well-being. But it’s not your employer’s place to set up counseling for you on these things, or even to nudge you to work on them yourself.

You are trading your labor for money. You are not their child, or their parishioner, or their patient.

(Also, it’s very unlikely that a single “consultant” is equipped to give useful substantive counsel on all of those topics, even if you wanted them to, and I’d question the skills of anyone who pitches themselves that way.)

Employers have gotten into “wellness” out of a belief that it will save them in health insurance costs. And when they focus on things like disease management, they do. But at least one major study has found that “lifestyle management” programs like this result in no net savings at all. Of course, even if they did save money, they’d still be overstepping and inappropriate — but they don’t even do that.

Anyway, as for whether or not to say anything: How much standing do you have? If you’re new or fairly junior (it sounds like it might be the latter), you’ve got pretty limited capital at this point and you might not want to spend it on this, especially if none of your coworkers seem to care. On the other hand, if you did have more capital built up, it would definitely be appropriate to let someone with some authority over this area know that you found this off-putting and that you hope they’ll consider less intrusive, more effective initiatives like healthy snacks/fruit delivery/flex time/better health insurance benefits/etc. instead.

{ 386 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess prissypants

    (octopus nope nope nope gif)

    What’s worse is when they tie these programs to benefit rates, like save $X per year on insurance costs when you do Y parts of the program.

    1. Nea

      In a previous job, it was “save 5% off your insurance by answering health questions.” One of my coworkers was so annoyed that she basically put down that she had everything from acne through Ebola to the heartbreak of psoriasis, because they just wanted you to answer, not prove you were healthy or even take action. They were annoyed, but she got her discount.

      1. Traffic_Spiral

        Hehe. You could get fun with that. “I have sprouted tentacles and am occasionally possessed by the ghost of a 18th century whaler.”

      2. Scotts Rhode

        I was too paranoid to answer yes to all conditions/diseases. (can’t help but think somewhere, sometime the information will surface in a secret insurance database flagging me for a ‘preexisting condition”.

        So I answer no to everything. I am the healthiest, least stressed, full 8 hours of sleeping, most-vegetable eating person alive.

        1. EmKay

          Yep. I’m in Canada, have great insurance, and am paranoid about this. Couple months ago there was a “heart health workshop” at the office where they took your BMI and did some kind of stress test. No thank you.

          1. Not in US

            Glad to know I’m not the only one who’s paranoid about this kind of thing! My husband mostly thinks I’m nuts for being concerned. There are some things I refuse to put through insurance even though we have coverage…

            1. EmKay

              Once when I was out on sick leave for depression, an insurance company lackey cancelled my benefits because when he called to ask me how I was doing, I said “good”. That meant I was ready to go back to work! One word. I don’t trust ANY of these f*ckers.

              1. Jadelyn

                I remember reading an article once about a woman who had depression and was on medical leave and it was cancelled because some insurance flunky found pictures in which she was smiling on her FB page. Because apparently, depressed people do not smile. Ever. Even for photos.

              2. JKP

                A friend lost his lawsuit for brain damage from medical malpractice because when the doctor asked the *brain injured* patient recovering from a skull fracture how he was doing, the patient answered that he felt fine. Never mind that his caretakers were dealing with him hallucinating and not understanding what was happening. And that “patient says he feels fine” in the medical records was entered into evidence at trial to prove that he made a full recovery.

                1. NotTheSameAaron

                  Saying that you’re fine after a brain injury should be seen as evidence that you’re not.

            2. Feline

              You’re far from the only one paranoid. I’ve self-paid for some doctor visits to keep their reasons to myself.

              Some of my coworkers think it’s odd I’m not interested in wearing a fitness tracker and having its data upload to my employer’s “wellbeing vendor” in exchange for an insurance discount. What I’m doing at the hours of the day I’m not paid to be at work is none of their business.

              1. Curmudgeon in Califormia

                Seriously. The only person who needs to know how and where I walk, etc is me.

              2. TardyTardis

                A lot of people in the military pay cash for a civilian doctor because they don’t want some things in their file. This sometimes works out for all the best (*see* fictional advantage in Scortia’s THE GOLD CREW…).

            3. Kaffeekocherin

              In my country (Germany), if you have been diagnosed with depression and it’s been recorded on your health insurance records, you are automatically disqualified for private life insurance or other forms of private/additional insurance (e. g. occupational disability insurance). It doesn’t matter when you were diagnosed, if it was temporary, or how well the treatment went.

              I have friends who will pay for everything having to do with their treatment for depression out of pocket, since they want to avoid this – it’s completely messed up.

              1. Katie

                Before the ACA was a thing, I was denied an individual insurance policy for disclosing that I’d had a bout of depression in the past (never mind that it was short-lived and successfully treated). I ended up having to pay for a much more expensive “high-risk” plan because of it and I’m paranoid about what gets entered into my health records now. I have better insurance these days but I hesitate to use it in case it shoots me in the foot later.

              2. Mari M

                welp, that explains my aunt and uncle having perfectly good bills of mental health. [kicks something]

              3. boop the first

                That’s really odd about life insurance when you consider the fact that EVERYONE is going to die. It’s not like someone with depression or even a terminal illness is somehow *more* risky. No one’s getting out of here alive.

                1. Ego Chamber

                  I would think life insurance companies would want to insure depressed people, since it’s fairly common knowledge they don’t pay out on suicide. All those payments from people who end up self-selecting out of life is just money left on the table! (joking/not-joking)

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch

          The sad thing is that these aren’t just for fun and games, if they’re being used to calculate health insurance costs. We were informed that if people simply lie and then are found to be going to the doctor for their pre-existing issues or to follow up with an old one, etc, that the bills may be flagged in the insurance system for further review. They won’t necessarily refuse to pay them but the insurance will be raised substantially at renewal. Also note that some horrible insurance plans give access to the claims database, they don’t give us names but they say “you had 36 ER visits last year” so that you can start trying to be “proactive” and try to avoid that [which leads to those BS posters you see about what’ medical office to visit for what illness/issue, etc.]

          Also make sure to lie about your weight. Being “Fat” is a pre-existing condition. I was denied insurance and put into the “high risk” category pre-ACA. No other conditions prior or at the time, just overweight, therefore too much of a risk.

          1. Amy Farrah Fowler

            Yeah, that happened to me too. I was worried I *couldn’t* lie on that application because I was pretty sure that it said something about coverage being able to be cancelled if any of the info you provide is untrue… and since EVERY DOCTOR EVERYWHERE has you get on a scale and take your temp and blood pressure, I figured the jig would be up pretty quickly.

            1. Jadelyn

              You can actually refuse to be weighed at normal visits, I hear. I haven’t tried it myself, but people have talked about doing it.

      3. Fergus

        Yea,

        I would be so annoyed I would say I had uterine issues with a side of Ebola mixed with the black death.

      4. Iron Chef Boyardee

        I’ve got rock ‘ roll pneumonia and the boogie woogie flu, punctuated with occasional bouts of Pac-Man Fever.

      5. Anonymousaurus Rex

        This is my strategy for these types of programs–get your money out of it. At my company you can participate in a wellness tracking program that gives you advice in all of the same areas as OP mentioned, and you log things like “maintain a bedtime routine 5 days a week” or “practice healthy heart habits” and you earn points. If you earn enough points the company will contribute money to your HSA. You better believe I sign in and log a bunch of BS weekly. There’s no accountability for participation, and it’s largely stuff i’m actually doing anyway, but there’s no way I’m leaving potential money on the table with the high cost of health care. If I can earn an extra $150 by saying that I “pat myself on the back” 5x per week, sure whatever, I’ll jump through that hoop.

    2. KayEss

      My employer offers a discount if you get a form signed by your physician that you’ve gone in for an annual physical—no test results or health info disclosed, just “we verify that yes, this person showed up and got a routine checkup”—with the (arguably correct) reasoning that otherwise some people just won’t bother to go, ever. That’s about the level of “wellness” intrusion I’m willing to accept, and I’m still kind of grumpy about it on principle.

      1. blink14

        I don’t mind this – I think it’s somewhat on par with getting a gym reimbursement form signed off on.

      2. SPDM

        I purposely had one of these signed by my oncologist after filling out a questionnaire where I mentioned how much I exercise, eat healthy food, etc. I am probably one of the most expensive people for any group to insure despite all of my positive habits.

        At least I try? And they didn’t ask about any current health conditions.

        1. designbot

          ha, that sounds like me. Oh, do you want a signature from my endocrinologist, my gastroenterologist, or my surgeon? I’ve got appointments scheduled with all of them, so it’s no big deal really.

        2. Jen

          I wasn’t even allowed to do that. I saw the oncologist regularly and basically never saw my primary care provider because I was already seeing another doctor twice a year and getting a more thorough work-up than I’d get from a regular physical. But I had to jump through the hoop to get a physical from my primary care provider because it had to be that specific person to get the discount, and I couldn’t declare a specialist (my oncologist) as my primary care provider. Okay, insurance. You just paid for an extra visit you didn’t have to pay for that I wouldn’t have scheduled if you didn’t make me?

      3. Justme, The OG

        My employer does this too. You don’t even need a form, they see that you’ve gone on for a yearly checkup with a medical professional from a certain list of types (primary care, OBGYN, etc) and you get your discount.

          1. FMLA Wrangler

            The employer does not have access to your health records. That would be a violation of HIPAA.
            The health insurance carrier does have the information. When a claim is filed, the reason for the visit is coded. If you had a checkup, the provider coded it as such on the claim form. The insurance carrier notified the employer to give you the discount.

      4. PollyQ

        Even there, I don’t love it. Seems like a foot-in-the-door/slippery-slope kinda situation.

      5. Guacamole Bob

        When I was in my 20s I went in for a physical just because I’d moved across the country and wanted to be on record with a doctor in case I needed a more urgent appointment, and they told me that at my age and level of health annual physicals weren’t needed – cholesterol checks are every 5 years for young adults, pap smear recommendations have dropped to every couple of years, you can get flu shots through work or at a pharmacy, etc. and they just didn’t need to see an otherwise healthy 27 year old if nothing was wrong.

        So this annual requirement is pretty innocuous but could lead to additional use of the medical system that’s not medically indicated. An extra office visit is a pretty low-resource thing, but it’s still a company interfering with medical decisions.

      6. Becky

        My employer does it this way too! And they give us 2 hours of paid work time that we can use to go to the physical as well so we don’t lose pay to fulfill the requirement.

        Yesterday my company had a wellness fair but it was just a bunch of different booths with info–healthy snacks demonstration and recipes, emergency preparedness, free 10 minute massages, what the EAP can do for you, etc. Attendance was completely voluntary and no personal information is asked.

        1. OhNo

          This sounds like the type of program I really wish my company had – a few extra hours specifically for an annual check-up, wellness fairs with program info that are truly opt-in… I’m sure there are downsides, but it sounds like a pretty good set-up!

      7. Nacho

        Mine does too, though it’s not a form but triggered by our insurance letting them know we went in for our anual check up.

      8. Anon Y. Mouse

        We have this too, but it ALSO requires you fill out a wellness questionnaire, and all I can think is “I don’t know what you’re doing with that, where it’s going, for what purpose, etc” so I’ve never pursued the benefit.

    3. Polaris

      Our has started offering monetary bonuses if you join & meet goals in the activity/wellness program.

      1. Fortitude Jones

        Every company I’ve worked for except my current employer and my first two employers out of college have done this. It’s usually the company giving each person up to $500 (last year it was $650) towards their HSAs if you could show you completed some online activity and had a biometric screening performed. I don’t have a problem doing them because all of my ailments can’t be seen in the metrics they ask for, so I come out looking extra healthy and get my deductible partially taken care of.

        1. President Porpoise

          Wow, my company is more generous than I’d given them credit for – they’ll give you up to $500 in gift cards for you and your spouse, plus $1300 at the start of the year in your HSA (at the level of insurance I’m at). That makes me happier…

            1. President Porpoise

              Way too high. And so is my out of pocket. :(

              Not a net win, but better than nothing.

