my company wants us to meditate and do yoga and alternative healing

A reader writes:

I work for a growing company (think of the products you’d find in Whole Foods beauty aisle) that is doing great things and genuinely has good intentions and smart people behind it. They don’t just greenwash, they are really careful about sourcing, branding, social justice, and diversity.

Sometimes they try to do things so differently from other companies that they seem to not notice where they err or enter into unethical territory. Or maybe it is just me.

For example, one of the investors, who used to work out of our office when we had one, leads online meditation classes for the team during work hours, and while people don’t get punished for not going, it does feel like those who do go get rewarded and are seen as team players. (We’re also strongly encouraged to meditate alone too.)

Also, the head of HR is a trained dietitian and yoga teacher and has regular solo meetings (online) with each employee to go over their needs, where he recommends alternative healing techniques that may have some basis in reality but aren’t exactly mainstream. It’s maybe not everyone’s idea of help, and there isn’t quite the space to say so. Also, he is the person who discusses things like salary, budgets, graphic design, and other more regular work stuff, including critiques of work and, sometimes, arguments over products. He also works alongside the CEO and clearly passes along information from sessions (and from the CEO to employees, if there are problems with their performance).

I should say that they aren’t sneaky about expecting buy-in from employees on their values and approach to work. They’re up-front about it, even though the products themselves are pretty mainstream. And it is mostly a nice change from a regular office. But on a bad day, it feels like … a cult, I guess? But are all growing businesses kind of cults? What are the rules here about mixing “real” work and alternative lifestyle things, especially when they’re presented as optional but don’t feel that way?

Nope, not all growing businesses are cults!

It’s true that some start-ups can get awfully culty, but it’s not the norm.

As for the rules on this stuff, there are legal rules and then there are just the good management practices.

Let’s do the legal ones first. Your company isn’t breaking any laws with these practices as long as they’re allowing people to opt out without penalty if they have a religious objection or a reason related to a disability. “Without penalty” includes things like ensuring that people who participate aren’t given higher salaries, better projects, better performance evaluations, or better jobs than people who opt out for religious or health reasons. Often, though, those penalties can be fairly subtle — like if someone is said to “just not fit in” or “doesn’t seem to get what we’re doing here” or, as you’ve noticed, “isn’t a team player.”

But the law aside, there are lots of problems here from a management perspective. If a company wants to offer meditation and yoga classes, great! Go for it. But it sounds like people who participate are reaping professional benefits that others don’t, and that’s a problem.

Plus, having someone meet regularly with employees to recommend alternative healing techniques is a huge overstep for a company. Then, the person who does that is the same person who critiques your work and handles salary negotiations, so that you undoubtedly feel pressure to continue attending the meetings and to appear receptive even if you’re not interested? That’s a real abuse of power, and it’s very problematic. And this person is the head of HR, who really should know better? Aggggh. Anyone with even a small amount of HR expertise would know how ill-advised this is. (It’s also odd for HR to be doing your work critiques rather than your manager. So this is a weird set-up for HR, along with everything else.)

Anyway, all of this signals to people that they’re being evaluated on how much they’re willing to embrace a particular set of values. And sometimes that’s okay, when the values are things like “customer service” or “helpfulness” or “humility” — things that are about how the company wants to operate and conduct business. But it’s not okay when the values are unrelated to the company’s business — as with things like embracing alternative medicine or meditating and doing yoga even if it’s not your thing.

Again, it’s totally fine to offer meditation and yoga as options if people want them. It’s totally fine to give people access to alternative medicine if they want it, ideally through a health care plan. It’s not okay, management-wise, to expect it and make it part of what it takes to succeed in your company.

Now, if I’m reading your letter correctly, you don’t sound terribly bothered by this, more just like you’re noticing it seems off and wondering about it. But even if you’re mostly content there, it’s useful to be aware that this stuff is problematic and not normal, if for no other reason than that it’ll shape your thinking about work in general and will help you be better positioned to spot it if it does start growing more problematic at some point.

{ 208 comments… read them below }

  1. Diahann Carroll*

    Plus, having someone meet regularly with employees to recommend alternative healing techniques is a huge overstep for a company.

    This, and HR being the ones to conduct reviews, were the only things that jumped out at me here as being weird as hell. I have a doctor, thank you, so I’m not interested in your crystals or tannis root cocktails or whatever. That needs to stop. This HR rep has no idea what invisible disabilities or minor health issues someone may have that they’re already being treated for, and something this invasive could potentially make someone feel pressured to disclose something they normally wouldn’t to get the lecturing to stop.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Which would then be reported to the CEO, because the HR shares with them. Which is HR’s job. But only if it affects the company. That is why HR should be friendly but not friends with employees and should not be offering health advice.

      1. JessaB*

        IANAL and never worked for a labour one…but if the person is giving health advice including recommending alternate treatments and is doing it regularly as part of a job, does HIPAA roll into play? I mean if you’re talking to people about specific health stuff and then reporting it to other people…it’s fishy. I don’t know if HIPAA only applies to genuine providers and not people who pretend to think they are a provider.

        1. JessaB*

          Thought of this after I hit enter…also what if the conversations about issues get into ADA territory or religious freedom or whatever. This sounds like the company is going to be in a potful of issues. Especially lately when a lot of people are calling some yoga practises cultural appropriation.

        2. Boof*

          I don’t think HIPPA / medical regulations apply because it is alternative medicine and is being presented as such

          1. Self Employed*

            IANAL but HIPPA applies to doctors’ offices and insurance, not laypeople being pushy about advice.

            But as a person with disabilities I don’t always talk about that intersect badly with alt-med, I would be really uncomfortable.

    2. Loosey Goosey*

      Yes, this is so weird and inappropriate on multiple levels. OP, I work for a tiny, early-stage start-up. This is not normal! This is *not* how all growing businesses operate! Sure, you’re expected to be invested in the “mission” of the company and be more rah-rah about its successes than at a typical corporate job, but professional boundaries between work life and personal life still exist. Your company feels like a cult because it’s being culty.

    3. Kiki*

      If the LW is worried that by bringing this up, they’ll trigger a debate about alternative healing vs. western medicine, I think it’s important to note that it would also be weird and inappropriate if the head of HR were an MD and meeting with employees to recommend colonoscopies and and antibiotics. In general, companies should stay out of employee’s health decisions beyond making sure employees are aware of the healthcare options the company is making available to them.

      1. Tidewater 4-1009*

        I worked at a hospital. My boss was a doctor. He never got involved in the healthcare of his employees. If someone asked him for general info, he would give it. If they asked him for a prescription or specific treatment, he told them to ask their doctor.

      2. Sue D. O'Nym*

        I mean, if the head of HR said something like “The company will contribute an extra $50 to your FSA if you do these things.” and one of the things mentioned was a colonoscopy, that might be different. But flat out saying “Go get a colonoscopy” is probably not good.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I once had a manager who thought he was totally justified in telling me in one to one meetings what I should and shouldn’t eat and how I must ‘lose weight’. Irrelevant to my job, my health issues are the ones that cause my weight, but I didn’t want to get into a detailed medical history with him. So it continued, more comments about how I’d be healthier if I went on a juice cleanse with him, practised yoga, meditated etc. until the day I lost my temper.

      Wish I’d just told him to STFU and that he’s not qualified to give medical advice to anyone in the first place.

    5. Sleepytime Tea*

      Well and to be recommended alternative healing techniques, you have to be willing to share any medical issues you might have. Excuse me?! I am not going to be discussing things that personal with an HR rep. And I guess I wouldn’t be a team player if I insisted I was the healthiest person on the planet, and if I did, then I guess I’d be scrutinized for any sick day I needed to take? Asking your employees to share their medical information is a tyrannosaurus rex sized overstep.

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        Ugh, I’m picturing it now:
        “I’ve been very stressed out at work lately.”
        “Have you tried meditation?”
        “Well, no, I think it has more to do with this unreasonable workload.”
        “What about CBD oil?”
        “Erm, once but it didn’t help.”
        “Pot? No judgement here. Hell, I know a guy who can get you a script!”
        “Hard pass?”
        “Oh I know! Crystals! Crystals are what you need!”
        “Can we just… talk about how 3 people quit and I’m working 80 hour weeks to keep up?”
        “Listen, unless you’ve tried all available options to improve your anxiety, I just don’t see how we can resort to reducing your workload.”

        1. Kiki*

          I could 100% see this happening at so many companies.
          I think the ultimate answer to a lot of morale questions is, “You need to hire more people and give them more resources so that people have a better work-life-balance, even if it cuts into $profits$.”
          And then the C-suite blankly stares at you and says, “… soooooo slides instead of stairs???”

        2. LW*

          LW here! Without giving too much away about what we make, let’s say it is somewhere in the realm of the things you listed. So maybe some of the problem is that we need to take a leap of faith when we create and market, so also doing it while working seems more normal?

          Reflecting more on it I guess it’s always felt like people were very happy to share their own medical issues (especially related to the products) but I don’t know how much that sharing is because they feel compelled to, and how much is because they feel comfortable. Or what a new employee who didn’t share would feel about the environment.

