Current debate about workplace wellness has called into question virtually every aspect of wellness programs. Commentators have railed against them, with some asserting that they are not only worthless but are also a morale disaster and a stealthy way to shift more coverage costs onto employees.

Despite all this, most corporate leaders continue to fund such programs. Collectively, employers spend upward of $8 billion a year on wellness programs — yet the programs underperform by most measures, and barely 25% of employers even try to understand how well their programs do.

We all know that moderate exercise, proper diet, and not smoking are essentials for good health. Right ?
How many of us follow through on it ? 

According to a 2016 study published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 2.7% of Americans meet this fairly low standard of healthy living.

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This disconnect between the near unanimous adoption of workplace wellness programs and their demonstrably lackluster results leads to some fundamental questions. Is the workplace an appropriate venue for wellness programs, and, if so, is it the best venue ?

While I agree that many wellness efforts have been unproductive, invasive, and demoralizing and that the misuse of financial incentives and penalties have made employees cynical, I offer a line-in-the-sand position : The workplace is not just an appropriate venue but actually the very best one — provided that leadership is willing to make a long-term commitment to wellness programs. Here’s why.

A Critical Workplace Issue

Employee wellness is very much management’s business.

The discussion has moved beyond physical health and toward “well-being.” Studies by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others demonstrate that well-being — a combination of physical, mental, and spiritual health — is of primary importance in the workplace.

Consider employee engagement, which is greatly affected by workers’ physical health and well-being. A Gallup survey reported that a mere 32.6% of the American workforce is engaged.

Management has every right, and indeed has an obligation, to facilitate maximum engagement and performance in its employees. While we can argue about the best ways to maximize productivity, it’s hard to dispute that the physical, mental, and (yes) emotional conditions of employees are very much the business of the company, given that they greatly impact performance, morale, and absenteeism.

Plus, let us not forget that companies pay a significant portion of employees’ health insurance costs, which are directly affected by employee wellness.

Accordingly, it is difficult to give any credence to the argument that management has no business venturing into employee wellness.

Where the Action Is

It is clear that the workplace is the optimal opportunity for employee wellness efforts. There are over 100 million Americans working full-time today. Thus, the workplace contains the largest single daily gathering of people in the U.S.

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Article du Harvard Business Review / 15 novembre 2016.