                1. Jadelyn

                  Yeah, that’s why I’ve refused to do the HSA, which is my org’s primary medical plan. My employer had a holdover HMO plan from one of its previous mergers as well, so I went with that; it’s only about $5 more a paycheck and my deductible is half that of the HSA plan. They added a PPO plan this year, but the rates were holy-shit high, even for employee only, so I stuck with my HMO. I hear they’ve tried to drop the HMO a few times and practically had a mutiny on their hands, so they’re resigned to keeping it.

                2. Aphid

                  Somewhat wildly, the deductible in the high deductible plan through my employer is lower than the deductible of the traditional plan. You get there slower with the traditional plan (pay something like 10-50% of costs until you hit the deductible, instead of 100% of costs), but it’s still counterintuitive.

          1. Feline

            $1300 to start the year in your HSA?? We get $300. I didn’t realize how subpar ours is.

            1. Jadelyn

              We get $500 upfront for employee-only, $1000 upfront for families. Then an employer match of the same amount over the year depending on how much we contribute. My problem is, the HSA plan deductible is $2k for employee-only, so at most you can get $1000 from the company in your HSA, leaving you still on the hook for the other thousand before the plan kicks in. And most of us don’t make enough that the tax savings on HSA contributions will be worth that much.

              Every year in our “climate survey” I go off on the evils of HDHPs. It hasn’t changed anything. I still try.

      2. Curmudgeon in Califormia

        Ugh. But they set the goals, and that’s too much “in loco parentis” for me.

      1. Zombeyonce

        But if course they announce it as “rates increasing but here’s a discount!” instead to make it seem like more of a benefit.

      2. Flyleaf

        EEOC rules from 2016 allow discounts for wellness program participation of up to 30%. So, a non-participant could pay 42% more than someone participating in a wellness program.

      3. Michaela Westen

        I’m lucky my body type and metrics fall in their healthy category. They have no clue I’m skinny because of stress-related weight loss.
        If I had to jump through the program hoops to get the money towards my deductible, I wouldn’t be happy.
        A few years ago they started offering discounts to non-smokers, and I totally support that. Smokers cost billions more in health care.

    4. ThatGirl

      Both my last job and current company offer discounts on insurance if you complete a biometric screening. I actually think it’s better at my current job, because at my last one, additional discounts were offered based on how you fell into various metrics – smoker/nonsmoker, blood pressure, BMI, waist circumference, cholesterol -or to do things that might ostensibly put you in “healthy” ranges for them (such as a weight-loss program, stress management, exercise, etc).

      Some of it I didn’t mind so much – I actually liked having a wellness counselor (who was totally optional) to talk to about nutrition and exercise – but she was very understanding, didn’t actually work for our company, and cared about what *my* goals were, as opposed to preaching things. But some of it in retrospect seems very overstepping.

      1. Amethystmoon

        The ones that assume you’re not already trying to eat better and exercising drive me nuts. Last year, I earned literally all my points for my health insurance by walking to/from work when I lived close enough to do so, at least when it wasn’t -20 outside. I don’t think they took into account that someone might consider doing that. But it also didn’t make me a size 6. Hypothyroid sadly means that exercising and counting calories actually does very little, yet we still must go through the motions for not being a size 6.

        1. ThatGirl

          I think the idea was “even if you’re not a size 6 you can still have healthy blood pressure” or whatever and it’s true – my BP and cholesterol are just splendid, thank you. But I am never gonna be a size 6 (or even a size 10) without basically half-starving myself, and I’m tired of the yo-yo diet cycle where you eventually end up gaining more weight than you lost.

          Anyway – I don’t work there anymore so it’s kinda moot; my new job has much more reasonable incentives.

      2. Jadelyn

        I would be L I V I D about the metrics thing, especially BMI and waist circumference. BMI was created as a population-level statistical measure, not for individual-level health assessment! There are Olympic goddamn athletes who are “obese” by the BMI standards! And waist circumference, like, some people are just shaped differently? They’re talking about literally punishing people for having the wrong body shape, regardless of their health.

        And offering the discount to people who are “trying” to meet the metrics, like with a weight-loss program? Just as bad, considering that 1: there is no solid science that demonstrates it’s generally possible to lose weight and keep it off long-term, 2: there is an increasing body of evidence that suggests it’s in fact highly UNLIKELY that someone will be able to do so (estimates range from 0.5% to 5% of people who lose weight keeping it off long-term), and 3: dieting and weight-loss programs actually tend to harm people’s mental health and frequently result in yo-yo dieting, which is far worse for one’s metabolic health than simply being fat ever could be.

        So they’re charging people more for not meeting irrelevant-to-health metrics, and forcing those people to undertake outright harmful measures to try to meet said metrics and not be charged more. That’s utterly antithetical to the very concept of “wellness”!

        Ugh, what some companies call “wellness”…

        1. Curmudgeon in Califormia

          *applause*

          BMI for individual health is a crock of horse puckey. Any organization that pushes it is, IMO, comprised of uneducated quacks.

        2. Jasnah

          Totally agree. I don’t think individuals’ health insurance cost should be based on how “healthy” they are. Yes we should reward people who try to live a healthy lifestyle but we shouldn’t punish people who don’t or can’t, or don’t fit unscientifically sound metrics.

        3. Former Employee

          Was just discussing BMI with someone I know and they said how off that would be as a measurement for someone we both know who had been doing some serious weight training.

          However, for the average person, it can be a gentle reminder that you are straying a bit. I know that mine is now over the line and I need to lose about 10 pounds. Since I am older and have health problems, it is harder for me and I tend not to want to deprive myself, precisely because I am older and have health problems!

          Ironic, isn’t it?

      3. Jessen

        What occurs to me immediately is that those could be a problem for people who have issues that fall outside of the expertise of who they provided.

      1. Falling Diphthong

        While I’m kinda fascinated by the consultant who does all of these at once.

        “You’ve got gastric problems that have baffled three specialists, are trying to budget for nursing home care for an elderly parent, and like to tap dance? I can help you with all of those!”

            1. A tester, not a developer

              Well, that would certainly give me an exciting new set of gastric problems…

            2. NotAnotherManager!

              Wait, I thought it was cinnamon, onions, garlic, and lemons? That’s what all the cure-all emails my relatives send tell me to use.

              1. General Ginger

                You gotta steep them in vinegar first! Apple cider vinegar only, none of that plain stuff.

          1. Fortitude Jones

            Yoga is fantastic, but it hasn’t cured a damn thing that was wrong with me, lol.

            1. Jadelyn

              Ah, but have you combined it with green smoothies? I keep being told those will cure me, too.

        1. pentamom

          I guess the right kind of consultant could do appropriate referrals for all those things. But yeah.

      2. Maggie

        The answers are easy.

        • Physical – your health and energy: “Both could be better if I had free gym membership.”
        • Emotional – your mental and spiritual side: “”Both could be uplifted if I had free gym membership.”
        • Social – your relationships: “It could be better if I had free gym membership where I could meet new people.”
        • Career – loving what you do every day: “”I could concentrated better and my career path could be augmented with free gym membership and comprehensive medical insurance.”
        • Financial – managing your money: “”I’m careful with my money but my finances could be better if I had free gym membership and comprehensive medical insurance.”
        • Community – engaging with the larger world: “It could be better if I had free gym membership where I could meet new people and volunteer and stuff.”
        • Creative – expressing your true self: “My true self really emerges at the gym, so if I had free gym membership…”

    5. Liar Liar Pants Dracarys

      I get a discount on my insurance based on “points” earned from various activities. One of them is exercise via step counters. It’s the only one I allow. I hit platinum level last year (we have an amazing gym on site) and get 30% off of my already cheap insurance plan.

      There are plenty of other “opportunities” to earn points with intrusive stuff like this. Nope. If I can’t get it through exercise, which I’d do anyway, then I’ll just pay the whole amount.

      OP, could you respond to the email with a simple “No thank you.” ?

      1. Mayflower

        A lot of people clip those work-mandated step counters (or other activity trackers) onto their dog’s collar. Personally, I feel that fake data is only too fitting a response to a fake wellness program!

        1. Jadelyn

          I’d never heard of that and it would never have occurred to me but OMG, I love it.

          Unfortunately, I have an indoor cat, and she’s far too lazy for that to help any. :)

        2. Librarian of SHIELD

          I’m always tempted to give mine to my friend’s toddler. That manic 2 year old energy can get me to my step goal, no problem!

          1. Carlie

            When Nintendo made a Pokemon game with a step tracker, it took my kids less than 2 days to figure out that shaking the tracker got them to their step goals pretty quickly.

            1. Jaid

              “Wrap it around the chuck of an electric drill and get spinning.

              Hook it up to your dog’s collar and let them do the walking.

              Attach it to your electric mixer and get whisking. (Bonus: make some cookies at the same time.)

              Open up a cheap desk fan, attach it to one of the blades, then start it up.

              Get comfy in your favorite rocking chair and rock your way to the top (rotating your wrist might help.)”

              Thank you LifeHacks.

              Would one of those auto wind-up watch dinguses work too?

              1. Tiny Soprano

                A well-endowed friend of mine stuffed hers in her bra. Ended up nearly doubling her ‘steps.’

        3. Liar Liar Pants Dracarys

          That’s pretty dang brilliant actually. Unfortunately, I have cats. It would probably register negative steps. Wonder if I somehow affixed it to one of my car tires…. heh.

          Between the gym in the morning and this ridiculously massive building I’m constantly running around, I generally hit 15k by the time I leave work. If they want more steps, I’m going to need more of an incentive. Cash. The paper kind. In my hand. Per mfing step.

          1. Kivrin

            I had a friend who accidentally put hers in the dryer and discovered that that is worth a ton of steps.

          1. Suz

            My fitbit gives steps for sitting on the couch and petting my dog while watching TV. It also registered them for driving around in my truck before I got new shocks.

    6. Samwise

      We get substantial discounts with a non-smoking attestation (attest either that you aren’t a smoker or that you will seek to stop if you are) and with selecting a preferred provider. (They don’t care who it is, as long as they are in network.)

    7. Anita Brayke

      Yep! At one place I worked for 8 years, by the time I moved on, we were required to participate in a wellness program to get lower health-insurance rates, and were required to share things like weight, how long you could plank, your exercise log, etc., which I found horrifying, invasive, and embarrassing. I felt shamed and left shortly after this was implemented.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House

        My physical therapist said I’m not allowed to plank, due to my scoliosis.

        Even something as simple as a plank is intrusive.

        1. Fergus

          I am not interested in planking, but reverse cowgirl, that’s a different story….lmfao

      2. Curmudgeon in Califormia

        Oh, no, no, no.

        IMO, I would be screaming about disability discrimination.

        (I can’t “plank” at all. No amount of fat shaming or other emotional abuse will render me able to do so. Why? I only have the use of one hand.)

    8. Angie Babee, Special Lady

      My employer gives a $500 discount for insurance if you enroll in wellness program. And if you get pregnant, you have to also agree to be counseled by nurse throughout. Very intrusive, not helpful and feels very big-brothery when you already have your own medical team.

      1. OhNo

        Do you at least get to freely choose the nurse for counseling? Or is it from a limited pool of the company’s preferred providers or something?

        1. Angie Babee, Special Lady

          You get no choice in the nurse who counsels you. And it is all done by phone, so presumably she is reviewing/reading my test results & file notes from my (actual) doctor. I don’t need an insurance puppet second guessing the frontline team. Either the insurance company is fearful that I am seeing an incompetent doctor, or they are looking for some sort of dirt on my health, or they are datamining me for some nefarious over-reaching future program that will oppress all pregnant employees.

    9. Curmudgeon in Califormia

      My employer wants you to submit your biometric data (height, weight, lab results) before you are eligible for any benefits of their “wellness” program.

      I’m genetically fat and genetically predisposed to diabetes (mother, grandmother, grandfather, great grandmother all on my mother’s side.) I hit puberty and broke out in fat when other kids broke out in zits. I played sports in high school, still was fat. I have not been thin since I was a pre-pubescent child. I know I will eventually be diabetic, but I’ve beat my mother so far in how long not flipped over, primarily because I eat more balanced and healthy.

      The last thing I need is for some chirpy “counselor” telling me how I should live. I don’t need some canned crap about diet (all diets fail and most are scams) , exercise (I’m disabled – the exercise I do is to maintain mobility, not to meet some external “should”) or lifestyle (I eat mostly home cooked food and avoid soy and HFCS.)