          1. Not A Girl Boss*

            I’ve been in my fair share of companies where people feel comfortable sharing medical details, but it was always a symptom of a more generally dysfunctional workplace. My advice is “just because everyone is participating doesn’t make it a good idea” for so many reasons Alison has gone into in the past. Namely, workplaces are not families and maintaining boundaries is ultimately good for everyone involved.
            Its good for the employee because they don’t open themselves up to discrimination or uninvited/frought conversations about medical conversations during their work day. Plus, if you have a history of leaving it at “an appointment” no one raises an eyebrow when you don’t go into the gory details of a particular appointment you’d rather keep private. Its good for the employer because they don’t risk discriminating against their employees.

            Its extra complicated because it sounds like “testimonial about the product” is tied up with details about health. It reminds me of a time I worked at a Beverage company, and everyone had to walk around pretending that they LOVED Beverage and would never be caught dead drinking any other Beverage even though we all clearly knew that our Beverage was the “store brand” Beverage compared to the much more popular “brand name” options so obviously no one actually preferred our Beverage but nevertheless we’d be encouraged to take gobs of samples of the Beverage and convert all our friends and family to the gospel of Beverage (and no, it wasn’t an MLM). The whole culture was weirdly influenced by this level of fakeness where you just had to wonder “what else is she lying about”?
            I now work at a company that’s probably similar in product line to yours (its a startup making a thing that the general public can take to improve health, that I’m actually a big fan of) and we are really careful about making sure our employees know that its marketing’s job alone to market, and we actively *discourage* proselytizing from non-marketing employees because we don’t want anyone to share something that hasn’t been vetted for accuracy, and be mistaken as a company spokesperson. Basically, we want a “not evaluated by the FDA” asterisk stamped on everything and you can’t do that when Joe from accounting casually talks to his Aunt Sue about how she should abandon cancer treatment and take our product instead and then she dies and we get sued and…. you get the point.

            Overall, this workplace is such a breath of fresh air. I really enjoy not having to be a totally open book where every change in my health is taken as an afront to the marketing efficacy of our product, and most importantly I don’t have to be so emotionally vulnerable 24/7.

        3. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

          Have you been talking with my mother lately??? She suggested I should see a therapist… An homeopathic therapist, who prescribes essential oils and fancy mixes that are nothing but expensive sugary water once the session is over.
          Both her and his HR are super nosy and need to stop, like… Yesterday

    6. HairApparent*

      Genuinely laughed out loud at the reference to tannins root! And just say no to the “chocolate mouse!” Thank you, I needed that laugh today!

    7. Quill*

      HR needs to stay the duck out of employees’ health beyond “here is our benefits, let me know if you have questions~!”

  2. Richard Hershberger*

    I am trying to wrap my head around an online meditation class, much less during work hours. How does an online medication class work, and how is it different from a particularly bad Zoom meeting? And since this is during work hours, are the participants expected to produce as much actual work as usual, or is their workload reduced to accommodate the time spent meditating?

    In any case, this is distinctly cult-like. Personally, I would be papering the country with my resume. But different stroke for different folks.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      See, I would be cool with the meditation and yoga classes since I already do both during the day anyway (normally before or after lunch). I don’t have set tasks I have to accomplish each day, so I don’t have workload concerns – as long as I make my deadlines, it really doesn’t matter when I actually do the work. I hope this company takes that same approach or else your questions are valid and should be addressed.

    2. DarthVelma*

      This. If they are doing yoga and meditation on company time, then I want my lunchtime workout of choice to be paid time as well.

      1. Threeve*

        My office does lunchtime potlucks for every conceivable holiday. They can go as long as 2 hours, it’s hard to escape early, and it’s a very “be there or be talked about” kind of deal. Not joining the potluck doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want with that window, though. Annoying but not uncommon, and I would 100% prefer meditation.

        1. Mel_05*

          If this wasn’t so common, I would wondered if you worked at my old employer.
          We had monthly lunches, individual birthday parties for every employee, and holiday parties for every holiday.

          I never had a problem opting out and working through the lunch, but unless you let multiple people know ahead of time that you were swamped and had to work through lunch, people would come to find you and want to know why you weren’t eating with them. Sometimes I scheduled doctors appointments over the lunches so I could get out of them.

          1. Lynn Whitehat*

            Oh God, the hunting people down. Horrible. If the work party is really that meaningful to someone, they will remember on their own. 99% of people doing work during the party are either legitimately too slammed to join, pretending to be, or are hoping that doing work at work will be permitted as an alternative.

      2. GothicBee*

        I feel like it’s pretty common for companies to offer a specific activity and you can either opt-in or opt-out, but opting-out doesn’t mean you get to do your own thing for that time period. If it’s company-sponsored yoga, then I wouldn’t expect opting out to mean that I can get paid for my kickboxing workout (though it would be nice). On the other hand, if they were framing it as “you can take time out of your workday to work out at the company gym” then there would be more room to push back if you wanted to go outside for a run or something instead.

    3. Loosey Goosey*

      My employer offers a Zoom meditation class as a free “wellness” perk, and I enjoy it. All the participants have their video turned off, and the teacher leads us in breathing exercises. It’s not at all compulsory (attendance is pretty low), and it’s 30 minutes once a week so there’s really no impact on productivity.

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        My employer just gave all of us a year subscription to Calm or Headspace. They’d never really know if we didn’t use it but its a great perk.

      2. UKDancer*

        Yes. My company does something similar first in person and now over Zoom. I don’t do it because I don’t find it beneficial. One of my team does it and it works for him.

        But I think this sort of thing is only a perk if it’s optional and nobody minds whether you go or not.

    4. cubone*

      I work in mental health and our org offers this. It is optional (truly optional!) and not the only type of mental health support offered to our staff, but essentially one of our staff who is also very experienced in this area (but also a registered psychotherapist, lol) walks us through a visualization or meditation exercise. You could look up a YouTube mediation/visualization and it would basically be the same, but a lot of staff do say they like following a “live” person. I don’t always attend because it’s not my personal favourite practice, but I do find taking the time out of my day to pause and centre myself is immensely helpful, and because it’s not offered with an aura of pressure, I find it to be generally a valuable offering.

      I agree with your point about the workload, but that should be considered with any and all employee training, engagement, social activities, etc. Honestly, the meditation is the least concerning of this to me. Different strokes though!

      1. Paris Geller*

        Yeah, I’d actually really enjoy an employee-sponsored twenty to thirty minute meditation class. I could see how the benefits of it would outweigh the slight loss of productivity, especially if it’s not very long. I wouldn’t want to be required to attend, but if it was a perk available to me, I’d definitely take advantage of it. I don’t find the meditation or yoga classes that strange. The rest of it, however. . .

    5. Ashley*

      If I got ‘paid’ for attending a meditation class I would be there. If I was salaried and just had to work late to finish my work load I would want to skip it, but it does sound like there are some professional benefits for attending so it might be worth attending occasionally no matter ones beliefs.

      The diet discussions are always fraught as discussed on this site over the years. I really hope these are 100% no risk because I would not want to have to disclose past or current medical history related to my diet / weight. I may try to give a generic line about my doc has this covered and one person needs to be in charge of giving me health advice.

    6. Sylvan*

      My job has actually done this successfully. One of our professional trainers is a yoga teacher on the weekends, and she led a virtual meditation session early in lockdown. It was optional, I think participants might have been anonymous (?), none of us were on camera or microphone, and it was very nice.

      But note those things: It was optional. It didn’t matter who showed up. It was pleasant. The thing the OP’s dealing with sounds pretty different – and like a huge pain.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        Same, and I’m really enjoying them (yoga, stretching, core exercises, etc.). They’ve been live during the workday and now have enough of a library to have on demand videos if you can’t make the scheduled times or want more.

        We also have a health service through our insurance that does various types of health related consulting/coaching *by Individual employee request*. But yeah, I would resent having to have dietitian conversations with anyone in my work chain of command, yikes.

    7. Threeve*

      Guided meditation. People sit quietly while a leader talks through breathing, physical relaxation, imagery, mindfulness etc.

      The mandatory-but-not-mandatory nature of it is the problem, but something being unusual doesn’t make it culty.

      1. pancakes*

        Or some other kind. There are numerous kinds of meditation. I did a study abroad program in India and Nepal on comparative meditation techniques and just about all the methods I practiced there could be done over zoom. I don’t understand what sort of technological problem people are anticipating here.

        1. CircleBack*

          My Quaker meeting went on Zoom since March & sitting in silence together virtually is fine? The shock that doing this virtually is possible/helpful is funny to me.
          I mean, if you don’t find it helpful in person, you might not find it helpful virtually. As long as it’s OK with the company that you don’t find it helpful, that’s the sticking point.

      2. Glitsy Gus*

        This. I take a meditation class online once a month outside of work. It’s really not much different from a meditation class in real life. The instructor does a little start up talk abut whatever the topic is: breathing, ways to help focus or let thoughts go, finding a good posture, whatever; then leads a guided meditation for the rest of the time. I really like it and find it helpful.

        That said, while if it were offered at work I might give it a shot, as everyone else has said it should not come with any strings or consequences of you don’t attend.

