I quit wellness
WANT THE SHORT ANSWER?
I no longer believe that wellness is a gateway to a better way of being. Especially when these wellness efforts are served up at the worksite.
And, with everything going on in this country and in this world (war, racism, hate, police brutality, school shootings, terrorism, mass shootings, etc) to focus on your weight or health stats is playing small. We are so much more than what we look like, the number on the scale or our health biometrics. And digging into other people’s health (especially when they don’t want you there) is not only playing small in this world of bigger problems, but I believe it does more harm than good.
At best, wellness is a small part of a much deeper conversation.
THE LONG VERSION:
(Buckle up, it's a long one.)
Last fall I made the decision to close North Fourth. This came after working in the wellness industry for over 15 years. This unraveling began in late 2014 when my ego somehow allowed the question to creep in:
“Does this stuff even work?”
I know if you’re in worksite wellness you've had this same question.
My response to that question when it crept in was, “My programs and techniques are different. They work. I have over a decade of working my techniques with clients getting them to keep their healthier habits. My programs are designed to do just that: keep a habit."
My programs help people design a lifestyle and mindset to keep healthier habits. Not designed for people to just drop weight (to gain it back), fix poor health stats (to have other ones pop up), be excited about exercise (only to wake up in 6 months wondering what happened to your exercise habit), etc, etc, etc.
When I moved away from one-on-one wellness coaching and training to focus on employee wellness programming it was because I knew my methods were needed there. I help people navigate the wild waters of the messy psychology behind WHY we make decisions or take action. Doing this deep work is the needed tool to change behaviors for good.
This work has to happen in order for a healthier lifestyle to feel easy and enjoyable. Not something that’s tracked obsessively, looked at as not fun, complained about and eventually abandoned.
For the majority of employees, wellness at the worksite doesn’t give them long-term behavior change. There’s too much shame around weight/health/not being perfect to heal while in the type of work environment that’s common today.
In order to dig into any shame-filled habit/health status/experience/result, people need to have space to be vulnerable and, with that, have a sense of safety. For many reasons, people don’t get this kind of safety at work and therefore can’t effectively do the needed deep work to live a healthier lifestyle and mindset for good.
This was a scary revelation for me.
My ego wouldn’t let it go. My ego screamed, “This is where you make money!” It pleaded, "You’ve worked your ass off to get here!” It threatened, “What will people think?!?!”
If you get the brainwashing from big wellness vendors out of your mind, you too can logically see this. Ask the internet and you’ll be overwhelmed with articles about how obesity is still on the rise (see #1 in the notes section below).
Don’t you think, if the programs from the big wellness vendors (some who have been around for over 30 years) actually worked we would have at least seen the obesity rate plateau? Nope. Instead, it's steadily on the rise.
In theory wellness at the worksite with its built-in community and the amount of time people spend there should be a great place for wellness to be addressed. However, with the current cultural shame around health/weight and the toxic environment at most worksites, this is not possible.
Over the course of summer and fall in 2017, I worked with a research consultant and conducted focus groups at different organizations with employees who do not participate wellness programs at work. The most common answer across these participants as to why they don’t participate in wellness programs is because they feel that if their employer really cared they would do basic things to help the employee’s workday be easier/healthier instead of making them click through web pages or log their fake workouts to get points and eventually money.
Basic things to help employees like:
- Train managers to effectively manage their teams to eliminate the unproductive “ass-in-chair” game that creates long work hours and resentment.
- Allow employees to take vacation days without the unspoken rule that you still need to be connected to work to answer any questions or put out any fires that may pop up.
- Make it possible and realistic for middle management to allow employees to take a walk in the workday, take a lunch break, etc.
- Train and trust employees and managers so employees can work remotely to help ease stress.
- ...this list could go on and on. You get the picture. There’s a lot to do at the worksite to just improve the basic health and stress levels of employees other than the once-each-year company 5K, an annual health assessment (see #2 below), paying employees to track exercise/water/food/whatever, etc.
Instead, organizations get seduced by the big vendors who - by the way - pay for a research team that works to "prove" their programs are effective on some level (see #3 below). In reality, their symptom-specific programs don’t work (see #4 below).
After much thought, observation and personal growth, last fall I made the decision to wind down and close North Fourth at the end of the year because it doesn’t matter how amazing a program is, when people won’t dive in and do the deep work to change their thoughts and keep a habit because they feel defensive or too stressed at work, no program will give them long-term, sustainable change to their health or happiness anyway.
For those working closely with individuals in the name of wellness and making a positive impact, I don't want to imply any wellness promotion or assistance isn't beneficial. However, for those working in the industry, seeing it isn’t working with incentives, symptom-based programming, and a toxic work culture that kills and not doing anything about:
That, my friend, is bullshit.
These people are choosing money over really helping others. We’re on completely different wavelengths. These people will be defensive and put their energy into “proving” me wrong. I couldn’t care less about what this type of person thinks. If that’s your integrity level? Bye. (see #5 below)
I’ve seen too many organizations that don’t really care about their employees and would rather check the wellness box rather than dive in and help employees enjoy their daily lives at work more.