      Plus, the last, last, last thing I need is for this to come from my employer (rather than my personal physician.)

      This whole “wellness” thing is a coercive scam, and people are completely right to nope out of it.

      1. nonegiven

        Every thing they tell you to do, say, “I will certainly run that by my personal physician.”

  2. Emmie

    I wonder if your employer’s insurance is self-funded. This information allows the insurer to calculate risk, and costs. It may result in lower fees to your company. I still cannot stand these “wellness” consultants. It’s wildly intrusive, and I recommend pushing back to your employer’s benefits manager.

  3. Ali A

    I’m curious if the consultant intends to find this information out on a granular level – or if they are trying to find out which facets of wellness are the most important to the company overall. I only say this, because it’s often the initial step when I seek proposals for wellness platforms, so they can cater the most suitable RFP to the company as possible.

    1. epi

      Another possibility is that this person is providing some form of navigation. They wouldn’t provide you counseling(!) but would be in a position to tell you what counseling-type benefits you are already eligible for. My last employer’s EAP provided this type of help remotely, at least for the mental/emotional/behavioral stuff. It was a source for referrals from people who knew what our health benefits were, but did not work for the company. That type of encounter can actually be really helpful.

      The fact that financial health is in there too makes me think that the intention here is either to navigate people to existing benefits (which helps both the employee and the company), or to do some kind of needs assessment in order to plan the new wellness program. Some companies do provide access to financial planning as a benefit– my old employer did and it was really helpful.

      I am with OP that this is a huge overstep if the conversation with the consultant is the program. Personally, I would not hesitate to ask HR about the purpose of that meeting and how the information will be used. The OP might learn something that resolves their objections. If not, someone in HR will hear that not everyone loves with without the OP actually having to push back much.

      1. blink14

        This is my thinking as well – answer X question with A and B, and the consultant points you to a specific benefit on behalf of the company.

      2. Emily K

        The only thing that makes me doubt this is the saccharine language used for a couple of them.

        “Loving what you do every day?” That’s a really pollyanna way to refer to what others might call “professional development” (which does not require you to love what you do).

        Same with, “Creativity – express your true self.” I can’t even imagine what kind of professionally appropriate resources you could point someone to in the name of finding and expressing their “true self.”

        1. MtnLaurel

          Personally, my fake self is more interesting than my true self. Wonder if I can express that?

          1. Emily K

            And I was thinking, “I have many true selves. I contain multitudes. Some them do not show up to my job by design.”

            1. Sara without an H

              Ooo, yes. I have several “true selves” that I keep as far away from my employer as possible.

            2. Solana

              Yeah, which one? The one that bought a corset and tried burlesque? The “I’m with family” one where we pick on each other to show love? The RenFaire one? The beach and ocean lover one?

            3. Curmudgeon in Califormia

              They wouldn’t like my not-at-work self. That self is sarcastic, cynical, and swears enough to make a sailor blush.

              I hate it when they say “Bring your whole self to work”, and then scold me like I was a child if I utter a slightly denigrating work (like referring to a thing as “junk”), much less actually swear. People who read as men, however, can do all of these things with impunity, and get promoted for it.

              Yes, I’m bitter. I earned it.

            4. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people

              Yeah, I’m pretty sure that most of my childhood was spent training me not to be my “true self” at school, and that my adult workplace wouldn’t appreciate it either.

        2. Falling Diphthong

          I can’t even imagine what kind of professionally appropriate resources you could point someone to in the name of finding and expressing their “true self.”

          The evil overlord checklist.

          (Yes, this is a real thing, archived for the ages and earning its own page on TVTropes.)

            1. Gazebo Slayer

              I actually posted the Evil Overlord list on the door of my college dorm room back in the day.

          1. Rivakonneva

            I remember that! I think I saved the first and second versions as text files back when Windows 95 was the dominant OS for computers. :)

            Now I have to go browse through my archived flash drives……….

      3. Fortitude Jones

        Some companies do provide access to financial planning as a benefit– my old employer did and it was really helpful.

        My last company’s EAP provided us financial counseling (or rather, the consultants were able to recommend me over to a financial counselor), and it was extremely helpful. Seeing all of my expenses in spreadsheets really helped me to see I needed to get a new job, lol. I was not making nearly enough to survive my lifestyle.

        My new company offers financial counseling as part of the EAP as well, plus legal counseling, which I don’t need.

      4. LW

        From talking to other co-workers who did actually meet with the consultant, this seems to be the case – the company doesn’t currently offer many “wellness benefits” other than our actual health insurance, and the stuff they’ve tried to offer has fizzled a bit (turns out in-office yoga isn’t too popular when half the company works from home on any given day!). Though why they couldn’t have sent around a survey to find out that information, I have no idea.

  4. MsChanandlerBong

    Alison, thank you for recognizing how intrusive these programs are, especially when you are dealing with crappy insurance on top of it. I was required to submit to this type of thing with my husband’s former employer. We both had to go down to his place of business for biometric testing (cholesterol, blood sugar, etc.), and then we had to do wellness questionnaires. Since I have chronic health problems, I was required to talk to a “health coach” on the phone. Her big solution for me was to make goulash so I’d have a healthy lunch available and wouldn’t have to cook during my lunch break (I work from home). Yeah, like goulash is gonna cure my lupus. To top it all off, the company’s insurance was the worst I’ve ever had. The plan had a huge deductible/huge out-of-pocket max, and they didn’t pay ANY expenses until the deductible had been met (my insurance now pays for labs, X-rays, ER visits, and office visits even if you haven’t met your deductible; you just pay a copay–hospitalization is the only thing that isn’t covered until the deductible is met).

      1. Zephy

        I mean, it’s hard to make a small amount of goulash, so if the “health coach” was trying to encourage MsChanandlerBong to do meal prep and make big batches of things to eat for lunch all week, that tracks. But that’s true of plenty of recipes, and goulash isn’t even necessarily healthy, depending on how you make it.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Ooooooh gurl, medicinal goulash! That’s a new one. I bet she has a MLM tie in to that secret recipe.

      [Also taking the time to cook a fresh meal, since you have your kitchen right there is so much better than some crap you shovel in your mouth hole and slide back into work mode, wtf].

      1. Llama Face!

        Clearly you flavour the goulash with oil of oregano. /s

        Really, the presumption. What a lame health coach (and that’s a title I’d automatically distrust anyway- no kind of education or training is required to call yourself a coach).

      2. Oh so very anon

        Hot, freshly prepared food is one of the benefits of working from home. Amiright?

        I bet she didn’t even give her a recipe. I want the recipe for the lupus-curing goulash!

      3. Delta Delta

        You know Medicinal Goulash is going to be a user name in these parts by the end of the week.

    2. Michael Valentine

      I also have a chronic health condition and have had to dodge the coaching my husband’s insurance offered at his last job. I was hounded about changing my medication all the time. Maybe it led to good savings for some people, but I am happy with my meds–they work better than the alternatives.

      1. Zombeyonce

        That’s the worst! There’s a reason your doctor prescribed specific medication for you and they are not your doctor!

        1. irene adler

          Exactly!
          It is disturbing that anyone (non-physician) would deem themselves expert enough to counter the doctor’s direction and prescriptions. Gotta be some sort of liability issue with doing that.

          1. Fortitude Jones

            When I was on my mom’s medical insurance, her company (a life/health insurer) paid for my not-very-expensive Dexilant prescription, which my doctor prescribed me to help heal the acid damage I had to my stomach lining from acid reflux (it was BAD). Well, once I got kicked off her insurance at 26 and signed up for my employer’s insurance, they decided to deny my prescription because “You could just take Nexium instead.” I told them I could do no such thing – my doctor prescribed Dexilant. If she wanted me on Nexium, she would have prescribed it.

            They did not budge, and I couldn’t afford to pay for my prescription out of pocket at the time, so I went without. Not too long after this, I was watching TV and a commercial came on about a class action lawsuit against the manufacturers of Nexium and Prilosec saying they failed to warn users about the increased risk of kidney failure, and people had died. WTF?! My insurance company was trying to strong-arm me into taking a drug that was causing kidney failure in people – I couldn’t believe the incompetence.

            1. Michaela Westen

              Nexium was heavily promoted. I remember when I started using PPIs they sent me samples I had not requested. My building manager was like “this thing that’s sat here for a week is addressed to you.” wtf?
              I couldn’t take either nexium or prilosec because of the added ingredients – sugars and things that upset my stomach. Lucky break there.

              1. Fortitude Jones

                Yes, very lucky. When I heard people were dying because of this stuff, I was horrified it was even on the market.

      2. MsChanandlerBong

        I used to get letters like that. They also wanted me to start taking a drug that I had discontinued. No matter how many times I told them that I discontinued the drug because it increased my potassium into the *critically high* range, I still got the letters every so often.

        1. Michaela Westen

          If other wellness programs are like ours, it’s being managed by a computer. Those letters are probably computer-generated and no human is supervising them.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch

        Because not being able to afford medication isn’t bad enough, we need to tell people they just don’t need it! Eat more oatmeal and throw those heart meds away! Rah rah rah *RAGE*

      4. EH

        I’ve had two separate insurance plans badger me to see a “pain coach” for my fibromyalgia. Like, I see my entire care team regularly, I don’t need someone else to add to the list!

      5. A tester, not a developer

        +1 to that! My specialist was in the top 1% of the field; patients came from all over the world to be treated by him, doctors came from everywhere to get a chance to work under him, etc. My work’s ‘wellness coach’ wanted me to drop him and start working with one of their ‘online specialist service providers’. They couldn’t understand why I did not consider this to be a good idea.

        1. Rebecca1

          They understood all right, but they presumably had metrics to meet for moving people to the online providers.

    3. iglwif

      That is pretty wack.

      So curious about this magical goulash that cures all ills! I mean, I do in fact usually handle lunches by making a large batch of something on Sunday afternoons and dividing it into 5 portions for the week (I also work at home) so that my lunch break can be spent taking doggo for a walk instead of heating up the kitchen–also my office–by cooking something every day. But if you want to cook every day, why on earth shouldn’t you?!

    4. Carlie

      I went to an insurance-covered nutritionist once and her only suggestion to eat healthy was to eat a full can of vegetables at each meal, first thing. No cooked recipes made with the vegetables, just a can of vegetable. And then supposedly I wouldn’t want much else and would be getting so many nutrients.

      1. Curmudgeon in Califormia

        Ugh.

        Technically, the best for you is fresh, then frozen, and lastly canned. Especially commercially canned.

        Plus, a can of vegetables is never a balanced meal.

        That advice was just … off, as in “off in space” off.

        1. fposte

          And even fresh is only best if you get it close to harvesting–for most of us supermarket types, frozen is actually fresher than fresh.

    5. nonegiven

      We have this health coach thing we have access to. When it started out, if you hadn’t called them, they would call you. Apparently our home number was given to them. DH called them once, it was required to get the insurance to pay for the stop smoking med he was prescribed.

      For years they would call the house, if I answered I would tell them we have their number if we want to call, stop calling this number. I finally sent a written C&D through the mail.

  5. No Mercy Percy

    Ooooooh, I would hate that. I have a similar thing at my job. We can take a blood test compared to a “health goal” in exchange for a hefty discount on our insurance. As part of scheduling the appointment we have to fill out this questionnaire for this third party company asking about things like your emotional well being, sleep habits, etc. Also nobody else’s business. Fortunately only the basics are mandatory, everything else can be left blank (which I do, because this company is probably just turning around and selling the information anyway).

      1. LW

        I’m queer and not really out at work, so I was particularly worried about something like that. I guess I wasn’t being as paranoid as I thought!

      2. Curmudgeon in Califormia

        WTF?

        I’d fill that out as “Mind your own business %$#$^#$& ^$#$^$^&”

  6. Marthooh

    I wonder if the company is getting some kind of referral fee for this. Or if the superconsultant is the CEO’s nephew or some such.

    1. Bertha

      I was just wondering that! That is definitely my theory.. that they must know someone. This seems like a strange benefit for a company to come up with, without being approached first or knowing someone who does it.

    2. LW

      I think this is pretty likely true! As far as I can tell the consultant’s sole qualification is that he’s a personal trainer and friendly with the CEO.