    8. Metadata minion*

      Meditation seems like one of the easier things to transition into an online format, unless it’s a style where the instructor is expected to correct people’s posture or movement. Meditation classes are usually just everyone sitting/standing/whatever while someone talks through a visualization or breathing exercise, so having everyone sit at home and listen to the speaker on their computer or phone doesn’t require changing much.

    9. Lora*

      My company started to offer this as a truly optional thing during Covid lockdowns, and a lot of people liked it. I never had time for it myself, and it was always scheduled either in the morning or at lunchtime. I’m told people were mostly instructed to do breathing exercises and think peaceful thoughts while calming music played, sort of thing – microphones muted and video off.

      Have worked for a couple of places that offered on-site or nearby gym classes (not just a gym but classes with instructors) and they all had yoga with meditation for a few minutes afterwards as one of the options. But it really was optional, and also a way to keep you at work longer…both places had bad issues with turnover and went out of their way to make you feel enmeshed in their whole corporation as a way of preventing people from quitting. Fixing the bad management so people didn’t want to quit was apparently unthinkable…

    10. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      I cannot mentally meditate due to a side-effect of a life saving medication (I can kind of towards bedtime). Where would this leave me?

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        Yeah, I can’t do any kind of conventional meditation because of my ADHD and aphantasia (i.e. I can’t be calm if I’m sitting still and I literally can’t visualize anything). I’d be pretty ticked if a company wanted to essentially torture me for my own benefit.

        However, based on what others have described I get the same benefits of meditation from going for a jog or other moderate intensity solo exercise.

        1. UKDancer*

          I get the benefits people describe from dancing (especially ballet) but can’t be calm sitting still. When I start my ballet class my mind calms down and I am completely in the moment and the activity. I think we all have to find the activity that works for us and the company shouldn’t say that a particular way of feeling good is better than others.

          1. allathian*

            Yes, I’m the same. The one time I tried mindfulness meditation, it was at work during a team development event. I’d never done it before, so I had no qualms going in. But the breathing exercises really got me into an unpleasant place, it felt like I was hyperventilating, although it wasn’t. I haven’t had a panic attack in years but I was afraid that was going to provoke it, so I had to stop. For the rest of that session, I just sat there with my eyes open, breathing normally.

            I find that I get the benefits of meditation from tai chi. There’s something about being completely focused on movement that really gets me out of the stress mindset. Sure, breathing exercises are a part of it, but they aren’t the main focus. I’m just a bit sad that my instructor decided to stop giving classes. Sure, COVID meant that classes had to be canceled, but he’s liquidated his business completely. I need personal instruction, because I’m very uncoordinated and have a very poor sense of where my limbs are, so I don’t think online classes would work.

        2. ADHSquirrelWhat*

          to be fair, the idea of sitting still and emptying your mind to meditate is a very Western-specific view of the practice. /moving/ meditation where you just sink into a doing-process is both more common and more practical. Part of the problem is that the part that really hit popular culture here is “sitting still and empty mind” not, say, doing the dishes while zoning out!

      2. Renata Ricotta*

        Unable to participate in a minor office perk? I think it’s fine for companies to offer optional, non-intrusive perks even if they can’t be enjoyed by every last person at the company (especially if they try to have a variety of things to appeal to different abilities and interests). A person with a physical disability or a hectic home schedule may not be able to fully enjoy a company gym membership, and a person with an allergy might not be able to enjoy the fruit bowl in the kitchen. It doesn’t mean that offering them to the office more generally is inherently offensive or not ok.

    11. 867-5309*

      “How is it different from a particularly bad Zoom meeting?” OMGosh, Richard Hershberger. Did a spit take with that!

    12. ...*

      Its really not cult like at all. Lots of places do meditations during work hours. Meditation is pretty widely accepted throughout the US at this point. I love the idea that anyone who meditates or does anything remotely alternative for wellness or health is automatically 100% in a cult. LOL

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        It’s not the specific activities that make this a cult, but the pressure to conform. Or rather, this isn’t a cult of meditation, but a cult of the company.

    13. Karia*

      They really don’t work. I go to an excellent in person class and when the teacher tried to put it on zoom over lockdown it was the opposite of relaxing.

    14. nm*

      Meditation class online isn’t bad…assuming you actually signed up for it and weren’t forced into it by your boss! Then it’s a whole other issue.

    15. Elizabeth West*

      Well, the sangha from my old city has been meeting over Zoom, and that allows me to still meditate with them since COVID has prevented me from finding a group here. It’s not as good as an in-person sit, but it still works.

      But it’s not at work. It’s on the weekend so it’s on people’s personal time.

  3. I'm A Little Teapot*

    Well, I can’t work there. I’d probably laugh in their face. OP – regarding the alternative healing stuff, just say that you prefer to rely on licensed medical professionals, and you do not want to discuss your private health information at work.

    1. NeonFireworks*

      This. I have a big stack of chronic health issues, which are under control thanks to medicine, not to “alternative medicine” (which means the same as “alternative facts”). “Natural” healing wouldn’t have put a dent into any of the times something has become life threatening, so I’m going for the research based stuff. I think there’s a real risk in companies holding this sort of “alternative” thing up as supposedly legitimate. They should go read Edzard Ernst first.

      1. I'm just here for the cats.*

        Same here! I Makes me think of a chiropractor I went to years ago started this company. ( I love chiropractors and am not dissing them at all. This one was just too new agey) He kept going on about how doctor’s aren’t taught anything about nutrition. That his Girlfriend was a nurse and they didn’t learn about nutrition. Stuff how medicine is bad and causes more problems. But what rest got me was he basically said that because he just read this book about endocrine systems that he could help me get off of all my meds, just by what I ate and following his steps. Umm… No. My head of dept. endocrinologist at Mayo clinic would disagree with you and actually warned me about people like you. I noped right out of there.

    2. EC*

      Same. I would not be able to sit quietly though a lecture on anti-science nonsense without saying something.

  4. LadyByTheLake*

    I was struck by the confidentially conflict inherent with the HR person offering “healing.” Wouldn’t part of that process be disclosing private medical information to someone who isn’t bound by doctor patient confidentiality, and who is, in a position to impact the person’s employment? That is so wrong on so many levels.

    1. London*

      I got the impression his offer of healing was just him going “have you tried yoga/crystal therapy/[insert other new-age woo here]?” at every employee he talked to.

        1. Not A Girl Boss*

          OMG he probably has the oils all lined up on a shelf behind his head, next to his himalyan salt lamp… “don’t worry, I can just take the cost out of your next paycheck”

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        That’s my guess. Less clear is whether “No, and I’m not going to” is an acceptable answer, or if it will lead to constant hectoring and/or professional demise.

    2. Forrest*

      That’s the bit that sounded well dodgy to me. You shouldn’t be in a situation where you’re even gently pressured to share health information with your work unless there’s a good reason for it, and this is not a good reason.

  5. SwitchingGenres*

    As someone who’s been doing different types of Zen meditation for years, the meditation but bothers me. There are many, many different types of meditation. Different types work for different people. And meditation can bring up a lot of shit—it’s not all bliss and calm. Having a real, experienced meditation teacher who you can go to when something isn’t working, when meditation is making you feel worse, when it’s bringing up difficult feelings and memories, or when you feel blissed out and you need someone to bring you back down to earth is important. And that person can’t also be your boss or in a work position of power over you! The haphazard “mindfulness” that corporations are trying to force on their workers is one of my pet peeves.

    1. Ashley*

      These activities are the type of things companies should outsource to qualified firms if they really want to offer something to their employees that is meaningful.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      And meditation can bring up a lot of shit—it’s not all bliss and calm.

      This is a very good point I didn’t consider (mainly because my meditation doesn’t bring up anything traumatic, so I just assumed most people also had that experience – wrong assumption, I know). I hope people can truly opt out of this without punishment if that’s the case for them because yikes – who wants to go through this in front of coworkers?

      1. SwitchingGenres*

        I’ve seen people start sobbing in the middle of silent meditation sessions, just because they’re going through something and being alone with your brain can be tough! I’ve had it happen at a Zen monastery and that was fine. I’d be mortified if it happened at work!

        1. Allonge*

          Yeah… going the other way is not good either.

          Our company started offering yoga in the spring (optional) over Zoom. I connected to the first class, thinking maybe it would help with the stress, and lasted exactly 2 minutes – the instructor asked us to take a standing position and ‘think about why we were there’.

          I was thankfully muted, so my incontrollable stress laughter was kept between me and my laptop, but, man! I don’t want to think about doing that with other coworkers seeing me. I just really did not want to think about why I was there, it turned out.

    3. Sara without an H*

      This. Although if OP’s company is like most of the ones I’ve seen that do this, what they’re calling meditation is just a set of breathing exercises, accompanied by “affirmations.”

    4. not against meditation on principle but...*

      I have a personal pet peeve about the trend of self-styled business ‘gurus’ cherry picking elements of ancient religions and spiritual practices from different traditions and sprinkling them on top of a western lifestyle like it’s a little extra kick of spice on top of a bland dish. Most spiritual practices that have long established roots are meant to be practiced holistically within that tradition, and when done so, there is more balance and awareness of the potential downsides or pitfalls of the practice, and also presumably someone more experienced to guide you through those difficulties.

