The 3 Myths of Worksite Wellness

This piece is presented by Sanford Health.

By Katie Nermoe, Corporate Wellness Director, Sanford Health Plan

Katie Nermoe

Today more than ever, it often feels like work and the worker are at odds. Employees struggle with that work/life balance, with 80 percent of us working after office hours and nearly 70 percent of people admit to not being able to go to bed without checking email one last time.

We often end up feeling that there aren’t enough hours in the day to complete our work, nurture relationships with those we care about, pursue the hobbies we love, and to relax and enjoy the simple things in life. But this has become a fast-paced world, one in which the consumer demands convenience at every turn. However as many of us know, things that are convenient aren’t necessarily good for us.

Corporations have responded to this societal shift with what is referred to today as “worksite wellness.” And while it is essential to the success of an organization to put the health and well-being of their employees as a priority, there are many myths about what a worksite wellness program is and isn’t.

“My employees are the problem.”

Leaders often forget that the majority of our waking hours are spent at work. As such, it is unrealistic to expect employees to transform their health in the limited amount of time spent at home each day.

For that reason, the workplace is the best place to eat right and move our bodies. Employers send mixed messages to their employees by ordering donuts and cake for meetings, filling their vending machines with candy and chips, and requiring a dress code that isn’t conducive to taking the stairs or walking on breaks. This is on top of expecting long work hours. Simply said, many organizations are setting their employees up for failure.

“Incentives get employees to create sustainable change.”

Outcomes-based wellness programs have increased with popularity over the last decade, which is a surprise as there is little research that supports their effectiveness. These programs may give $50 to employees with blood pressure within the recommended range. The truth is, these programs are not “incentives,” but instead “rewards or rebates” to employees who are already healthy.

Incentives work best for short-term objectives, such as signing up for a tobacco cessation program, showing up for a wellness screen or completing an annual preventive exam. They are not effective in creating long-lasting behavior change.

What really influences our behavior comes back to our employer. Seventy percent is tied to the culture and policies of the organization we work for, which includes the skills and tools made available to us, and the awareness and education we are given while at work. Just 30 percent of what influences our behavior is left to personal motivation.

Employers who truly want to see changes in organizational health will take the time to shape the culture that shapes employee thinking.

“It’s all about exercise and eating right.”

There are six aspects to our well-being: career, social, financial, emotional, physical and community. Conventional worksite wellness programs often ignore this and solely focus on physical health.

Recent research suggests that career well-being is the primary driver of our overall health and well-being. If organizations were to focus on just one thing, they should focus on leadership competencies that drive high career well-being. It’s critical to note, these are the same leadership competencies that drive high employee engagement. In other words, your employee engagement strategy and wellness strategy are one in the same. Engaged employees eat more fruits and vegetables, exercise more, and have a lower incidence of chronic disease.

Through it all, maybe the biggest myth to bust is that worksite wellness can no longer be seen as a special program or initiative. It’s a new way of organizational living. In fact – it’s your organization’s competitive advantage.

Learn more about Leading for Wellness from Sanford Health Plan. Contact Katie Nermoe, Corporate Wellness Director, at

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