    3. BerkeleyFarm

      Oh, that last one wouldn’t surprise me at all. Or their buddy who they used to work with. Someone’s being sold a bill of goods. It’s a racket.

  7. Kimmybear

    My company’s free flu shot last year required signing away access to all your medical records including mental health and family planning records. Since I actually read waivers and fine print, I didn’t get a flu shot.

    1. Constance Lloyd

      My employer is both my insurance carrier and my clinic system. The people I share a break room with are the same people who would process my medical claims, and the clients who are rude to me on the phone are the doctors I can visit. I go to walk in clinics only when I absolutely need medical care.

      1. De Minimis

        I work for a medical clinic where employees aren’t allowed to be patients, due to a lot of the things you’re describing. This is the first clinic I’ve been at where I wasn’t allowed to be seen as a patient, but I’m starting to think it may be a good policy.

        1. Constance Lloyd

          I think that’s the smartest move, though I’m sure my situation is further complicated by the fact we’re also an insurance carrier. My employer is my only option for care, because obviously they want to boost their own business, and it is a struggle to feel like my care is truly confidential, because plenty of my daily contacts have a business need to know everything I have done. I’m moving in a few months and won’t make the same mistake with my next job.

          1. De Minimis

            I think that’s the biggest reason why it’s not allowed–even if everyone is in compliance with everything regarding patient records, the patient still might not feel comfortable enough to share certain things with their provider, or may avoid seeking care altogether.

            At other workplaces, I’ve seen things like employees refusing to be weighed, because they didn’t want their coworkers to see their information.

      2. Acornia

        I call this “health care incest” and it’s the WORST. They tout the benefits of everything in one place, but there are absolutely ZERO checks and balances and they can do whatever they want and no one stands up for the patient. They can do all kinds of crap because they hold all the power. One of my husband’s meds is not the cheapest in its class. So every 2 years, he **has** to do a three month trial of a cheaper drug to see if it will work, followed by a procedure under sedation to prove it doesn’t. In 5 cycles, the less expensive drug hasn’t ever worked. His doctor (employed by the clinic owned by the insurance company) is not allowed to prescribe the one that we KNOW works. My husband has increased pain and symptoms for 3 months every 2 years. He undergoes sedation. But when that’s the only insurance offered by your employer and also the dominant player in the local insurance market, you’re screwed.
        I’ve had billing mistakes where hospitals have billed HUNDREDS more for services not actually rendered. Hospital won’t fix it, insurance doesn’t care, because it’s just passed from one arm to another. Which means nothing gets fixed.
        And I have only ever experienced it as a patient. I can’t imagine it ALSO being my employer.

        1. Doc in a Box

          That’s terrible. It happens even when your doctor isn’t employed by your insurer (I have been out of training less than a year, and I’ve already had it up to here with the ridiculous attempts of insurance companies to dictate care — you won’t pay for an MRI without contrast but you’ll pay for an MRI with and without???).

          The only way to fix this would be a single payer system with charges clearly delineated. Right now it’s all so opaque and convoluted that no one can tell me how much a medication will cost until the patient’s there at the pharmacy picking it up, and it’s a crisis because a drug that’s been generic for 20 years suddenly costs > $600 a month.

        2. Fortitude Jones

          That’s a dumb ass process that my old insurer tried to pull with me – how in the world does experimenting on patients lower insurance costs or promote wellness?!

    2. vampire physicist

      Oh man I hope you or someone is able to push back on this! I work in the healthcare industry and I usually need to have a flu shot on file (or wear a face mask, which I detest) since I go into hospitals regularly, and being able to get my shot at work has saved me so much extra effort – but they’ve also never asked for anything beyond my name, employee ID, and whether I had an egg allergy.

    3. Pipe Organ Guy

      That would make me go to Walgreens and pay out-of-pocket to get a flu shot. (I’ve had flu more than once, so I’d rather minimize my chances of getting it!)

      1. nonegiven

        A flu shot is preventative and should be free if it’s in network.

        We got a surprise last year. I got a flu shot at Sam’s club, they were in network and the total paid by insurance was about $30 through the pharmacy benefit. DH’s doctor (also in network) called once they got their supply in, so he dropped by and got the shot, the cost to insurance was $246 through the medical benefit.

  8. Arielle

    I haaaate this. As we’ve gotten into many times on this site, “wellness” can mean radically different things to different people. My work is doing a competition between teams where you’re supposed to sign up to change one unhealthy habit, off a list of a dozen or so. This is fine except it was emphasized that you’re not allowed to choose something you’re already doing. I’m pregnant so I’m not smoking (well, I don’t smoke anyway), not drinking, not eating processed foods, etc., already. I have no interest in making some other random change in my habits just for the sake of a dumb competition when I’m doing SO MUCH right now for the sake of, you know, my unborn child.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius

      And research shows that if you incentivize personal choices like that, people will only make the change as long as they’re rewarded. They will stop when the extrinsic motivation does.

      Like when my dad paid me $20 to memorize the Lord’s Prayer. I did it. Got my money. And went back to not caring or being able to recite it a month later.

    2. Antilles

      This is fine except it was emphasized that you’re not allowed to choose something you’re already doing.
      Nothing like penalizing someone who’s *already* living a healthy lifestyle.

    3. Booksalot

      Company legend has it that one guy in the logistics department took off his prosthetic leg at weigh-in to “win” at this sort of nonsense. I cannot confirm if this is actually true or not, but he sure is a character.

    4. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw

      There was a book I read as a child about a girl who was told to give up a habit for Lent, and if they did it successfully they won a prize, but she didn’t have a habit, so she said she bit her nails. She ended up taking up nail biting JUST so that she could say she’d given it up.

      1. Arts Akimbo

        Oh man… I cringe hearing that. When I was six years old I tried nail-biting, because it seemed silly and what’s so great about it that people do it habitually anyway? Well, 40+ years later and I am still biting my nails! Turns out trying out a habit can be dangerous for people who have undiagnosed OCD tendencies. Whoops!

    5. Richard Hershberger

      I smoke the occasional celebratory cigar. By “occasional” I mean I usually go a couple of years between cigars. It happens I had one last April. The one before that? Well over five years. So in any case, if I was incentivized to give up a bad habit for a period of time, I would piously swear that I smoke cigars, but will give them up for the duration.

  9. The Man, Becky Lynch

    I just shivered reading this, having recently had to deal with an almost equally invasive physical that included all this stuff. At least that was my own doctor and their medical group “requirement” and has nothing to do with my employer.

    However as a benefits administer for our plan, I have had brokers pitch me this nonsense to “pass along” to employees. I noped right out of that, the boss and I both agreed that was wildly overstepping. I have a sinking suspicious feeling that this is their way to con your employer into “discounted” rates with this hokey stuff.

    You did perfectly well by opting out. I hope others do and your employer then ceases to continue to try to push this on everyone down the road. Ick ick ick ick ick. [My physical triggered my ED, it was awesomely bad so I’m extra grouchy reading that this is happening to you via your employer of all people].

    1. Zombeyonce

      I’m sorry, but the end of your comment made me laugh because I only know ED as erectile dysfunction (thanks, endless nonsensical Cyalis commercials of couples in bathtubs on the beach).

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch

        LOL this just reminded me how FEW! of those commercials you get when you don’t watch standardized tv, they finally have my data down so that they know I’m not a middle aged dude who “may be struggling” with myself. *Eating Disorder* ;)

    2. Sharrbe

      These “wellness programs” are just a way for these companies to make money by just regurgitating what they know is useless advice. I have a friend who is a teacher and her school district hired outside consultants to come in and tell them things like “try and connect with your students, they will be more engaged!” Really? After two decades in teaching, she had NO IDEA that she should get to know her kids………….

      1. Zombeyonce

        It also stands out that they didn’t appear to offer any specific ways of connecting with the students. Vague platitudes are useless.

    3. Jadelyn

      Sane benefits administrators who see this crap for what it is give me hope. The BAs on my team are…I think mostly sane? But there’ve been a couple times when I had to be the one to push back on intrusive stuff, which is frustrating. I’m just glad I was in a position to hear about and be able to provide the alternative viewpoint, otherwise we might’ve ended up doing some really stupid stuff. (Like the vegan challenge, that was a fun one. Sure, let’s try to push our employees to force their families into a vegan diet unprepared, without knowing if anyone has medical reasons they couldn’t do it, offering no real education on how to make sure you’re getting all necessary nutrients via vegan sources, etc. I see no possible way this could backfire on anyone.)

      (Also, I’m so sorry to hear that re the physical and your ED – that’s a bad place to be in. Hope you’re doing better now.)

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch

        I’m blessed with a network that includes doctors and my brain absorbs science/medical things wonderfully! I also have an intense fascination with human psychology and business, so I’m like “I see what you’re doing, I’m buying none of it!”

        Thankfully I have a boss who also thinks about privacy as being a huge issue and despite being relatively cheap, personal information about employees are not up for grabs just for a few dollars. Granted he comes from the world of Universal Health Care and therefore loathes insurance in general. He sees them as scam artists and all that, which this kind of stuff really drives home the scam aspect!

        I feel a lot better now that I “figured it out”, I just felt so awful and was spinning. It took a few days to just realize what had happened.

  10. Quickbeam

    My company has these “wellness” checks for a 25% discount on benefits. It’s very intrusive. I’m in my 60’s and they want me to weigh what I was in college. They check waist circumference, lipids, blood glucose, BP etc. Then you get yelled at for a BP of 128/70. It’s really annoying but I do it for the discount.

    1. Arielle

      I seem to remember there was a commenter with a story about being forced to go to one of these when she was eight months pregnant. She assumed they would be using some kind of modified guidelines…which they did not, and she got a counseling phone call about how her waist circumference was too large.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch

        I’m rarely one to just start screaming at someone but that would be a total breaking point. Holy. Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhht

      2. NotAnotherManager!

        That is absurd to the point of high comedy. I hope the counselor was incredibly embarrassed to have to make that call. I’d probably have reassured them that I had a plan to reduce my waist circumference within the next 4-8 weeks, playing it up like a juice cleanse or As Seen on TV special before dropping that it was *gasp* giving birth to a small human. But I can be kind of a jerk like that.

        1. Arielle

          I feel like the other option is to play super dumb, like, “Oh gosh, when I was at my OB last week she said I was measuring right on track for 35 weeks! Do you think I should be concerned? Could it be a sign of preeclampsia?”

          1. NotAnotherManager!

            Ooooh, I like this idea, too! Top it off by bursting into tears about how worried you area about what this out-of-range waist measurement means for your baby.

            1. Arielle

              Honestly, as a currently-pregnant person, I would probably burst into tears if anyone said anything to me about my waist measurement, whether I knew it was absurd or not.

      3. Lucy

        Did she get a bonus six weeks later when she had miraculously lost several inches off her waist?

        BEEEEEEEEEES

      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

        Wow! Well, if *this* isn’t the pinnacle of corporate stupidity.

        I had one incident like that at an OldJob, not nearly as bad. OldJob had just introduced their brand new wellness program, and iirc we had a choice between getting a note from our physician and getting a “physical” at one of OldJob’s minute clinics. For some reason I thought running to a minute clinic at lunch would be easier than getting a note from my doc. It was the dead of winter and they had me get on the scale in my coat and winter boots. (Oddly, I did not get a follow-up call for the extra weight.) The minute clinic nurse then attempted to give me a pinprick on the tip of my finger for a blood test. For the first and last time in my life, I had a ton of blood coming out of my finger that would not stop no matter what the nurse and I tried. Didn’t enjoy the experience, didn’t come back next year. Since that was the first year rolling the program out, the employer didn’t ding us on any of our numbers being “off”, as long as we’d had any numbers to enter into the test result fields, we were good. They were supposed to start harassing people for their results being under/over limit in the following year, but by then, I left that job.

        1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people

          I had a specialist’s office do that once – weighed me while I was wearing a coat, purse, and hiking boots. There were other reasons I decided not to have knee surgery, but them deciding to be “efficient” and record my weight without giving me time to take off my boots and set my purse somewhere did not do them any favors. (On the bright side, I probably could have pulled off an “amazing” amount of weight loss by my second appointment by dumping all the change out of the bottom of my purse and wearing sandals.)