      To be clear, I’m not talking about personal spiritual exploration — I’m talking about people in leadership/positions of power deciding that, rather than give their employees things like generous PTO and benefits and fair pay to reduce stress, they would rather tackle the problem of employee stress and productivity by ‘offering’ some kind of ‘optional’ vague mindfulness class that shows them who is drinking their culture coolaid.

  6. Heidi*

    I love how the OP states that the healing techniques, “may have some basis in reality.” That is probably too low of a bar for medical advice.

    1. Observer*

      Of course. But I think that OP was right in noting this. Because the issue is not if the advice may be generally reality based, but that it just doesn’t belong at work. So the real push back should not be about “terrible advice” but “not at work, and by the way you also don’t know enough to give sensible advice.”

      Like “try to keep your fat intake down” is a reality based piece of advice in the US, because most Americans are not in danger of getting too little fat. But it’s still not a piece of advice an HR person should be giving someone at work.

      If someone were to push back I have no doubt that HR Person is going to try to claim “but this stuff is all proven!” or something like that. And the correct response is not to argue about that, but to say essentially “That’s not the point. This is not the place for medical / healing advice and you are not the correct person to be dispensing such advice.”

    2. UKDancer*

      Definitely. I like aromatherapy massage and reflexology. Neither practice has any clear medical benefits as far as I know but they make me feel good so I indulge in them. I wouldn’t go around trying to persuade people that they should do these things as well (unless someone asked for a recommendation for a massage therapist) because that’s not part of my job and it’s entirely subjective whether they’re beneficial.

      I don’t think it’s at all appropriate for HR to try and push people to doing some non-medical form of healing. It’s also deeply intrusive. If HR then feed on back to the CEO about what was discussed then that’s not only inappropriate, it’s a clear warning sign that other things in the company may be dodgy.

  7. Cheesehead*

    Is there any realistic way to suggest to the company that you’re worried about some of these things venturing into too-personal/confidential territory (alternative healing, which could really segue into asking for private medical information) or that you’re worried about non-participation affecting job opportunities? In other words, is there any way to push back that wouldn’t metaphorically put a target on his/her back to be phased out when they think they can get away with it?

  8. BadWolf*

    There’s a real danger area here for the company too. Unfortunately, I know some people who need very little persuasion to stop taking medication that they need (or at very least need to taper off) from someone they perceive as an authority (like a trained dietitian and HR person). The difference between, “Maybe some Vitamin B would give you a little more energy” vs “Vitamin B would help you get out of the depression slump. You might not need to take your medication anymore.” Sure, most people won’t make a swap based on that, but there’s no reason your HR person should be making the suggestion to start with (not saying the OPs HR person is making these type suggestions specifically).

    1. irene adler*

      Good point. Someone might feel they need to comply with HR person’s recommendations because they fear problems with their job should they not heed them.

  9. cubone*

    “….has regular solo meetings (online) with each employee to go over their needs, where he recommends alternative healing techniques that may have some basis in reality but aren’t exactly mainstream.”

    The rest of it is definitely not my jam, which is fine, but this part really makes me feel uncomfortable! I would love to hear from the OP: what are these meetings called when they’re booked in your calendars? How is the goal communicated? Because the way you’ve said it, this sounds like a medical offering… is there any framing that at least tries to make this about your WORK needs (like “coaching”)? This just sounds like it is about your personal health needs outside of work, which should be optional, if offered at all.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Yeah, are these one to one meetings about your health mandatory? Because if they are that’s a major problem.

    2. LW*

      The meetings have a nickname very specific to the products we make so I can’t quite share. They are set up as a space to talk about work but from a wellness perspective if that makes sense, but also we might get critiqued for not meeting a deadline or miscommunication with manufacturers, while also then being told how we could work on ourselves with alternative healing techniques.

      And sometimes he recommends our own products that we make to us (without sharing what they are they are, pretty mainstream/not weird supplements/no physical side-effects would be possible). I guess the extra layer of confusion is that we are making and marketing things so of course we would also use them. Sorry if this is cryptic!

      1. cubone*

        thank you! That’s sort of what I anticipated anyways – I feel like in a functional workspace, you can talk about mental and physical health related to work, but it’s also so easy for it to be manipulated by bad managers, exploitative cultures, etc. For example, right now I frequently talk to my boss about my struggles to project plan, in the context of some mental health issues, but she is excellent at understanding and supporting me with supports and tools, etc. and doesn’t turn any work issues into a convo about how I could manage my health better.

        I worked in a beauty retail space that was a bit culty and there was definitely a bit of a weird vibe around talking about non-company products. Not because they expected us to only use their products, but similar as you said, they were vocal about social justice, ethical sourcing, not greenwashing, etc., so the vibe was more that you felt a little bit judged if you were open about using other, “less ethical” brands. Not outward judgement, just maybe something we all sort of left private (could we have worked at the same place?! I don’t think so but now I’m rereading your letter and hmmmmmmming, lol. I could see the head office of this retail biz doing the things you mentioned).

        I agree with everything Alison said, but I think overall the vibe I get from your letter is that…. this HR dude is pushing the culture to be a more intense version of what it is now. I wouldn’t say run, like some of the other commenters, if you’re generally happy, I would just be conscientious of this person’s power and how much support they have internally. I’ve seen people like that move up quick and the intensity of what was a “weird, but fine” culture quirk becomes toxic fast.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Some jobs are a job PLUS a lifestyle. You may want to consider that this company is not for you. Personally, I would try as you are doing. However, while I do use a lot of alternative stuff, I don’t want to feel I HAVE to use it. Especially if I have already decided it’s not for me. I definitely do not want any company telling me I must use their doctor or their practitioner. I am very willing to passively listen to recommendations or people’s experiences, just because it’s interesting to me. And I know darn sure I am not going to do anything I don’t want to do.

        I cannot tell from your letter how much pressure is there. However, my guess is that there is enough to make you write Alison. I think what they are going toward is a company who actually lives the lifestyle that is in alignment to their product. This is not without SOME merit, I am not going to buy cross country skis from someone who has never been on skis. People who work in sporting goods probably should have some personal experience with, you know, sporting goods.

        They could send you home with Product(s) of your choice and ask you to try them and learn about working with the products. This would be a more direct approach to learning the customer’s perspective. I know that some products do help with some issues. It would be fine to say, “We offer customers x because it has been shown to be supportive of problems a, b and c.” Then let people pick what appeals to them. This is a VERY different statement from, “And you need to use it also!”

        I think that the healing techniques should be done separately from work discussions. I think this is where the problem comes in. People who do not want the healing techniques also miss out on work talk. This makes me think of the old arguments about golf. I hate golf. Maybe if I had a better back I would like it, but that point is moot. We all know that the problem with golf is that business can happen on the golf course. So people who do not golf are not included. Unfortunately, also went into sexism and racism. I am not sure how protected groups could be dis-included here, but the company might want to be careful about that.

        I don’t think they are a cult. I do however think that you are so very not comfortable here. And that stands alone. It doesn’t matter if they are not a cult. If you knew for sure that they were not a cult how does that change your comfort levels? I am guessing not by that much.

        I think I would go to the boss with specific examples. “Boss, I opted out of that optional meeting about Reiki and now I am finding out that there was discussion of a work project that I would have LOOOVED to volunteer for. I missed the chance to participate in that project simply because I opted out of an OPTIONAL meeting. I was wondering if there was a way that everyone here could be made aware of these opportunities even though they did not attend the optional meeting?” (notice the repeated use of the term, “optional meeting”.)
        Where this basically goes is that if you find yourself routinely losing out on projects you would have wanted and enjoyed, or info you needed, what is the point of working there? Conversely, the boss might be thinking if you do not go to ANY of these optional meetings, maybe you are not as invested in the over all lifestyle the way the company values employees to be doing.
        My suggestion would be to go to every other or every third one of these meetings so you can get a handle on what you want to do here.
        Another thing to look at is how your reviews are going. Do they like your work? Do you otherwise feel like the job is good fit for you? My thought here is that when a person says, “I think I am missing out at work because of optional meetings that I don’t attend AND I am wondering if my workplace is a cult!”, then this person is probably looking at the exit door. These are not usual, every day thoughts that one would have about their job. Your company may be fine, but you don’t feel fine and that stands by itself.

  10. sigh*

    I agree with everything Alison said.

    It almost sounds to me like the company is trying to find a way to navigate COVID and decided that yoga/ meditation would be their preferred method for relaxation, destressing and socializing. From a company point of view it might be one of the few ways for a group activity.

    That being said it doesn’t sound like the company is realistic. They are definitely playing favorites. It seems like the company is grasping at straws to find some way to keep everyone together. Personally I think there must be a better way to do so.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Is this really a group activity? From what others have written above, the online meditation seems to be the leader talking to people who don’t say anything and have their cameras off. I suppose technically this is a group activity in that a group of people are doing it at the same time, but it is the least group-like group activity I can imagine.

      My idea of a relaxing break is to read a book. Would it be acceptable to spend that time this way? Or are we mandated to only perform corporate-approved mental restoratives? I honestly don’t know. (But with the camera turned off, they also need never know.)

