January 22, 2016
Triathlete’s View on Workplace Wellness
by Al Lewis
Athletes should love wellness programs because they win rewards for doing things they're already doing. But....
We frequently get complaints from “average” employees about wellness, and our most popular article on the Huffington Post was about the fat-shaming aspects of wellness programs that obsess with BMIs. (Weight discrimination under the guise of weight control is one of the hallmarks of wellness, of course.)
But what about triathletes? What about people for whom those wellness incentives are a complete windfall? They can collect money for what they do anyway, sort of like when you buy something at a store and don’t learn it was on sale until you check out. Obviously, as the beneficiaries of these programs’ largesse (at the expense of other employees indirectly, of course), fitness buffs should embrace wellness, like –to quote wellness apologist Larry Chapman — “a beloved pet.”
Sure, if that pet is the Hound of the Baskervilles.
(Note to the literal-minded. This isn’t actually the Hound of the Baskervilles, who declined to sit for a photo session. This isn’t even a dog, as far as we know.)
I’d encourage you to read this critique of Virgin Pulse’s program in its entirety. You’ll have to scroll down through the blog post (not too fast – you’ll miss the review of Quizzify) to Comment No. 3, but it’s worth a full read to capture the essence beyond these excerpts.
First, Virgin Pulse — here’s a shocker — can’t do math. Because of its innumeracy (also one of the hallmarks of wellness), Virgin is accomplishing exactly the opposite of what wellness is supposed to do:
When I ran 5 miles in 50 minutes, at a 10-min/mile pace, I got more points for having >45 min of active minutes, but when I actually ran it faster, say, 8-min/mile pace which gave me a 40 min time, I only got >30 min activity, and fewer points, despite performing a much harder task. Nothing like being punished for being successful.
And Virgin Pulse apparently can’t do wellness either (yet another hallmark of the wellness industry):
Those of us who lift weights and do things that do not have “steps” but require greater physical acumen are greatly disadvantaged. Sadly, most government programs place a higher priority on “aerobic” activity rather than strength training. This “cardio = fitness” mentality is about 30 years behind the times.
The author, of course, is completely correct about this on multiple dimensions. Virgin Pulse’s information is way out of date, outdated information being — you guessed it — yet another hallmark of the wellness industry. Among other things, giving “points” for cardio but not strength will increase back pain and other musculoskeletal problems, which account for a vastly higher share of employer health spending than the 1-in-800 incidence of heart attacks – in two different ways:
- Strength exercises are now shown to be the best way to prevent and control back pain.
- Obsessing with “steps” increases the likelihood of falls, sprains and repetitive motion injuries.
At the risk of “burying the lead,” here is another thing Virgin managed to do:
It can also be annoying to be reminded constantly to get my mammogram. I am a breast cancer survivor and have had a double mastectomy. No mammograms for me. How insensitive of you!
After several paragraphs of other observations about the intrusiveness (still another hallmark of the wellness industry, in this case including monitoring employee sleep), she concludes:
The entire program is childish and silly. Another “social media” forum for people to get imaginary medals or stupid stuff while [Virgin] surreptitiously inserts little “healthy” reminders that may or may not be considered current health information. [Editor’s note: The majority of Virgin’s “1,440 habit-building interactions per member per year” are self-evident and cliched, outdated, wrong, unrelated to wellness or controversial.]
I’m sure there are better ways to promote corporate fitness that are not insulting to the intelligence of adults. As a personal trainer and health coach, I’d be happy to give you a few ideas.
Here’s one idea: Require wellness vendors to know the first thing about wellness.