        2. pcake

          I had my ex-regular doctor weigh me in my street clothes in winter. I was also wearing steel toed boots that weighed in at 9 pounds (I weighed them when I got home), a 6 pound jacked and another 4 pounds of 2 shirts and pants. Yes, my clothes weighed 21 pounds, and they told me I was putting on weight :-/

      5. Ros

        I’ve also had that happen. I was 37 weeks pregnant and was like WHERE DID YOU THINK I WAS GROWING HIM, ON MY HEAD??!

        1. Ros

          … Come to think of it, that was also the job that required a doctor’s attestation of my pregnancy at 38 weeks, when I was so huge that you could literally SEE the belly move under my shirt when the kid kicked.

          Guess who used mat leave to find a new job and never stepped foot in that building again? OOOOH YEAH.

      6. NLMC

        Same thing happened to me. Eight months pregnant and then a couple years later I was 6 months pregnant during biometric screening time. The person doing the measurements both times was apologetic and knew it was ridiculous but it was the “rules.”
        I did get extra points between those two years for my improvement from the previous year….

      7. Parenthetically

        Ye gods, I’m so sorry, I cannot stop laughing at this. It’s like something from a 70s British sketch comedy. Did a portly male nurse come in mid-exam dressed as a geisha but still asking serious medical questions? Did the doctor pull out a rubber chicken at the end and chase her from the room with it?

    2. blink14

      The company my father works for does something similar. He makes a point to undermine the validity of the BMI index every year, to his great satisfaction;.

      1. NotAnotherManager!

        Ugh, the BMI. According to their stupid chart, my spouse is obese. If he ever gets into their “ideal” weight range, I’d have to have him checked for a tapeworm or serious medical condition because he’d be emaciated.

        1. Jadelyn

          Ugh, the BMI. You know there are Olympic athletes who are “obese” by BMI standards? It was never meant to be a measure of individual health! I have to fight the urge to shake people every time I hear those three letters.

          1. Aleta

            Uggggh I hate BMI, I have doctors fuss at me for being underweight by its standard, when in fact I have an EXTREMELY small frame (like, I can wrap my hand around my arm midway from my wrist to my elbow small) and while I’m pretty skinny, I have more body fat than other people who are my height but weigh more than me. I once had a university doctor immediately assume I had an ED before even looking at me (I don’t), and advised me to gain weight until my ribs weren’t visible anymore (spoiler alert: they weren’t and never have been).

            1. blink14

              I have the opposite problem – back before I gained weight due to some chronic medical issues, my weight was just into the overweight BMI range for my height. I was at a healthy, normal weight for my body type.

              I had been about 15 pounds lighter in college, and while that was smack in the middle of normal BMI, looking back I was SO thin for my body type, bone structure, etc. A maintainable, healthy weight for me is going to be considered on the line of normal to overweight on the BMI scale. Now, my weight has me in the obese category on the scale, which again, I am definitely overweight due to some health issues, which are making it nearly impossible to lose weight in a healthy way, but a normal weight was already skewed, so who knows where I am at this point. BMI is the worst!

    3. Amber Rose

      God, am I glad I never have to deal with this.

      My blood pressure when checked by others is always extremely high, because I’m terrified of medical staff and blood pressure checks send my anxiety spinning. My actual blood pressure when I check it is quite normal though.

      1. blink14

        White Coat Syndrome! I, too, have the same problem, and it got worse after a major surgery.

      2. NotAnotherManager!

        I had this happen at my first prenatal appointment because I knew they were going to draw blood and have (had, really – daily insulin shots are a great way to get over it) an awful needle phobia.

      3. Jadelyn

        Same! They always have to do my BP twice when I go in, I warn them in advance, they’re like “just relax, it’ll be okay” then “hmm. Sit here for a minute or two, then we’ll try it again” and the second time it’s back down into normal ranges. It doesn’t seem to matter what I say, they always think if they “coach” me on the first go-round it’ll magically work out and they won’t have to try again.

        1. General Ginger

          Exactly what happens to me. “Just relax” — no, you relax! You’re taking my blood pressure, which I’m anxious about, and no amount of you saying “relax” is gonna magically make it normal.

      4. Parenthetically

        Iatrogenic hypertension, while being one of my favorite phrases, is not one of my favorite experiences.

      5. General Ginger

        I had to have three months of satisfactory BP readings prior to an important surgery. Every time I came in to have it measured, I asked them to do two readings, one at the start of the appointment (me, fresh from driving in through awful traffic, anxious about the BP reading, hella White Coat syndrome) and one at the end (me having calmed down some, breathing slowly, etc). It’s the only thing that worked.

    4. Engineer Girl

      I was annoyed becaue they misinterpreted the data.

      They asked about a single week. That week as a month after my dad died and also at a time when I had an injury that curtailed my exercise.
      They of course interpreted it as being at risk for major depression and an unhealthy lifestyle due to not enough exercise.

      They got an earful on statistical analysis and interpreting trends based on a single data point.

      I refused to answer any questions after that.

      1. Anonymous 5

        Thankfully this wasn’t tied to insurance premiums, but one year in undergrad, the athletic department had a…maybe dietician perhaps? come in to talk with the varsity athletes about disordered eating (already a hot-button topic around my campus). We all had to take quick questionnaires; can’t remember if we had to turn them in with our names. Among the questions: did we exercise for more than an hour at a time, did we exercise more than 4 days a week, did we ever exercise more than once in a day, did we ever exercise while tired, did we ever schedule other activities around exercise. At the end, we tallied up all of the “yes” answers.

        Whatever credential the invited speaker had, they proceeded to talk to a roomful of in-season college varsity athletes and tell all of us that our quizzes flagged us as being high-risk for exercise bulimia.

        1. AnotherAlison

          I know it’s not really your point, but it would be nice if they had a qualified person looking after your wellness because varsity college athletes in many sports can be at a high risk for exercise bulimia.

          Plus, I know some of the heavier kids on my son’s college baseball teams were told to lose weight before the season, but they don’t really get a plan or reasonable timeline to do this. It sets them up for failure or turning to ill-advised plans. (I suppose Sept.-January is very possible to lose 40 lbs for a 22 y.o. male, but if he could do that, he probably wouldn’t have 40 lbs. to lose. . .)

          1. Anonymous 5

            For sure. That was possibly the worst part of the whole deal: people who might actually have benefited from having a safe, professionally-competent person available instead got an hour long lecture of platitudes. At best, this was useless.

          2. Dahlia

            Teenagers and young adults REALLY shouldn’t be being told to lose weight. That’s awful for mental health and is just setting them up for a lifetime of yoyo dieting.

    5. Watry

      I know I’m late but haaaaaate. I have Type 1 diabetes, ain’t nothing gonna fix my blood glucose issues outside of an islet cell transplant. And I have comorbidities out the wazoo. Nothing that can be done. So am I to be punished/not rewarded because of my genetics?

  11. MoneyPowerPizza

    The more that I learn about the Theranos scandal, the more I become convinced the myth of “corporate wellness” comes directly from the Safeway CEO who kept using Theranos’ fraudulent numbers for projections without explaining to his board what it was beyond calling it a “wellness play.” People just assumed the crazy projections were tied to the Safeway “wellness benefits program” that was being mythologized at the time. On some level it makes sense, he was outright lying about his program at the time so convincingly that it even ended up in the Affordable Care Act! To this day, Steve Burd continues to work with lobbying groups to perpetuate the fully debunked myth that he reduced Safeway’s healthcare costs.

  12. nonprofit writer

    I had an even weirder situation! I was working as a grant writer at a fairly big nonprofit. We were applying for a grant from a small foundation (I think we were invited to apply by someone who knew someone at my org but I can’t recall) and their grant application included health and wellness questions–as in MY health and wellness. I reached out to the contact there and politely inquired about the questions as we assumed they were trying in an awkward way to ask about the populations we served. Nope. They said they knew grant writers often experienced burnout (?!) and that they wanted to take that into account (?!). The questions included whether/how often I smoke, how my emotional and sexual life was, whether I spent enough time on leisure activities, etc.

    My whole dept enjoyed a laugh and I worked with my boss to write a polite demurral refusing to answer those questions about myself, but providing some bland language about how our organization prioritized staff health and wellness through comprehensive benefits. We did not get the grant and considered it a bullet dodged.

    1. Sharrbe

      “Tell me about your personal sex life or I won’t give your employer money”?!?! That is ALL kinds of messed-up.

      1. Gazebo Slayer

        I’d say I hope their lawyers talk some sense into them for that, but I doubt they’d listen.

    2. Fortitude Jones

      I’m not in grant writing, but I do write proposals for a living, and I have never heard of such a thing, lol. I too would have declined and took exception to the language used in the RFI/P – why in the world would they need to know this about the person submitting the grant? You weren’t personally applying for it, so that’s just bizarre.

  13. Celeste

    My feeling on “wellness” activities is that it exists to create jobs for people at many levels. It adds costs to the insurance program and then seeks to prove that it reduced healthcare costs. It’s a shell game, in other words. I don’t need someone at the mail order pharmacy number to refer me to a pharmacist to ask about how many doses can be safely missed when they hold refills hostage because of costs–I already have a doctor who said the medication is needed every day! We also learned that blood sugar test strips can cost a LOT more when bought through one of these mail order services with insurance than they do in a store paying cash. Follow the money.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Yes, it’s a scam that the insurance agencies are using to keep money in their pockets. They’d rather pay “consultants” to feed false information to the public in the sick attempt to get people to stop seeing the doctor, let alone taking their advice!

      I mean insurance agencies also hire people who have MDs yet do not practice medicine for an array of reasons to be their backing to this nonsense. Yeah, I really trust those people who haven’t ever had or have let their licenses lapse to tell me that maybe I don’t need to to take all my medication as directed, right/right.

      1. BerkeleyFarm

        Let’s hire some busybodies to dispense medical advice instead of actual working doctors and nurses! What could go wrong?!

  14. starzzy

    My university does something similar. Like previous commenters, we take a blood test that runs our numbers and then talk twice a year with the wellness consultant over the topics discussed in the OP. Each time we do all 3, we get $150 that year.

    Personally, I don’t mind it much because the wellness consultant isn’t prying. She basically asks if I have any health goals until the next time we talk (I usually say I just want to maintain what I do) and she might touch on emotional or financial stuff very lightly, but then backs off when I simply say “I have all that taken care of.”

    All in all, it’s literally 3-5 minutes of my time twice a year and I essentially get paid $75 for each call.

    And for me, since it’s university-wide, it’s not anything that my boss, or even his boss has any hand in, so complaining or suggesting alternatives would do nothing.

  15. Not Me

    “Also, it’s very unlikely that a single “consultant” is equipped to useful substantive counsel on all of those topics, even if you wanted them to, and I’d question the skills of anyone who pitches themselves that way.”

    Exactly what I was thinking. Sounds like the definition of someone overreaching

    1. Antilles

      +1
      You could legitimately spend your entire career trying to master any *one* of those topics – there’s a reason why “nutritionist” is a completely different degree than “financial planner”.

      1. Half-Caf Latte

        Alternatively, you could cycle through being a wellness coach, nutrition guru, financial expert, and makeup salesperson, like half of my IG feed.

    2. Sharrbe

      Oh man, you can have fun with it though. “Wellness guru, I’m having some reservations about the afterlife. I continually steal my neighbor’s newpaper. Does this mean I won’t get into heaven when I die? Should I just change to a religion that doesn’t believe in an afterlife? Do you have any recommendations?”

      1. Not Me

        And ask for financial suggestions on how to afford your own paper…and emotionally deal with all the negative headlines…and how to use the paper for your creative outlet…and how you really think having a paper route would help with your physical health…and on and on and on. :)

        1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people

          Running away from the neighbor’s dog while stealing their paper is an important component of my exercise routine. It’s a great way to add a little cardio at the start of the day. Sometimes I have to wrestle with the dog for the paper too, which is probably good for core strength. If I give up stealing their newspaper, do you have suggestions for what other simple exercises I can build into my morning that would have similar health benefits?

  16. Lena Clare

    Ugh. This is as creepy as the letter about guys flirting with younger women on LinkedIn!

    I guess that employers do this because they do know that a healthy and happy employee is to their benefit but it never ceases to amaze me the actual lengths they will go to to avoid paying for decent things that will work!