      1. Queer Earthling*

        Yeah, “relaxation” is so subjective. Imagining watching Eureka with my headphones on, scarfing cheese popcorn, being like “Yep that was a great meditation session!”

  11. Black Horse Dancing*

    I probably wouldn’t mind this at all except HR leading the alternative med stuff and the in-crowd getting ahead. Yet that happens everywhere. If Manager Chris has an open promotion slot and two qualified employees for it, often Chris will pick Pat over Jan because Pat is closer emotionally to Chris. A lot of alternative medicine has some benefits to some people–like a lot of medicine–and can be interesting to learn. This does show a danger of being too chummy but no more than a CEO and HR who golf together, are in Rotary, etc. (Now there is something very cult-like.)

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I don’t quite get this, you’re okay with managers pushing ‘alternative health options’ on people during meetings and nosing into their private health because it’s not as bad as golf?

      Then again if I’ve misread this, my apologies. Text is sometimes hard to get the context right.

  12. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    So for “healing”.. I have to first disclose any ailments?
    And this seems to DANGEROUSLY border into, “What medications do you take? We can provide alternatives!”

    1. Not A Girl Boss*

      I can hear it already
      “Wait, you need an hour off a week for therapy? Don’t bother with that! I’ll save you time AND money, just come on down to my office instead!”
      “Oh you’re following ___ diet? As a dietician I can tell you that’s a horrible idea, follow my meal plan instead!”
      “Oh you have cancer?? Have you heard of reverse voodoo dolls?”

      Just…. no thanks. You don’t get to decide what medical advice I follow.

      1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        Right? I’m already dealing with well-intentioned friends trying to convince me that since I’ve had my thyroidectomy, all I need to do is “address your leaky gut and take supplements”. I’m sorry, dear, but I’ll die without my Levothyroxine.

  13. SillyLittlePittyPat!*

    This brings to mind the episode of the IT crowd where Jen stops attending meetings, then stops getting invited and lurks around with a robe and sneaks in only to find out it is now a jazzercize class! The HR giving out medical/woo advice is a blatant power differential relationship and is exploiting these people. Really, the way this is happening, it all needs to stop.

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      Wasn’t it like the first or second episode with the stress tests and punishments for being stressed? You’re so spot on!

  14. triplehiccup*

    For anyone interested in the larger trend of corporations and other organizations using mindfulness for purposes that aren’t exactly Buddhist, check out Ron Purser’s work. He wrote an article several years ago (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/beyond-mcmindfulness_b_3519289) that recently became a book called “McMindfulness.” He also did an interview on The Radical Therapist podcast this year that summarizes his observations. Coincidentally I came across it last night, and I really appreciated how he explicated the vague “ew” feeling that this stuff gives me.

    1. SwitchingGenres*

      As a person who meditates for religious reasons, the commodification of aspects of Buddhism and Hinduism, turning them into something that’s supposed to support productivity and capitalism, just hurts.

      1. Sabina*

        Agreed (Buddhist here). The best analogy I can think of is an employer offering (or mandating) a “fun, mini-Mass” in the Catholic tradition but not conducted by actual Catholic priests, and offered for the purpose of improving the bottom line.

        1. Black Horse Dancing*

          Many corporations use techniques from organized religions for profit and many religions use their religion for tax-free profit.

          1. Tiny Kong*

            Using a technique that is not necessarily religious is different from appropriating religious techniques from their cultural and religious context and secularizing them for profit.

            And religions bastardizing their own religion for profit is not really a counter example here.

        2. Quill*

          I guarantee you that the snacks at a company Mass would be better than they are at the original, but I did quit Catholocism at my first opportunity.

    2. Kiki*

      This was really interesting and useful, especially this paragraph:
      While a stripped-down, secularized technique — what some critics are now calling “McMindfulness” — may make it more palatable to the corporate world, decontextualizing mindfulness from its original liberative and transformative purpose, as well as its foundation in social ethics, amounts to a Faustian bargain. Rather than applying mindfulness as a means to awaken individuals and organizations from the unwholesome roots of greed, ill will and delusion, it is usually being refashioned into a banal, therapeutic, self-help technique that can actually reinforce those roots.

      Whenever I have participated in mindfulness activities as presented by schools or workplaces, I have always felt like such a party-pooper or cynic for not getting into it. And it’s not that I dislike meditation, or yoga, or therapy– I have actually found immense value in all three on my own time– it’s just that company-led versions of these tend to seem like they just want me to be calmer about the fact that they are overworking and underpaying me. Instead of caring about how I’m doing, it seems like they would like to shape me into a less questioning, more efficient worker bee.

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        Yes, exactly. I am not free to actually lean into the experience, because, well, I’m at work and it would be inappropriate and because I know they’re not doing it out of genuine caring.

        My work just reimburses us for whatever ‘mental health subscription’ we want – the meditation apps, a weekly yoga class, heck I bet I could make an argument for them to pay my virtual happy hour bar tab. But the complete independence from the actual company is a really important element to the program’s success.

    3. UKDancer*

      Yes I can’t get into corporate mindfulness either. We’ve one colleague in our company who really is into this and runs mindfulness sessions for the company once per week (now over Zoom). Fortunately they’re optional and no record is taken of whether you’re attending.

      I tried it once and nearly hyperventilated. Trying to focus on my breathing tends to make me obsessive and so I start breathing too fast to make sure I am. I get the benefits described in mindfulness when I dance but I need to be moving. I can’t meditate sitting still, it just makes me antsy.

      I recognise a lot of people find benefit it in but I don’t think it’s something that a company should encourage people to do or draw negative connotations if they don’t. I don’t have a problem with them offering it but it should just be one of several things offered and it should be up to people whether they want to do it.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this. I think it’s funny that we’re so similar in this, when I’m just about the diametrical opposite of a ballet dancer physically (very stiff and uncoordinated, yoga’s out because I can’t sit on the floor for more than 10 seconds, in any position, lotus is out). I posted above that when I tried mindfulness it felt like I was hyperventilating but I didn’t think I was, although now I think I may have been after all.

        Tai chi works for me.

    4. Mystery Bookworm*

      In addition to this, while there is some wonderful work being done on mindfulness as an element of thereputic treatment (Jon Kabat-Zinn and similar)….popular media often covers it as though it’s some sort of fool-proof panacea, but it’s definitely more nuanced.

      I also feel that a lot of these apps oversimplify and cherry-pick research. It’s really difficult to evaluate mental health interventions, and mindfulness in particular is tough because there’s no way to really know what’s going on inside the participants minds.

      And there are absolutely situations where people may find things become more difficult as they start to practice mindfulness.

  15. Funbud*

    I hate potlucks. We used to do them in our relatively small department (25 people) and it was very political. The chosen few would get high praise from our “mean girl” boss and everyone else would get a sniffy “Oh, you bought brownies…”. After the first couple times going out of my way to make something special (I like to cook and am not bad at it, I’m told) for these and getting zero recognition, I would just opt for a cheese tray or something. After that boss left, the potlucks petered out, thankfully. On the other hand, the much larger dept across the hall (80 people) still has a least one annual potluck but I notice it’s a much looser, kind of rollicking affair with a mix of homemade and store bought food and no one seems to care. If you’re going to hold these at all, that’s how it should be. Or, if the company is profitable (like our’s), Hello! Get it catered. Potlucks are for church halls.

  16. Elenia25*

    God this pisses me off.
    I hate yoga.
    I hate meditation.
    I hate alternative healing.
    Keep your damn crystals and tarot cards.
    I can manage my mental health on my own. Sure, offer it for whomever wants, but don’t make everyone attend. I am particularly vehement about all of this because everyone ASSUMES we all like this shit. Not me and it’s super annoying when it is assumed. Last thing I want to do is sit MORE at the office so I can meditate with a bunch of people I don’t feel comfortable around enough to relax.

    1. Littorally*

      Agreed.

      I’ve had mindfulness shoved at me as a supposed panacea for everything from ADHD (no, the problem is I’m way too aware of my present surroundings, thanks!) to gender dysphoria. It’s not terribly compatible with my own faith traditions in anything except the most watered-down anodyne form, and at this point I’m likely to walk away altogether or completely shut down if anyone so much as mentions the word.

      1. Elenia25*

        Yeah, it’s some kind of cure-all. And I am going to risk stepping out of my comfort zone a little here, but yoga has been SO appropriated by white people, especially young white women, that I no longer feel comfortable there. It’s not that I don’t think they are doing it right, or that I have an objection to them doing it. It’s just a nebulous feeling of stepping into something that is very much rightfully my culture and being surrounded by a sea of people who look nothing like me and frankly don’t really welcome me, and have adopted it and made it into something new. I don’t know how to be clearer about it that I have no interest in stopping anyone else from doing it, I just don’t feel welcomed or comfortable in it at all.

        1. Littorally*

          Yeah, the de-religionization (that may not have been a word until this moment, but by gum it is now!) of yoga and meditation is something that’s really troubling to me, too. Non-religious yoga seems about as coherent to me as a non-religious Eucharist. If general-you don’t want to to take part in the religious element, don’t call it that! You can eat bread and drink wine without calling it holy communion, and you can do slow, repetitive exercises focused on body control without calling it yoga.