I’ve spent 15 years climbing ladders and building a business. 2017 was my best year in business. I nearly tripled profits from the previous year. I'm saying this because I want to show people that this wasn’t just a situation of “I can’t win so I’m quitting". I want to be a leader and show that even if we’re winning, we should do the right thing when that thing becomes clear.
I’ve got a big heart and a rebel state of mind. I won’t be a player in this kind of game just because I’ve spent years in the industry and increased profits every year. I will not choose my own comfort over the health and sanity of others. I believe if more people did this we could make real change not only in this industry but with humanity as a whole.
I don’t have all the answers.
The first step in fixing a problem is to see the problem and talk about it.
Then take steps to be a part of the solution.
The solution. Not just another cog in the wellness industry who knows this shit doesn’t work but stays in the game only because some money is rolling in.
I’m not sure what my next step will be but what I do know is that:
The body follows the mind.
And I’ve known this since early in my career in the fitness and wellness arena. It's why I was always talking about having the right thoughts and emotions to increase intrinsic motivation and drive to live happier and healthier with more energy, confidence, strength, and inner peace.
But now I see that even being in the wellness space gets people off the mindset track needed to really dive into the psychology and reasoning behind decisions.
When thinking about health and wellness, people are focusing on the external or superficial (tracking metrics, weight, etc) so it takes work and convincing to get people back into the right mindset to see that its something inside of them that needs the upgrade. This upgraded mindset requires openness and vulnerability. Which doesn’t happen easily or at work for that matter.
It’s not the habit that determines success. It’s the thoughts and emotions behind that habit. So my next incarnation will be focused on the mind. I'm dropping the wellness focus which is too often a distraction that can lead people to feel shameful, like a failure or not good enough.
The North Fourth programs/techniques are not for sale. They are behavior change programs upgrading thoughts and emotions at heart and I had a wellness layer on them that I'll peel off and repurpose the materials in the future.
My next incarnation:
I’ll be taking some time off to get clarity and rejuvenate my mind. This is the first time in my life that I have no idea what the next step is. The odd thing is I’ve never felt so sure about anything as I do as getting out of the wellness industry.
If you’ve followed me and my writing in the wellness industry at all in the past decade you know I can only spout off about something if it’s attached to an action item.
Here’s your action item if you want to be more of the solution than the problem.
This has been a regular practice of mine.
Ask yourself, "Does my life look like my values?”
In other words, would someone watching me live my life know what my values are based on:
- What I do each day
- How I talk to people
- What I think about people
- How much love I give those important to me
- How I spend money
- Where I make money
- How I spend my time
- How I treat myself (body, mind, soul)
- How I treat the Earth
- My internet browser history
- What thoughts fill my mind as I move thru my day
Ask this question often.
Do a quick scan of your present day-to-day thoughts and actions.
If you see something that needs upgrading either do it now or make a plan to do it soon.
Let's make our lives matter by really making a difference. Let's make future generations proud of the work we're doing today.
Thanks for listening,
#1: While obesity isn’t always an indicator of health, the wellness industry uses it because it’s believed that the same behaviors that get someone obese today are the same behaviors that get someone chronic and expensive health conditions later. I personally don’t believe that's true, but that’s how the industry operates currently. So, using that statistic, the industry is failing. Has been failing for over 30 years. Great business model.
#2: The majority of people know that they are overweight or unhealthy and don’t need a questionnaire once a year to tell them this. Google "top health risks" and assume those health risks are your employees’ same health risks and act accordingly. There. I just saved you half a mil. You’re welcome.
#3: Imagine if McDonald's said, "Hey we have some studies saying our food is actually pretty good for you.” Every one of us would cock our head to the side and say, “Wait, what?? No way.” Then we’d look into the study and be all, “Yeah, nice McD’s. YOU paid to have this research done. It’s rigged. We don’t believe you.” THAT is what is happening in the worksite wellness industry. They do the research on their own programs AND then conference and event planners hire their CEOs to talk about how good their programs are with their own paid for research teams. Are we in the twilight zone?! No, we're in the wellness industry where apparently this is okay...?
#4: Symptom-specific wellness programs have been around for over 30 years and health stats in this country are still circling the drain. People are bombarded with “be healthy” messages. They know they’re unhealthy. If I have high BP you could argue I don’t care about my BP so why would I do a program about it?? Well, I would if you pay me to click through some information about it. That’s how worksite wellness operates today. When will the good-hearted people in this industry wake up and do what’s right??
#5: When I first started having doubts about the industry a couple years ago I had lunch with a previous mentor of mine. I had asked this person how they stay positive after being in this wellness industry for decades to which this person answered: “You know, Jina, the stuff doesn’t really work... You just have to keep doing it. You know, do your best.” Doing “my best” does not include working in an industry that doesn’t help most people and not making improvement just because my company is making money. I was put on this Earth to do more than that (we all were by the way) and people deserve more than that from us when we're in a position to help.
© Jina Schaefer 2018. All Rights Reserved.