    Ping pong tables and enforced lunch breaks instead of time off or effective insurance, just so they can tick a box.

    I object to having to fill in the details of why I’m absent when I’m sick; to me that’s too invasive. But this is even more so.

    My employers have just started an initiative which asks about your work-life balance and emotional health every time you meet your manager for your supervision.
    What I’d really like is to be treated like an adult and trusted that I’ll bring any problems to my boss when needed, not forced to give a run down of my emotions when I meet just because.

    Rant over!

    1. Zombeyonce

      I definitely do not want to talk to my manager about my emotional health! It’s also a terrible idea because good managers will pay attention to work/life balance indicators (like working a ton of hours). The jobs where you often need more balance seem to always be the ones with the managers that don’t give a crap how you’re doing in that respect and overwork you, so bringing it up with them just makes them mad that you complained.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Emotional well being…with your manager. No. Never. Ever.

      I am annoyed AF that I get questioned about my relationship during routine physicals now, again at least that’s a doctor but still, a lot of these things have gotten so far out of hand. How many people who are suffering either in bad emotional health or in a bad relationship are going to be open? Instead it just pries and makes people feel unsafe in their place of work or doctors office!

  17. DataGirl

    I’m pretty sure the people who run our ‘Wellness’ programs would actually be better suited as Girl Scout leaders or Kindergarten teachers. They are desperate to make this ‘a workplace of choice!’ So our ‘benefits’ include things like arts & crafts sessions, a book lending program (with like, 10 books available to 250 people), scavenger hunts, and this types of coaching sessions (financial, spiritual, etc). Meanwhile our actual health care options are terrible, we get very little PTO, we are underpaid and overworked and micromanaged about where we can eat, what we can have in our cube (nothing personal), and who we can talk to/what we can talk about, among many other things. It’s ridiculous.

    1. Jadelyn

      A book lending program? They…have heard of libraries, right? Like, book lending programs already exist in the wild, they’re called libraries.

      1. Miso

        God yes, that makes me actually mad. Like, get your employees free library cards, that’d be way more effective!

      2. DataGirl

        IKR? They think stuff like this makes them ‘cool’ but really it just makes them look out of touch.

    2. Mockingjay

      (Off topic, but as a former Girl Scout leader, the training to become one is actually pretty rigorous. It’s a lot more than craft sessions. I’m outdoor certified, which means I can take Juniors and Cadets into the wilderness and teach them orienteering and survival skills, as well as environmental awareness.)

      1. DataGirl

        I’m also a former Girl Scout leader. I was not being disparaging. Most of my event planning experience comes from Girl Scouts.

  18. Sleepytime Tea

    If it’s not required of you (and there’s no tie to how much your benefits cost by participating in these) then I would say decline and leave it be. Some people DO find value in these services, especially if they’re provided on-site at work. Personally, I’ve taken advantage of some of these types of things at work, to a very limited extent and only to which I was comfortable, and I’ve found some value. So since some people appreciate the services, I wouldn’t do anything which would aim to deprive them of that. That said, if anyone is asking whether or not it’s required, I would definitely be telling them they don’t have to participate.

    1. Fortitude Jones

      Exactly. I never bristled at the stupid questions I’ve been asked because I was receiving money toward my HSA/medical deductible, which I needed at the time. Yeah, some of this stuff is invasive and hokey, but as long as it’s truly optional, then it’s no big deal – if you hate it, don’t participate. It’s that simple.

  19. AnotherAlison

    We have a whole program and have for years. It’s moved around, but the latest is Rally through UHC. We have a survey, physical with finger stick, weigh-in, etc. At least now the counseling is optional, but it used to be required if you didn’t meet the metrics. I never had to do the phone counseling, but just meeting with the person to go over your results was bad enough. Not that they need to be, but I the wellness counselors were never particularly fit and healthy looking people, and yet it didn’t stop the guy from telling me I could be “high school skinny” if I ate a more balanced diet. . .when I weighed like 125 (127 fully dressed). Um, yeah. Cause at 35 I needed to weigh 110 again at 5′-4″.

    1. Zephy

      I could be “high school skinny” if I ate a more balanced diet

      I’m glad I’ve never worked for a place that did this kind of thing. My guy, I was heavier in high school.

      1. AnotherAlison

        I will say we are self-insured and get a 50% reduction in premiums if you do the program. Plus, I pay 20% to their 80% of the premium, so I am willing to put up with it. . .somewhat.

    2. Anonynonymous

      We use Rally, too, and I make it a point to tell our employees that NO ONE from our company sees ANY of the biometric screening and survey results. We just get a bland report: Done / Not Done. And we have no mandated follow-up.

      One of my teammates who actually does most of the coordination will tell people that they can answer however they want – if they try to say they’re perfectly healthy, we don’t care and wouldn’t know anyway.

      A lot of our people do it just to save on their insurance premiums, and that’s it. For me, it made me face an issue and get to work with my doctor, so I guess that’s a good thing.

    3. cmcinnyc

      omg I weighed 98 lbs. in high school. I was a gymnast, all muscle, and ate about 4,000 calories a day. Those Days Are Gone. I would seriously have to challenge one of these “wellness coaches” to a cartwheel contest down the hall, because *that* I can still do.

      1. Guacamole Bob

        I also weighed 98 lbs in high school… and it was Not Good. Skinnier is not always better, people!

        1. AnotherAlison

          Right? When I was postpartum at age 27, I weighed 105. Which was also what I weighed when I was a pre-pub 13 y.o. (Which also makes me reflect on wtf was going on in my life then, and why wasn’t I more aware.)

          My “normal” weight from ages 30-40 seems to be 120+/-, but even settled in there, I fluctuate among 3 clothing sizes depending if that is superfit me, or not-so-fit me. Weight alone shouldn’t be a wellness convo.

      2. Anax

        Man, I was a tiny gymnast as a kid too; it was pretty great, but I’m never doing an oversplit again, and I am Very OK With That.

        (Not least because I’m FINALLY getting the Ehlers-Danlos diagnosis I’ve needed for fifteen years…)

    4. Delta Delta

      i could be high school skinny if I went back to working out 2 1/2 hours a day and eating basically nothing but fruit. That feels… unlikely.

  20. TyphoidMary

    Just here as a therapist to say I hate this.

    (the “wellness” program, not Alison’s accurate criticism)

  21. NotAnotherManager!

    Alison hit my big sticking point with these programs right off:

    You’re right that if your employer wants to offer wellness benefits, they should offer things like healthy food at work and discounted gym memberships and — most important — great health insurance and ample paid time off. And if they’re not offering those last two, this kind of program is particularly insulting.

    Don’t send me to a wellness seminar that advises me to do things that would get me fired from my job.

  22. Ms. Meow

    This is probably going to be an unpopular opinion, but they offered, you said ‘no’, and that was that. It wasn’t mandatory, so what’s the big deal? If they made it mandatory or connected it to receiving any benefits then that would have be awful. I don’t think you need to do anything else. Most places I have worked have offered something like this. Yeah, it’s weird and invasive, but you opt out and go on with your life.

    1. pleaset

      Yup. As long as they made it clear it’s optional.

      OP wrote “I replied and politely declined the benefit.”
      And I thought “Good!”

    2. mark132

      As long as the data isn’t funnelled back to my employer, I’m ok with it. I don’t find it terribly useful to be honest.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch

        That’s illegal to do, employers cannot access your health information. Its strictly for health-care purposes.

    3. NotAnotherManager!

      Because it normalizes the provision of your personal data to your employer as part of your employment. I have also seen these sorts of things as test balloons for tying participation to benefits discounts (or adding a premium to people who want to maintain their privacy). Life coaching/counseling can be offered as a benefit via a standard EAP plan without this sort of thing.

      And, for too many places, optional is “optional” and there are consequences for declining to participate, even if they’re not stated up front, like HR hassling managers about low participation rates. Particularly for new employees, it can be hard to tell what’s truly okay to opt out of.

      1. Parenthetically

        “Because it normalizes the provision of your personal data to your employer as part of your employment.”

        Yep. Just yep.

        1. Zap R.

          This exactly. Also, in my experience, very few “optional” things in the workplace tend to be truly optional.

      2. I Need Coffee

        This! I am lucky that I can afford to choose privacy over a premium discount at my employer, but not everyone can. I shouldn’t have to fill out a survey requesting my reproductive plans and then meet several random “challenges” just to earn the health insurance discount. What started as wanting you to know your biometric numbers for personal knowledge quickly morphed into play our game or pay up.

    4. LW

      I said this in another reply, but I’m queer and not out at work so was pretty alarmed by the prospect of someone asking a lot of questions about my relationships. It also wasn’t especially clear that it was optional – I had to be pretty insistent when I opted out, and even after that I got a few more messages making sure I really _really_ didn’t want to participate.

      You’re right that it’s a no harm no foul situation since it’s not mandatory, but the company likes to talk about diversity and inclusion so I felt some responsibility to let them know that this missed the mark. I ended up raising my concerns privately to a manager I’m friendly with – they may or may not do anything with that feedback, but at least it’s out there.

    5. smoke tree

      It doesn’t sound like it was clear that it was optional until the LW declined. I’m sure some people could feel obligated to go through with it, or could face some pressure to participate. Also, I’m pretty skeptical that any of this advice would have much value if there is a single consultant for all of these topics, so you never know what awful advice they might be telling people. And it’s really just something that employers should be keeping their noses out of, basically.

  23. Amethystmoon

    I would absolutely not want to answer any religious questions. If a person is say, agnostic or atheist, or some other belief system other than Christian, it opens up the door to discrimination by the employer. Also what, are they going to use the fact a person might not be religious to say that well, your spiritual health must be suffering, and thus charge you more? Sometimes the person might be not religious because of having been raised in an abusive environment. That’s not something the employer should have to know, however.

    Our health insurance is changing next year and our HR dept. has been useless with information. So I am nervous, having read countless horror stories here (and on other sites).

    1. Lucy Montrose

      Exactly. About 15-20 years ago there were all these studies saying that religious people were happier and people who prayed regularly were healthier. (In retrospect, the studies might have been the work of the Bush administration’s team of faith-based HHS people.)

      What’s to stop a so-inclined employer to decide that if you’re a nonbeliever, your attitude is not as positive as it should be? No one wants to hire people with negative attitudes, after all; and it would be very easy to frame “atheist” as “too negative and unhappy”, because after all– the studies said so.

    2. cheluzal

      Christians get discriminated against daily. In fact, it’s almost more acceptable to harass them than certain religions…

  24. agnes

    This is not the way any wellness program I know about works. This sounds like the kind of stuff our EAP program would help people with, but participation is initiated by the employee not the EAP provider.

  25. Zombeyonce

    I’ve had 4 employers now that claimed to be employee-friendly and cared about work/life balance and offered these kinds of “health coaching” services. None of them offered any kind of paid family leave or anything resembling ample paid time off. When they start doing things that actually benefit employees and don’t just reduce what they pay for their side of health insurance, then I’ll consider them “employee-friendly”.

  26. Radio Girl

    I worked for a good-sized media company that started using tactics like this shortly before mounting a big, expensive and ill-advised new project. The idea was tied in with reducing insurance costs and sick days. Within 18 months after the project was launched, retirement packages were offered. Then came mandatory furloughs and other cutbacks. Then older managers were forced into retirement, some with major health issues. It was cut, cut, cut for a decade. Recently, the company sold its two divisions and everyone knows its a matter of time before the axe falls again. Retirement packages and layoffs are anticipated.

    1. Radio Girl

      I should point out that we never got wellness coaching. The tests were mainly to see who might cost the company more money in a few years, we think.

  27. Samwise

    Hmm, it doesn’t sound like it was mandatory. They’re offering an optional wellness coach / consultant. If OP doesn’t want the benefit, then pass on it. I’m not sure how an *optional* benefit is intrusive or over-stepping.

    1. Jellyfish

      It was “optional” at one of my former jobs too, but the already lackluster insurance cost you quite a bit more if you opted out of the wellness consultation.

    2. RussianInTexas

      The problem with these things is that usually the insurance company requires some level of participation from the employer. Then the employer uses various pressure tactics to make sure they get to that level, even if the participation is technically “optional”.
      My group is working on a rather large and important RFP right now (like, we would not make a LOT of money if we decide to skip it), and the potential customer straight up asks if the bidding vendor has a wellness program, and the participation rate. With document support.
      You bet all of us are very STRONGLY encouraged to participate in the wellness program.