          1. Lora*

            Laughing at the notion that when I get together with the friends in my pod/bubble to binge on Carr’s Rosemary Crackers and Malbec (a cheese tray may also be involved) it should be very holy.

            I mean, it is. Sorta. Not like that though.

          2. ...*

            I mean I agree this company is going to far but why do you get to regulate how and why people exercise and what they refer to it as? Are you this vehemently against people who are not devout christians having a Christmas tree or a stocking?

            1. Littorally*

              Look, I’m just some dude on the internet, I’m not regulating jack. Saying people shouldn’t do something is not the same as saying they shouldn’t be allowed to do it.

              My point is that taking a religious tradition, boiling it down to the bare physical acts without any of the cultural, spiritual, or traditional significance, and then sticking it in a business environment under the guise of “wellness” is nonsensical and, as Elenia25 pointed out, appropriative.

              1. Autumnheart*

                Like if companies suddenly started promoting wellness and mindfulness by sitting quietly, drinking a thimble of wine and eating a dry cracker meant to represent your problems in your life? Once you eat the cracker, they’re all gone! Now you just need to believe it sincerely! Yeah.

            2. Tiny Kong*

              If a company in a culture completely removed from Christianity had a tree, but put it up February 1st, mispronounced “Christmas”, explained it was from “an ancient and exotic tradition”, used it to encourage local alternative medicine and cultural practices, and excluded/ignored actual Christians trying to explain and participate…. then that would feel wrong, no?

    2. Queer Earthling*

      I’m a bit woo (my tarot collection, let me show you it) but I sure as HELL would not want my HR person or CEO or anyone else involved in my spiritual journey or whatever. It’s my nonsense, hands off.

      1. UKDancer*

        I’m into aromatherapy and like nothing better than a massage with aromatherapy oils. I am aware there is no medical benefit from these treatments but I like them and they make me feel good. The last thing I want is HR trying to get involved in my personal relaxation or trying to get me to share my health issues (and I certainly don’t want them selling me essential oils). They can keep their nose out of my personal brand of woo.

        1. Mockingdragon*

          No kidding…I had someone get on my case once about how ~*harmful*~ essential oil treatments are and I’m trying to explain that I literally am using a pleasant smell to calm down and short-circuit panic-attack hyperventilation, I’m not drinking the stuff instead of going to a doctor.

      2. Nessun*

        Agreed – while I’m happy to talk about my Tarot study as a ‘what did you do on the weekend, what are your interests’ kind of way, I’m not offering readings to coworkers nor am I suggesting they’d derive a benefit from it. I’ll chat with interested parties one on one, but if my HR suggested I should bring a deck to work or review a spread with them I’d give them a serious side-eye! (I will however happily chat in general terms with collector’s of anything – lots of people understand the joy in collection even when one of you like crystals and the other one likes thimbles or statues of frogs or Nascar memorabilia. )

    3. RussianInTexas*

      This.
      I don’t do yoga, I don’t do meditation, I straight up do not understand mindfulness (nor do I care to), I hate alternative healing (add homeopathy), I don’t do any of the new age anything.
      You do it – do it! I don’t care. I do care when it becomes basically mandatory at work. My relaxation, physical activity, and health are none of the company’s business unless it’s affect my job.

    4. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      I had to “endure” several years of homeopathy when I was little and I swore to myself I wouldn’t waste my time, my money and my health in that anymore.
      (I put up with it because I was young and even though it didn’t work, it made my parents happy, so I rolled with it. But now I’m older, ha!)

      1. RussianInTexas*

        My smart, awesome, engineer mother swears by homeopathy. Back in 1990s she swore by the healers that prayed on Russian population.
        I learned not to argue, which is a lot easier to do when we don’t live in the same house, I am an adult, and she can’t make me do anything.

    5. all the time*

      Agree – and on top of that I bet this company thinks they are being very advanced, in tune with their employees – ick.

    1. Observer*

      This is not about “woo”. The issue is not that the business is offering “alternative healing.” It would be every bit as bad if everything the HR rep was saying was based on the best scientific research out there.

      1. RagingADHD*

        Except that there is a very clear and direct correlation between magical thinking (aka, woo) and the belief that it works for everyone and is magically helpful in ways that transcend ordinary rules – whether that’s the rules of professionalism or the laws of physics.

        If they were committed to upholding and applying the best scientific research, they wouldn’t have HR making “healing” recommendations at all. And they’d be a lot less likely to conflate an interest in unrelated online classes with being good at your job.

  17. East of Nowhere South of Lost*

    Came here to say that “Nope, not all growing businesses are cults!” belongs on a mug.

  18. MCMonkeyBean*

    I assume these are just a few specific examples, but based on what is included here I think the online meditation sounds fine and not particularly different than when a big finance company I interned at one summer had some yoga or exercise classes during the day that you could choose to attend. Though obviously it is not good if people who go are treated differently than people who opt out!

    But discussing your individual health with the head of HR is highly inappropriate, especially if it’s the same person who gives you other professional feedback! If you’re thinking you might want to push back on anything I think this is definitely the place to push back. I would say something about preferring to discuss your personal health with your doctor and decline to participate in those meetings, unless you are really worried that doing so would come back to hurt you.

  19. A Dietitian*

    The HR person is wading into some murky territory. Being someone’s coworker is not the same as being their health care provider. Dietitians are obligated to provide evidence-based care under our credentialing organization. This one could be sued if the treatments they suggest resulted in harm, or reported for unethical practices to the Commission on Dietetic Registration.

    PS I am assuming he/she is actually a dietitian and not a nutritionist or a naturopath, which are not the same and are not beholden to the same level of scrutiny. RD is a protected title.

      1. A Dietitian*

        I mean, yeah, that person was wildly inappropriate. I’m not saying the field is full of perfect people. It’s not okay to give out unsolicited, pushy advice whether it’s related to someone’s personal nutrition preference (as in that case) OR non-evidence-based treatments, like this one.

  20. Autumnheart*

    If a company wants to offer free meditation and wellness options, fine—but those things should be outsourced to a third party. It should not be company leaders running these classes. That creates a power imbalance. The only way to make sure that these things are truly optional and not going to affect your career path is if these executives aren’t informed about who’s going. “We offer a discounted Headspace membership” is a hell of a lot different than “your yoga class instructor decides your raise.”

    1. LW*

      LW here! This makes sense. Maybe it’s because Headspace and all that have become so normal (and because our range of products are somewhat alternative) that I don’t have any real problem with mixing work and wellness, but yeah it does make sense that the power imbalance just can’t be forgotten even with good intentions.

      On the plus side, they have never said we are a big family!

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        It’s also gives management far too much power over something that isn’t business relevant. The health of employees.

        We’ve seen firms start things like ‘everyone must eat healthy foods’ or ‘we will badger you constantly to change your ways if we think that your issues are curable’ and this year to the horrifying ‘if you all eat/exercise/etc right then none of you are at risk of Covid’. Which, when you’re looking from a disabled person’s perspective like mine, is just thinly veiled “your issues are your fault and you actually have an obligation to your employer to be healthy”.

        I’m in the UK so not sure about the next bit; but does the firm give you health insurance at the same time as pushing these alternatives at you? Because that’s a massive mismatch.

  21. Phil*

    (As Sister Sledge’s “We are Family” plays in the background)
    But we’re in this together! We’re a family!

  22. HailRobonia*

    There is also evidence that meditation can INCREASE feelings of anxiety and depression in certain cases.

    1. Albatross*

      Meditation was a nightmare for me before I got on antidepressants. My brain would see space I was trying to leave vacant and start throwing the absolute worst things up, and they just kept coming if I tried to clean them away. I can do it now, although I don’t think my preferred version counts as true meditation, but I absolutely could not have done it before.

      1. Quill*

        Yeah, been there, done that: absolutely could NOT meditate until I was months into meds and I still barely get there after the actual excercise of yoga.

        Back when I was having panic attacks every day or two the advice to meditate was about as effective as yelling at me to breathe deep and stop crying.

        The other thing that helped, unsurprisingly, was leaving the job that was giving me panic attacks most weekdays.

    2. nonee*

      Yep, I have ADHD and I am definitely one of those cases. Might be great for the people that don’t have my brain, but it’s a horrible nightmare for me.

      I’ve had so many people insist that I just haven’t done it right in the past, and I should totally try it *their* way. I shouldn’t have to disclose my diagnosis to be left alone!

      1. allathian*

        AFAIK I’m pretty NT, but I can’t shut down my inner thoughts, either. The only way I can stop the weasels is by doing something that requires intense focus. If I want to empty my mind of stressful thoughts, focusing on movement is my best bet. I’m so uncoordinated that it takes all my focus to do a basically simple tai chi series.

      2. Eleanor Shellstrop*

        I work for a global organisation who have a very active Mindfulness community. It’s employee led and we worked extensively with an external company to train colleagues (all optional) to learn the science and methodology and learn how to deliver Mindfulness practices and also info sessions to share the research with others. Everything we do is opt in (although some areas of the business invite these colleagues to speak at big meetings, so yes some colleagues will have had to listen to mindfulness info without ‘wanting to’, but we never push an obligation to take part).
        We also offer a 6 week (one class a week) course for colleagues to deepen their understanding. These are all in work time. The key difference between ours and yours is who delivers the sessions, and the fact that it’s ALL VERY OPTIONAL. Companies have to stop doing ‘obligatory wellbeing’

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Yeah, this is why I don’t do it. I don’t need my darker memories getting a free show in my head.

