To prepare another mindfulness training session at my company, my co-facilitator and I spoke about who will be responsible for which part. A part of this discussion led us to the topic of health and wellness programs in companies and why those programs might struggle.
First up, I think it is great that more and more companies try to incorporate such programs. In an ever-accelerating society and task growing complexity, every means that can help to balance ourselves and handle all that information is welcome and very much needed. The second might be work. There the effort-benefit relation is much clearer. When I work more, I am more likely to get promoted or to get a raise. This leaves participating in a wellness program (e.g. mindfulness or yoga) as the last choice. This might often only change when a person arrived on a low point and realized something needs to change.
But why do some (I am careful not to write many or most of them) of these programs haven’t the participation rates the company has hoped? I think there is not one single element to blame. Let’s start with the people. Engaging in those programs always poses a trade-off. You can either have more free time, or you can work more, or you can do such a program. What of those things has the best perceived benefit? For many, the best choice is free time, spending time relaxing or with the significant other or friends. The second choice might be work.
And I understand. It sounds great: a wellness-program. However, people know that this is work to. And working on ourselves is probably the hardest thing we can do. It takes a lot of mental energy to do it, and often our energy reserves are drained after a long day at work. I hear you say that you could do it during the day. Sure, but then ask yourself. What culture does your company have? How would people and also managers and leaders react when you say you can’t for the next two hours because you are doing mindfulness? Especially when a deadline is quickly coming closer? In some companies or departments, people might even think that you are not strong enough and you can’t handle the stress, rendering your chances of getting a promotion unlikely.
As you can see I quickly transitioned to the company side.
I think that companies are a little bit naive. I don’t want to question their intention. What I believe is that they forget about the practicability and applicability once those programs are designed and implemented. As I wrote above, people face these trade-offs. Companies might start to think about how those trade-offs could be changed to make it easier and more beneficial for employees to take part in them.
One way to do it might be to give them time to do it. Change the contract in a way that maybe 3 hours a week can be spend on those activities or make it a fixed part of the contract altogether. That this is a part of work. I know, you might have read my other article where I propose to give employees time to spend a certain amount of hours on side projects which give them meaning or that they can develop themselves. And you might ask where this will lead to? I just know that companies will have more and more problems with unhappy employees. This will lead to more cases of inner resignations, sick leaves, depression, and an overall decline in productivity.
You can argue, if the role of a company should include to make its employees happy, but what can be stated with some certainty is that work produces a lot of stress and problems, be it discussions with a colleague or boss or client or be it leaving your comfort zone, holding deadlines, and so on. So, investing in a health program and giving employees time to engage in them is not solely about making employees happy, but giving them the tools to handle this complex work-life and to aim at mitigating those negative parts with something positive. I hope we can agree that a job is not about making people sick, burned-out or depressed, but giving someone the chance to add his or her part to a functioning society.
Wellness and health programs in companies are a wonderful thing. I just think that we need to extend our thoughts to making sure that people will and can take part in them and that people and companies can reap the benefits.
What do you think?
Love and hugs, Stephan