  28. CupcakeCounter

    Oh no no no no
    My work has wellness initiatives but they are things like on-site bio-metric screenings for the annual health insurance sign-up (so we don’t have to make a Dr appt), an online health assessment you take through the insurance company (not my company) for $X savings/year on your premiums, maps for various walking paths around the campus, health club discounts, legal assistance, a really good EAP, free smoking cessation programs, etc…

    1. Detective Amy Santiago

      This sounds like my employer, though we do earn credit for $ off on our insurance by completing activities. They are things like “going to the dentist” and “getting a flu shot” though. There are coaching opportunities available for various health issues, but they aren’t in any way required. They also have plenty of self-serve modules, so you’re not necessarily talking to a person.

  29. Tricksie

    My financial well-being would be better if my job hadn’t recently announced no raises at all, given every a flat $500 raise last year, and managed about a 1% raise for a few years before that.

    Thanks, academia.

    1. Curmudgeon in Califormia

      My “merit” raise has been 2% a year for the last three years, and nothing the year before that.

      I’m losing ground WRT the local rate of inflation (which is more than the national average.)

      Thanks, academia.

    2. Academic Archivist

      That’s about what ours has been. Anytime we push back, we get a we should be for any increase. One of the reasons I’m finally looking to leave academia!

  30. TeapotNinja

    My employer has a similar wellness check as a requirement for waiving insurance premium payments as well, but it’s a self-directed web questionnaire, and the questions are typically of the form: “On a scale of 1 to 5, how important is your health to you” and “On a scale of 1 to 10 how anxious do you feel at work”.

    It doesn’t ask for details and offers suggestions on how to address any issues you flag during the questionnaire. The suggestions are typically reading material offered by the administrator of the wellness check.

    I would be really surprised if this consultant really wants to know anything beyond that.

  31. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

    I’ve worked in the white-collar non-service industry since my junior year of college (so 25 years) and this is not even close to normal professional conduct. My current company offers wellness benefits, but it’s all totally voluntary and up to the employee to use at their will. We will receive gift cards for participating in certain things, but nothing is pushed onto us. And the fact that none of your co-worked seem to think this is a problem is troubling as well, unless they’re scared to say no or speak up.

  32. Guacamole Bob

    I really wish employers would think more about the various wellness messaging they put out and how likely it is to backfire or grate on people’s nerves. The “tips for good sleep!” always seem to come out the day after one of my kids was up all night with an ear infection.

    There’s a poster in our building with wellness tips that includes “do relaxing activities for the 2-3 hours before bed” and I’m like “We’re a family with two full-time working parents and two young kids. When exactly am I supposed to do the dishes or clean the house or clear out my inbox or exercise?” It just comes across as so clueless about the realities of people’s lives. And it’s worse for people who have disabilities or medical conditions or major life stresses that make adhering to some of these wellness tips even more impossible.

    This kind of coaching or referral or whatever isn’t quite the same, but it has that same overly-chipper tone that makes it sound like you’re just a few easy life hacks away from living your best life. Sorry, no, that’s really not true for everyone, and no employer benefit is going to be able to fix that.

    1. Curmudgeon in Califormia

      This. If they wanted to help decrease my stress level, they would not have made my commute half again as long and put me into a stinking open plan.

      And the new “modern” office having ping-pong and foosball is just insulting.

  33. RussianInTexas

    We have some kind of United Healthcare Wellness program. I belong to it. It’s step counts and interoffice competition. They give you points and offer you various step counters for cheap.
    I wasn’t going to sign up, but our CFO, who is also the owner’s wife, strongly suggested to few of us who didn’t sign up to do so. Mind you, we, employees, don’t directly get any kinds of discounts from it.
    So I signed up. I’ll be damned if I give them any kind of my exercise data. The e-mails from United Healthcare go straight in to the trash.

  34. literal desk fan

    Oh god a one-on-one meeting about all that stuff sounds AWFUL! I would nope right on out of that meeting too. Geez.

    My workplace does have a wellness partner company, but the way it works is that we can fill out a yearly wellness survey online about our physical and mental wellness and do a biometric screening. Absolutely none of the info goes back to the company (or maybe it does, but if so, it’s definitely aggregated), but if you do those two things, the company will pay you a small bonus, and a little more if the biometric results are good (like low cholesterol, etc). You can earn some bonus money for doing wellness challenges through the partner website too. The company will also provide discounts on gym memberships and reimbursement for tobacco cessation stuff. Through the partner site, you can sign up for wellness coaching if you want it, and they have some video courses you can watch, but everything is optional. Nothing like this should ever be mandatory! I would definitely push back on this if you have the standing to do so. Just thinking of having to go through with something like this gives me the heebie-jeebies, lol.

    1. Curmudgeon in Califormia

      As someone with chronic health issues which are either genetic or a disability, this is discriminatory as hell.

      I would get screwed over by this.

      All the “normal” people with great genes would get bonuses, and people who will never, ever be “normal” get zip.

  35. Lily in NYC

    If it’s not mandatory, then what’s the issue? I wouldn’t care to participate, but many people I work with love this kind of thing. We have a step challenge every few months and I was surprised at how many people joined and got really into it. It’s not my cup of tea but I don’t see the problem if no one is forcing you into it and if you aren’t losing out on a possible discount in health care costs if you don’t participate

  36. Really? I didn't know that!

    A former employer did this type of thing with the biometric testing – after which I was sent targeted information for whatever health program could solve my ‘problems’. In a moment of stupidity I thought hey, maybe they could really help – maybe there is something I haven’t thought of to lose weight in all of my years of striving to lose weight……Did you know that by limiting my calories and increasing my movement I could positively impact by weight? And by setting small goals with a non-food reward I could start changing my habits! DAMN, I never knew that! Why didn’t someone share this knowledge with me earlier? Yeah, that was an hour of my life I’ll never get back!

  37. XtinaLyn

    My company provides wellness benefits to the tune of having your medical coverage thru Kaiser paid at 100% if you complete the wellness program. We have to fill out a form that is turned into a third-party vendor to keep our information out of the hands of our employer, and we only have to do extra steps (like phone meetings with a nurse practitioner) if we 1. smoke or 2. are diabetic. Otherwise, get a physical from your doctor, submit the results to the vendor, and BOOM–zero deductible health coverage all year. It’s worth over $2,200 in saving for the average employee–why not do it?

  38. KRM

    At my old company we had an “opt-in” wellness system–but it was a program that you could use to track steps and activity (you connected your fitbit type device, and if you didn’t have one you could get a free one from the company) and get money or gift cards based on points you earned in a quarter. It was sponsored through the health plan, but there were no “get a discount if you do this” or anything–just earning money. Easiest $460 I ever earned, by just syncing my fitbit to the app. But you literally only signed up with your health insurance number, and that was it. It doesn’t ask any health questions, and it had a system for people who may not have been able to be as active to participate if they wanted to participate. That, along with Alison’s suggestions, feel like the only things that really would be OK for a wellness type program.

    1. The New Wanderer

      Our company’s annual wellness challenge used to be like this. Opt-in, self-report (or sync a device) on a single metric like step counts, and earn a cash reward for hitting certain goals. That was pretty ideal if you were so inclined.

      The program, and all the peripheral wellness related stuff, is now run by yet another new third party company with very questionable data privacy terms and fewer people are signing up because they don’t want this third party company to have access to their financials (it’s in the terms!), much less their extended medical info. All that personal data just handed over, and the top reward is $100.

    2. Curmudgeon in Califormia

      Yeah, as a physically disabled person this is hostile to me.

      Most of my “exercise” is simply stuff like shopping, which never registers on those trackers.

      Plus, what they consider a “minimum” is enough to put me in pain. Walk a mile? Sure, if I am ok with not being able to move the next day or so, and popping analgesics like candy. A mile a day? Not happening.

  39. Jen

    Ugh, hate these. At least it wasn’t paired with some “lose wait and save money” bullshit programs. We almost had one of those at work this year, but it melted into thin air. Thank god because I have a co-worker who just completed an intensive inpatient program for an eating disorder.

    Our way of paying to stay alive is sadistically fucked up.

  40. MissDisplaced

    I would not be comfortable talking about these areas with my employer (or consultant — which you know will share the data with the employer) with the exception of Career – loving what you do every day.

    If it’s not mandatory like the LW with the ‘group therapy sessions led by the boss’ I would simply ignore it / decline to participate. I suppose some people might find it useful if they don’t have access to anything else.

  41. Corporate Slave

    This is becoming all too common. The only way we can get it to stop is by not opting in and giving away our personal data, which today is our most valuable asset.

  42. C

    My company offers access to a “wellness coach” if you want it, but it’s not required. I have not taken them up on it. I’m quite well aware of the ways in which I could be healthier and don’t need a coach to tell me otherwise.

  43. President Porpoise

    I will say, these programs aren’t all bad. I’m 31, and last year went to one of those on site wellness checks, and they flagged my non-fasting cholesterol as above 800 (200 is high). Of course, I was pregnant, so I couldn’t do anything about it, but now I can! It wasn’t on my radar at all, and I generally don’t do a yearly physical, so it did help in my case.

  44. MaraEmerald

    My company started just giving us a $500 dollar bonus, and a list of “wellness” things that they recommend we spend it on (more fruits/veggies, exercise equipment, gym memberships, camping trips, etc.) They don’t check, of course. Now THAT is how you do a wellness program.

  45. What hill? I never noticed a hill...

    When I received a retirement package from a large manufacturing company, it included “consultation” with a life coach who would cover the same subjects: financial advice, spiritual well-being, mental health, etc. They were fairly persistant, and it felt insulting. The assumption seemed to be that, although I’d been capable of handling a $40,000,000 portfolio without difficulty for several decades, retirement was going to gut me. Frankly, I’d rather have had the fees they were paying the coach than the coaching!

  46. staceyizme

    It sounds like they’re offering some form of coaching as a wellness benefit. Without a proper introduction and the ability to opt in or out, however, this is a mess (and feels intrusive). If true, either the coach lacks credentials and experience or this is a hard sell with a high likelihood of being of little lasting value.

  47. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device

    It also feels relevant here that the “coach” in question might have any sort of training and qualifications, or none at all: anyone can set up as a “life coach,” with or without training or experience.

    Or maybe they want you to get your financial advice from someone with a masters in social work, your mental health counseling from a physical therapist, your exercise advice from a bookkeeper, and your career advice from a long-distance truck driver: all people with actual training, but not of a sort that’s likely to be relevant. (There might be someone for whom “quit your office job and get a commercial driver’s license” would be good advice, but the chances are very much against it for any individual.)

  48. LW

    Letter writer here – Alison’s advice and these comments are making me feel so much better! All my co-workers were so unconcerned and my immediate gut reaction was such a strong NOPE that I was starting to get that “wait am I actually in an alternate universe, I was led to believe there would be wacky hijinks” feeling.

    Some additional details that I left out of the original letter:
    – I’m queer and not out at work, so I was extra nervous about potentially having to lie about my relationships
    – I’m also a gender minority in an extremely male-dominated industry that rhymes with “feck” – let’s just say I’ve already rocked the boat at this company by pointing out that it might be a good idea for the office to have beverage options other than beer
    – that said, the company does offer solid health insurance, PTO, and paid parental leave, so they’re not doing too badly all things considered

    I ended up raising my concerns privately to a manager I’m friendly with. They may or may not do anything with them, but at least it’s out there so I don’t feel like I’ve failed my future privacy-loving and/or queer coworkers.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      It’s unsurprising that you’re in said industry and the heavily male population is okay with the invasive questions that are involved.

      This is also why they’re offering this, since it’s probably a relatively young workforce too. So y’all have that sweet spot that insurance companies adore to throw themselves at. I cringe when I get the “Yeah you’ve got a roster that insurance providers drool all over!”. Men are cheaper to insure and if they can get it down even lower by having these programs in place, that’s really really low premiums.