  23. Orora*

    As an actual HR Director, the yoga and meditation classes could also be discrimination on the basis of religion. Some Christians object to yoga on the basis of its origins in Hinduism and Buddhism. Or maybe an atheist has the same objections. Meditation could be construed as “prayer” by someone who doesn’t want to pray.

    An HR Manager might have access to personal medical information through insurance forms (many small companies have to complete underwriting with medical histories to get covered) or leave/FMLA requests. HOWEVER, asking someone about their personal health issues and giving advice to people based on that is not a legitimate business need. Having the person who does this also give reviews, promotions and pay increases is hugely problematic. There is a huge opportunity for that person to use personal medical information in making those decisions, which is extremely illegal. Even if that’s not what’s happening, there is a perception (as the letter writer mentions) that it could.

    1. bunniferous*

      This. It would violate my religious beliefs and honestly I see it as disrespectful to people for whom yoga is a religious practice. As long as I was not required to participate and as long as my non participation was not penalized I wouldn’t complain however.

    2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      This is what bothers me, HR handles the company health insurance AND the alternative health assessments?

      How long is it before HR tells the CEO, “Well, I’ve advised Fergus to stop going to that expensive [prescription medical treatment] and start using crystals and yoga, that should save us a ton on next year’s group rate.”

      “Oh our group rate is up for 2021? Let’s see. Fergus’s claim history shows he kept going to [prescription medical treatment] every other week after I consulted him to switch to crystals and yoga. Let’s fire him and save money.”

  24. mayfly*

    Eh, this seems like it could be a slippery slope and *really* shouldn’t be implemented/taught by anyone with power over employees. Would it also mean that a group of employees could get together and do a prayer group or Bible study in support of spiritual wellness? And how would someone who practices yoga and meditation as part of their faith respond to this?

  25. Thematic Plants*

    The health advice seems like a bad idea to me , too. I don’t know if they are recommending supplements and such, but my first thought was that there are plenty of supplements that are inadvisable for lots of different health conditions that the HR dietician might not know about.

  26. Nicola*

    Is it worth raising with the CEO the matter of professional indemnity insurance? Does the company and the “practitioners” have relevant insurance so that if something goes wrong then both the company and ther employee are covered. Others have pointed out meditation can go wrong, and someone offering “health” advice without full records and informed consent sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. It may also reveal that the HR person isn’t currently professionally registered. It might be helpful to raise this with a “I’m concered that the company might be opening itself to a legal/financial risk here”

  27. Sara without an H*

    Also, the head of HR is a trained dietitian and yoga teacher and has regular solo meetings (online) with each employee to go over their needs, where he recommends alternative healing techniques that may have some basis in reality but aren’t exactly mainstream. It’s maybe not everyone’s idea of help, and there isn’t quite the space to say so. Also, he is the person who discusses things like salary, budgets, graphic design, and other more regular work stuff, including critiques of work and, sometimes, arguments over products. He also works alongside the CEO and clearly passes along information from sessions (and from the CEO to employees, if there are problems with their performance).

    OP, does your HR director have any actual training or qualifications in HR? I mean this as a serious question. From your description, it sounds more like he’s someone who’s been with the company from the beginning, is friends with the CEO, and has just sort of taken on the HR role by default. This will become increasingly problematic as the company grows. It doesn’t sound to me like the CEO actually has a plan for creating the infrastructure for the company as it grows beyond the start-up stage.

    Several commenters upstream have pointed out the possible legal liabilities here, and they’re very real. But I wonder, too, if the muddled role played by the HR director isn’t symptomatic of increasing dysfunction at the upper management level. Things may not turn toxic overnight, and I agree with Alison that you don’t seem too uncomfortable with the culture you describe. But you may learn some bad habits here that will be difficult to unlearn. And you should start thinking about your next job at another firm. I foresee limited possibilities for growth where you are.

    1. LW*

      LW here! I am actually not sure if he has training in that area, your theory sounds pretty close to reality. It feels more like he’d rather be doing the unofficial training/therapy than the numbers stuff but that’s what he’s stuck with because of the relatively small size and two other staff exiting this year.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Hi, LW, thanks for your response. I’m going to stick with my advice to start preparing a Plan B for your career. Your company may correct some of these issues as it grows — or it may not. But be prepared to exit gracefully at some point.

  28. Lana Kane*

    This is a very common thing in wellness circles. The belief that anyone can become a wellness practitioner, without any real background other than their enlightened state (here’s where the “culty” feeling comes in). The assumption that all anyone needs is meditation, etc, and that a failure to accept this wholesale as a way to “take responsibility” for yourself is a failing. There’s also quite a bit of pushing the idea that all you need to do is visualize success, and if you have not succeeded at something, then you didn’t try. This is obviously problematic in terms of lack of awareness of inclusivity and social issues, which is bringing that industry into some perilous waters. Bringing it into the workplace is, to me, a pretty big red flag that the company will be expecting full access to your life. I’d urge the OP to watch out for this – it can become insidious pretty quickly.

    Meditation is not a good idea for everyone. For people who are dealing with trauma, intrusive thoughts, hyper-awareness, etc, meditation should really be taken on with a guide who is trauma-informed (if at all).

    1. LW*

      I think they are quite good at issues like inclusivity and diversity (not just tokenism) but this sentence did give me pause: “the company will be expecting full access to your life.”

      Maybe that is my biggest stumbling block. It feels like it’s become normal for people to be expected to live the life of the startup they’re part of, from late hours to wearing branded hoodies, and working from home has really blurred that boundary further. I honestly can’t remember if the in-office meditation and yoga classes felt more or less like part of work, but now that I’m going them at home in the guest room they feel like one more thing to add to my day.

      1. Kiki*

        Alison recommended the book Can’t Even by Anne Helen Peterson earlier this fall and I think you might get a lot out of it. It addresses a lot of things about work culture today and went into the concept of companies integrating themselves more deeply into the lives and psyches of their employees. I found the book very clarifying and it helped me put in place some healthier boundaries.

      2. ADHSquirrelWhat*

        There’s also the issue that diversity should include /neurodiversity/ – and when you start throwing mental health things around without actually knowing how they work, people who are already different can end up in some REALLY bad places.

        f’ex, me without stimulants looks like a squirrel that just drank a vat of coffee. WITH stimulants, I can pretend to be a functional human. You start getting into all that “cleanse” stuff and “clean living” and “no chemicals” (all food is chemical thanks!) and suddenly coffee becomes the Evil One and you’re stuck between what actually WORKS and what’s perceived to be true.

        It’s really REALLY easy to end up in a bad place that way.

        1. Lana Kane*

          Agreed – if you widen the scope of inclusivity, then you see that assuming everyone will benefit from the same things is by default non-inclusive.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          It was a major moment when I realised that caffeine actually calmed me down. Trust me you do not want to see me without it.

          (Or the devil decaf, but admittedly I’m allergic to that)

      3. Sara without an H*

        “the company will be expecting full access to your life.” ????!!!!!

        What the French toast! That phrase would have made me run screaming for the exit.

  29. Workerbee*

    This is my first role in a nonprofit and I’m not at all saying All NonProfits, but our sole HR person also handles the end of year performance review, not my actual manager. So now I know of two nonprofits that do this.

    Yet if HR says yeah, you can work remotely on the day you’re requesting, the manager can override and claim they need your bum on the office seat.

    It’s a little weird, but my boss doesn’t really have a clue anyway, and the end of year review is more of a jovial conversation where it wouldn’t be with the boss, so…

  30. Allison*

    I’ve worked for a few companies that have offered mindfulness, meditation, and yoga classes for employees, but I’ve always felt like they really were completely optional, and really just for the people who wanted them. Whereas I’ve also worked places where participation in optional company stuff seemed expected, and I had this concern that even if I quietly opted out, people would note my absence as a sign of a “bad attitude.”

    And I see a lot of companies try to tackle the mental health issues during COVID by throwing mindfulness at people and declaring “we care! we’re all in this together!” and it’s like, I don’t need my employer to help manage my mental health! I just need my job to not stress me out unnecessarily! (emphasis on the word “unnecessarily” because most jobs are gonna be stressful sometimes, it’s inevitable) No amount of mindfulness techniques or meditation sessions can compensate for a toxic employer.

  31. Sharpie*

    Offering things like this is all very well but make it possible to opt out without being penalised. I would not want to partake in any sort of guided meditation, or yoga because the spiritual side of it is incompatible with my personal faith, which is not necessarily something I would feel comfortable in saying to an HR rep who’s clearly happy with both and happy to push them on employees,. It would be a hill for me to die on, but why should I have to – and even if LW doesn’t believe what I do, they shouldn’t have to feel pressured into taking part in something that does have a spiritual component. I’m guessing the company doesn’t have a religious affiliation, after all, so to push something so hard crosses all sorts of boundaries.

