How to build a culture of health without pushing it over the edge.


Anti-wellness sentiment is—unfortunately—alive and well. Even the most well-intentioned workplace wellness programs can be met with backlash from employees. While you can’t please everyone, it’s important to understand that promoting healthism in workplace wellness programs is dangerous territory.

Healthism, by definition, is a lifestyle that prioritizes health and fitness over anything else. The “over anything else” part is a red flag. And it will quickly earn opposition. Julie Guthman, professor of social sciences at the University of California Santa Cruz, says healthism’s ideology “encourages—even requires—us to be obsessed with our own health and sanctimonious about other people's.” Healthism is not the mission of workplace wellness.

When obsession and self-righteousness emanate from wellness programs, anti-wellness sentiment is spawned. Wellness programs fail themselves and their members when they morph into something more representative of a healthism cult.

A successful workplace wellness program should distance itself from the hierarchy and judgement associated with healthism and focus on inspiring and supporting the individual member’s well-being.

Things to remember to keep anti-wellness sentiment at bay:

  • Workplace wellness programs should promote progress, not perfection.
  • Well-being doesn’t happen overnight … and it doesn’t last forever.
  • Well-being isn’t all or nothing, it’s about balance.
  • Well-being isn’t a superiority contest; it should never be approached this way.
  • Well-being is a lifelong journey—an individual one.

 There’s no quicker way to earn member distrust than disguising healthism by packaging it as workplace wellness. Successful workplace wellness programs inspire and support members in their well-being journey—which encourages everyone to participate, not revolt.    

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