  49. LV426

    My job is doing this through Cigna. They had us all sign up for these various online wellness programs that you answer questionnaires and then they “match” you with these online counselors or life coaches that you then have to pay to get an assessment and plan to improve your life. I thought it was all just an anonymous questionnaire until I started getting emails trying to direct me to life coaching and in one case I got a call from a therapist who does online life coaching and therapy chat sessions that wanted to help me with my issues. I was seriously cheesed off about it because the company never told us that this was what we were doing. They basically told us we had to take these online programs in order to have the reduced rate on our health insurance. Crap like this should be illegal. Well to be honest health insurance should be illegal. Healthcare should not be for profit but that’s another rant for another day.

  50. MsFrisby

    I would like to petition that everyone stop calling it a “discount if you do it” and instead call it what it really is, “pay a hefty penalty if you don’t do it.” I don’t like my employer and my insurance company putting a gun to my financial stability over information that should be private between my doctor and myself.

    1. YetAnotherNerd42

      And often as not that hefty financial penalty makes such programs de facto mandatory.

  51. Snowy

    Call me paranoid, but I would be very interested to find out if the wellness coach was a wife/husband of someone in management. Or if there’s an MLM somehow involved.

  52. Mark Roth

    Am I alone in being turned off by the idea of one person being an expert in all of these areas?

  53. Media Monkey

    any other non-US readers very glad that they don’t have this sort of thing tied to their healthcare?

    we have an employee wellness programme. there is a wellness lounge with comfy chairs and a no talking/ no work/ no screens rule that anyone can use at any time, there are hourly (optional) guided mediations on a wednesday, they trained multiple people to recognise and help guide people with mental health issues or burnout towards the right kind of help, and there is training for managers in recognising mental health issues in their teams. plus fully paid for private healthcare once you have been here a year.

  54. Utoh!

    This is not my company but my insurer who makes you pay more if you do not follow through on your regular check-ups (physical, mammo, dental, etc.). It’s a hands-off approach that works for me.

  55. Us, Too

    I work for one of the big tech companies in Silicon Valley and the wellness opportunities are AMAZING. They are things that really do improve my wellness. And I don’t have to give any goon at corporate any of my personal data to obtain these things. A few examples:
    1. I have a $700+/year budget to pay for any sort of exercise class or personal training or whatever that I want. I can even use it for a national parks pass to hike or whatever. I choose what i want to spend the money on and submit receipts for reimbursement.
    2. We have an onsite doctor/dentist/eye doctor (with frames you can buy), etc. The only time I leave the corporate campus is for well-woman checkups or urgent care needs. (Oh and my therapist).
    3. We have onsite gym with personal trainers and nutritionists, etc available if we want them. The gym is free but you pay for the personal trainers. The nutritionists are specifically trained to help you navigate the snacks and food at work as well, identifying how to find the best options at specific buildings to meet your goals.
    4. We have chef-prepared meals that identify all ingredients and give guidance on their relative health (red, yellow, green) plus a salad bar.
    5. We have an amazing mental health/therapy program available.
    6. Unlimited sick time
    7. ACTUAL PARENTAL LEAVE!
    8. Fantastic health insurance.
    9. A reasonable leave of absence program if you need it for non-parental leave reasons.

    The list goes on and on. These perks are available because the competition to hire engineers is so high, but I have to admit that they really do impact my wellness. I am going in for regular checkups and such for the first time in my life thanks to the convenience. I eat way more salad than before because there’s never a line for salad and it’s always available. The FREE therapist I saw has really helped me prioritize things and manage my stress better. I signed up my family for the YMCA using my $700 budget and will be taking swim classes just for fun as well. Maybe this old dog can learn some new tricks. :)

  56. workerbee2

    “7 dimensions of wellness” is a big buzzphase right now in certain fields (including mine – Medicaid managed care). It’s about recognizing that wellness is an overall state of wellbeing, and not the absence of disease. There’s a lot of thought that goes into how we can foster wellness among the individuals we serve as an end in and of itself, and not as a cost-saving measure.

    While this can be a cost-saving measure, it’s probably just as much a “we care about the whole person” approach. This “wellness program” is not the way to go about that, though – it’s intrusive. What they should be doing instead is looking at existing processes and systems to answer the question “what can we do as a company to foster overall wellness among our employees?” The actual solutions will be more difficult and likely more expensive to implement than this “wellness coaching.”

    TL;DR: I think this is likely a ham-fisted attempt at good optics around caring about employees’ overall well-being.

  57. Sleepy Librarian

    My employer does this and it’s all through the insurance company. I don’t lie on the biometrics but for the spiritual, financial, non-of-your-business stuff I just say everything’s great so I can get the money they pay back for it.

  58. MommyMD

    It’s not mandatory. If you don’t want to partake, don’t. Some people will. My employer offers something like this to employees who are stressed with trouble in their lives in these areas and it’s private, confidential, free one on one. No one is reporting this information back to your manager. It’s simply an employee assistance program.

  59. AnonPi

    My company took it to a whole new level this year (and this is a US gov’t. facility) They won’t pay for a coworkers diabetic supplies unless she uses a meter that tracks her blood glucose data and sends it to them. And I got an “offer” in the mail for a $15 gift card for Amazon if I’d let them track my asthma inhaler use via some gizmo they’d attach to it. This is in addition to all the hoops we have to jump through to earn enough “points” to get the insurance discount each year (health survey, physicals, mammogram/obgyn visits, biometric screenings, weight loss challenges, etc)

  60. CanCan

    This benefit could be useful depending on WHO you are meeting to discuss these with. This person would have to be
    (a) a qualified professional (e.g. psychologist or social worker, or someone connected with a team of professionals who could have a general conversation and direct you to appropriate resources for any of these that you’re having particular difficulties with).
    and
    (b) bound by confidentiality – vis-a-vis anyone, but most of all the employer.

    Such a program run by an independent provider, in the context of an employee/family assistance program would be fine (IMHO). Personally, I would go, sort of as a wellness mental health visit. However, if there’s any chance that any of it gets back to the employer (including number of visits, follow-up services) – no way.

    OP – check / ask for their confidentiality policy and the consultant’s credentials, if you are considering going. But if you don’t want to go either way – don’t. And if it’s “mandatory”, you can meet with them and tell them that you’re handling all of these aspects of your life well and have nothing to discuss :)

  61. theelephantintheroom

    My employer has requested we all fill out a form with this information AND disclose any disabilities and medications we take. I nope-d right out of that. If I have a disability that requires special services in the office, maybe. But I work-from-home and it’s not your damn business.

  62. lilsheba

    Oh no. NO NO NO NO NO. I will not discuss private information like that with my employer, it is NONE of their business. Not to mention it would possibly open a door to them “encouraging” you towards spiritual beliefs I’m not interested in, or being more social when I don’t want to be, etc. I like my life the way it is.

  63. Candaçe

    At my job, I have managerial responsibilities for about 45 people, in an organization of over 1000. Managers were sent emails telling us to push other employees to fill out what I considered a very intrusive, invasive questionnaire that WOULD be used to determine some aspects of our insurance. I wrote back saying that not only would I not do that, but I would not answer it myself either, that this stuff was none of their business! I sent the email to my staff saying that I had been asked to share it, but that I would not have a problem if they chose not to participate. I actually got an apology.

  64. Ella P.

    This is a really interesting topic to me.

    My husband used to work in a company that had a few parameters (weight, cholesterol, BP, etc.) and you had to do their health checks and their location… and if you were ‘high risk’ in any one of these, they would increase your health insurance payment, I think 2% for each high risk area.

    I have good benefits and we have a wellness program… all you have to do is answer their questions in an online assessment and submit numbers for weight, blood sugar, BP, cholesterol, BMI… they would do biometrics here in the office once a year, or you could have your doctor do it… i found it very intrusive but the discount was/is significant. If you were high risk you got a note from your doctor saying you were under their care. My husband does the requirements too… so we save 30% on our insurance!

    But this year, they didn’t want just doctor’s forms anymore. They wanted to either have you do biometrics in the office, or if your doc was to fill out a form, they wanted to see the actual lab’s bloodwork report itself. I had a huge issue with this but… 30%… since i have all kinds of other bloodwork done at the same time, i removed all those results from the report and submitted. But part of me is starting to wonder if this is legal and what do they need that information for. One day it’ll come back to bite me in some ‘you had a pre-existing condition’ way and I won’t get coverage is what I always think of.

    give me the discount or not but… what do you want next?

  65. Cece

    Whoa, I recently emailed Alison with a very similar question, only my employer requires a yearly physical and TB test, with a form filled out by the provider answering all sorts of none-of-their-business questions. And, their policy manual states that they will pay for any exams required by management but are refusing to pay for mine, as they have every year. Additionally, I am required to take sick leave (not all employees are) to go get my medical exams. This year I’ve had it with paying out of pocket for their mandatory exams. Sooooo. I have spent this week researching this. In case any of the readers of this blog face similar issues, here’s *some* of the research I’ve done on this topic.

    But quickly, to answer the OP, employers cannot require to you partake in these wellness programs. Period. On to my research:

    As the Americans with Disabilities Act explicitly states “A covered entity shall not require a medical examination. . . . A covered entity may conduct voluntary examinations, including voluntary medical histories, which are part of an employee health program available to employees at that work site. A covered entity may make inquiries into the ability of an employee to perform job-related functions.” “Once a person is hired and has started work, an employer can only ask medical questions or require a medical exam if the employer needs medical documentation to support an employee’s request for an accommodation or if the employer has objective reason to believe an employee would not be able to perform a job successfully or safely because of a medical condition.”

    “A medical inquiry or examination is job-related and consistent with business necessity when:
    1. an employer has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that an employee’s ability to perform essential job functions will be impaired by a medical condition, or
    2. an employer has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that an employee will pose a direct threat due to a medical condition, or
    3. an employee asks for reasonable accommodation and the employee’s disability or need for accommodation is not known or obvious, or
    4. required in positions that affect public safety, such as police and fire fighters.”

    ‘When may a disability-related inquiry or medical examination of an employee be “job-related and consistent with business necessity”?

    ‘Generally, a disability-related inquiry or medical examination of an employee may be “job-related and consistent with business necessity” when an employer “has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that: (1) an employee’s ability to perform essential job functions will be impaired by a medical condition; or (2) an employee will pose a direct threat(39) due to a medical condition.”(40) Disability-related inquiries and medical examinations that follow up on a request for reasonable accommodation when the disability or need for accommodation is not known or obvious also may be job-related and consistent with business necessity. In addition, periodic medical examinations and other monitoring under specific circumstances may be job-related and consistent with business necessity.(41)

    ‘Sometimes this standard may be met when an employer knows about a particular employee’s medical condition, has observed performance problems, and reasonably can attribute the problems to the medical condition. An employer also may be given reliable information by a credible third party that an employee has a medical condition,(42) or the employer may observe symptoms indicating that an employee may have a medical condition that will impair his/her ability to perform essential job functions or will pose a direct threat. In these situations, it may be job-related and consistent with business necessity for an employer to make disability-related inquiries or require a medical examination.
    . . . .
    ‘An employer’s reasonable belief that an employee’s ability to perform essential job functions will be impaired by a medical condition or that s/he will pose a direct threat due to a medical condition must be based on objective evidence obtained, or reasonably available to the employer, prior to making a disability-related inquiry or requiring a medical examination. Such a belief requires an assessment of the employee and his/her position and cannot be based on general assumptions. “’

    “This statutory language makes clear that the ADA’s restrictions on inquiries and examinations apply to all employees, not just those with disabilities. Unlike other provisions of the ADA which are limited to qualified individuals with disabilities,(13) the use of the term “employee” in this provision reflects Congress’s intent to cover a broader class of individuals and to prevent employers from asking questions and conducting medical examinations that serve no legitimate purpose.(14) Requiring an individual to show that s/he is a person with a disability in order to challenge a disability-related inquiry or medical examination would defeat this purpose.(15) Any employee, therefore, has a right to challenge a disability-related inquiry or medical examination that is not job-related and consistent with business necessity.”

    If an examination is required due to exposure to an active TB infection (for example), an indication that an employee has a medical condition which poses a threat to the operation of the business or makes it impossible to fulfill specific job duties, the Fair Labor Standards Act requires that considers “time spent in obtaining such a physical examination as compensable hours of work.” Thus, requiring an employee to use part of their sick leave bank violates this federal law, as well.

Comments are closed.