    If there are other employees who feel as you do, it may be worth going to your boss and HR as a group to push back on this, LW.

    1. allathian*

      I think one of the problems here is that companies who are pushing yoga, meditation, and the like on their employees don’t see them as religious practices, but as secular practices that promote mental health.

      You don’t mention your religion, but there’s a reason why Christian weekend retreats are so popular in some circles. Those who do it derive the same sort of benefit from quiet contemplation and prayer as others do from things like meditation. Neither should ever be imposed on people from without.

  32. MissDisplaced*

    “The head of HR is a trained dietitian and yoga teacher and has regular solo meetings (online) with each employee to go over their needs, where he recommends alternative healing techniques that may have some basis in reality but aren’t exactly mainstream. ”

    I WOULD NOT BE COMFORTABLE WITH THIS. Teaching a yoga or meditation class is fine I guess if you enjoy it and want to go. But one-on-ones with the head of HR to discuss your health needs (and recommend treatment!). NOPE. That is just too invasive. I would skip that meeting with them and refuse to discuss it at all. Your employer is not entitled to dictate your life this way.

  33. Girasol*

    All these practices can be helpful and improve one’s performance. I like them myself. But they don’t belong at work. Whenever a company offers wellness programs, optional or not, devotees encouragement of them can slip into nagging and people who prefer not to join feel pressured, upsetting office relationships. I would add that mainstream wellness programs have the same problem. “Friendly” office exercise and weight loss competitions, restriction of the usual foods available in company lunch facilities, mental health check-ins, and so on run into the same problem of encouraging the participating employee to judge one who declines, and leaving the non-participant worried about job-related consequences.

  34. CatPerson*

    I once had a co-worker who was a Christian Scientist and he was urging his assistant to forego cancer treatment in favor of prayer. True story.

    1. Sabina*

      Having a good friend who was raised in Christian Science, I can sadly believe this. Also had an employee once who was in Christian Science and advised another employee who had been bitten by a dog not to get vaccinated for rabies. Yikes!

  35. Ellen N.*

    I view alternative medicine recommendations from someone who has power over you at work as not just annoying, but dangerous.

    I have an autoimmune disorder. I have to take several medications to keep it under control. Many times I’ve had well meaning friends recommend alternative medications. Upon researching, I found that several of them could have had a lethal interaction with my prescribed medication.

  36. SomehowIManage*

    The HR alternative healing advice is definitely unacceptable. Offering meditation classes is okay as long as they are truly voluntary. I do think it’s worth LW asking himself/herself if the meditators are seeing some benefits from the practice (e.g., dealing better with stress, being more focused on meetings) that is in fact helping them do their jobs better. But if there is no evidence of that, it’s worth trying to address with leadership.

  37. AnotherSarah*

    I really think that companies offering OPTIONAL meditation/yoga/etc. is great, but only when it’s done completely outside of reporting structure, and truly optional. For instance, hiring an outside contractor to come in once a week to offer yoga. I suppose there’s always the issue that people can see if you’re going or not, though. Better then to offer better benefits, perhaps discounts on membership to any type of gym or fitness studio or online wellness program.

  38. BigRedGum*

    I used to work for a company that is famous for it’s really expensive bath bombs. They teeter on the edge of cult like behavior. My first manager there would demand that we take her vitamins, go to yoga with her, rub her shoulders, she would put her essential oils in our drinks, and ON AND ON.

    The copy as a whole is kind of wild. One manager meeting included mandatory yoga, a wall where we could write our feelings, and we were constantly expected to be able to talk down young adult employees and even customers who were on the brink. it was not good.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      Essential oils in your drink! What if someone is allergic? Or on medication that it could cause issues? I sure hope you are out of there.

    2. Tobias Funke*

      This explains why no one at that store batted an eye when I went in, despondent, following my divorce in 2012 and purchased one of everything while sobbing!

  39. Sedna*

    “the head of HR is a trained dietitian and yoga teacher and has regular solo meetings (online) with each employee to go over their needs” I would literally climb out of my own skin to get away from this person. What if he recommends something you disagree with? At least I can change my doctor if I don’t like them.

  40. Dancing Otter*

    Recommend alternative healing techniques?!?!

    So, what’s the company’s legal liability the next time someone is told to try this or that snake oil instead of getting genuine medical care for congestive heart failure or melanoma? Pressuring employees not to seek real treatment can be life-threatening.

    If I can’t breathe, I don’t need something to soothe my anxiety, I need to be treated for pneumonia or asthma or both. CBD oil and thinking calm thoughts are not a substitute for a bronchodilator.

  41. employment lawyah*

    To ad to AAM:

    I work for a growing company (think of the products you’d find in Whole Foods beauty aisle) that is doing great things and genuinely has good intentions and smart people behind it. They don’t just greenwash, they are really careful about sourcing, branding, social justice, and diversity.

    So…. this sort of explains it?

    When a company is focused simply on “make money, sell teapots” things tend to be simpler because it’s possible for the company not to care about or judge thoughts/feelings/motivations/etc. They have one fit required, and so long as the peg fits you’re done.

    When a company is focused on thinking/supporting/acting a certain way, then it becomes much more complex and intimate because the company has crossed the divide into caring and judging about things. That can be more or less complex but it is tending to “more” because it’s rare to have things isolated. You have a lot of holes and the company needs to fit you on a lot of different pegs. And the more criteria you have, the smaller the solution pool gets.

    The problem is that you can end up with people who are pretty great at making teapots but may not “fit” into the rest of company culture, like you.

    So.

    Honestly, you may just want to find a new job. The combination of (a) how you describe your firm and (b) the fact that you think these practices are unethical signals to me that you may like the concept of what I call “corporate intimacy” but just don’t like this particular firm’s way of doing things…? If so, you may be happier somewhere else which matches whatever your own personal set of beliefs are. Or if you can’t find the perfect fit and still want a multi-peg fit, you may need to find some like-minded people and try to go out on your own.

    If you want to stay you can always stretch the truth a bit: “I’m trying meditation. I don’t really like to talk about it, but I try to do it at home. I’m in a zone when it happens and it’s a bit personal, so I’m not going to discuss it further at work.” Voila: so long as you occasionally try to do it (once every couple of months is fine) and get in the zone for a second or two, you aren’t lying and you can go about your day in peace. Etc.

    As for the meetings: If they’re paying you and if it isn’t unpleasant, I’d just suck it up, nod, and think your thoughts. We all get told a whole ton of BS every day which we ignore; turn off the “this is unethical!!” flag and treat it like an unwanted TV ad.

    1. RagingADHD*

      Eh, I really don’t believe that making organic products and valuing diversity leads inevitably to having HR question employees about their health issues and report them to the CEO.

      I also don’t believe that showing blatant favoritism in rewarding people for participating in spiritual practices at work is “like an unwanted TV commercial.”

      OP is not misguided in thinking these things are, at best, ethically questionable.

      This isn’t a matter of taste. If the company rewarded people for reciting Bible verses or fasting during Ramadan, that’s not a problem of “culture fit.” It’s a problem.

      1. employment lawyah*

        I don’t think you’re correct.

        The basic line is essentially “do companies care what you think, or only care how well you do ___ job?” Everyone likes to classify their own pet belief system as an exception–I would, too, given the choice, I think it’s just human nature. But fundamentally the line remains the same and once companies cross that line, things tend to change quite a bit.

        We have a special exception for the specific set of beliefs which we categorize as “religious,” but those are pretty much it.

  42. Elizabeth West*

    At my old non-profit job, some of the women in my department got permission to do aerobics in a basement room in our building. They used a tape and a small TV and did this over the lunch hour a few times a week. I declined to do it, since I hate aerobics and preferred to decompress over my lunch hour. Instead, I volunteered to cover the department phones while they were downstairs and then go to lunch afterward.

    You’d think they would have appreciated that, but no. Several of them made remarks just on the edge of snarky about my lack of participation and “team spirit” (this was an organization that had an actual cheer, fyi). I’ve been pretty leery of non-profits and start-ups for that very reason.

    If the OP’s company has made this part of the work culture, it has the potential to become very problematic. The fact that the actual business is focused on “wellness” just seems like it’s exacerbating it. In fact, I think the HR dude is already a problem. I can’t see this getting any better unless the CEO makes it stop. Maybe pushing back would help; I don’t know. I don’t have any answers for you, OP, but good luck trying to navigate it.

  43. UnicornLady*

    I would be concerned about the health advice. First of all, it seems highly irresponsible for someone to give health advice at work, and seems like if the advice goes wrong this could be grounds for a lawsuit. Second, I feel like this threads pretty close to violating basic privacy practices around health conditions at work. It is not really OK for a workplace to discuss your health with you unless the employee brings it up or there’s a specific reason that your health my affect the safety of others.

  44. Jennifer Juniper*

    I hope they don’t do any of the following:

    1. Forbid people from bringing in any food that isn’t vegan/gluten-free/raw organic soy-free sugar-free/insert fad here

    2. Discourage people from taking sick days, because illnesses are caused by bad vibes, negative personality, etc.

    3. Discourage people from taking their medication, seeing real doctors, practicing their own religion, etc.

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