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A Triathlete’s Perspective on Workplace Wellness

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We frequently get complaints from “average” employees about wellness, and our most popular Huffpost was about the fat-shaming aspects of wellness programs that obsess with BMIs.  (Weight discrimination under the guise of weight control is one of the hallmarks of wellness, of course.)

But what about triathletes? What about people for whom those wellness incentives are a complete windfall? They can collect money for what they do anyway, sort of like when you buy something at a store and don’t learn it was on sale until you check out.  Obviously, as the beneficiaries of these programs’ largesse (at the expense of other employees indirectly, of course), fitness buffs should embrace wellness, like –to quote wellness apologist Larry Chapman — “a beloved pet.”

Sure, if that pet is the Hound of the Baskervilles.

tasmanian devil

(Note to the literal-minded.  This isn’t actually the Hound of the Baskervilles, who declined to sit for a photo session. This isn’t even a dog, as far as we know.)

I’d encourage you to read this critique of Virgin Pulse’s program in its entirety.  You’ll have to scroll down through the blog post (not too fast–you’ll miss the review of Quizzify) to Comment #3, but it’s worth a full read to capture the essence beyond these excerpts.

First, Virgin Pulse — here’s a shocker — can’t do math.  Because of their innumeracy (also one of the hallmarks of wellness), Virgin is accomplishing exactly the opposite of what wellness is supposed to do:

When I ran 5 miles in 50 minutes, at a 10-min/mile pace, I got more points for having >45 min of active minutes, but when I actually ran it faster, say, 8-min/mile pace which gave me a 40 min time, I only got >30 min activity, and fewer points, despite performing a much harder task. Nothing like being punished for being successful.

And Virgin Pulse apparently can’t do wellness either (yet another hallmark of the wellness industry):

Those of us who lift weights and do things that do not have “steps” but require greater physical acumen are greatly disadvantaged. Sadly, most government programs place a higher priority on “aerobic” activity rather than strength training. This “cardio = fitness” mentality is about is about 30 years behind the times.

She of course is completely correct about this on multiple dimensions. Virgin Pulse’s information is way out of date, outdated information being — you guessed it — yet another hallmark of the wellness industry.  Among other things, giving “points” for cardio but not strength will increase back pain and other musculoskeletal problems–which account for a vastly higher share of employer health spending than the 1-in-800 incidence of heart attacks–in two different ways:

  1. Strength exercises are now shown to be the best way to prevent and control back pain;
  2. Obsessing with “steps” increases the likelihood of falls, sprains, and repetitive motion injuries.

At the risk of “burying the lead,” here is another thing Virgin managed to do:

It can also be annoying to be reminded constantly to get my mammogram. I am a breast cancer survivor and have had a double mastectomy. No mammograms for me. How insensitive of you!

After several paragraphs of other observations about the intrusiveness (still another hallmark of the wellness industry, in this case including monitoring employee sleep), she concludes:

The entire program is childish and silly. Another “social media” forum for people to get imaginary medals or stupid stuff while [Virgin] surreptitiously inserts little “healthy” reminders that may or may not be considered current health information. [Editors note: the majority of Virgin’s “1440 habit-building interactions per member per year” are either self-evident and cliched, outdated, wrong, unrelated to wellness, or controversial.]

I’m sure there are better ways to promote corporate fitness that are not insulting to the intelligence of adults. As a personal trainer and health coach, I’d be happy to give you a few ideas.

Here’s one idea: require wellness vendors to know the first thing about wellness.

 


5 Comments

  1. Mitch says:

    But Al, if they knew the first thing (anything?) about wellness they would not sell it and thus could not be wellness vendors.

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    • whynobodybelievesthenumbers says:

      In the immortal words of those great philosophers Gilbert & Sullivan, “a paradox, a paradox, a most ingenious paradox. We’ve quips and quibbles heard in flocks but none to beat this paradox.”

      Like

  2. Samiam says:

    I’ve heard Virgin does have “1440 habit building interactions:” with employees (which means pestering them with emails). Apparently these messages include things like telling people to recycle and wash their hands after using the bathroom. If it were me I would block these emails.

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  3. Chess Indie says:

    As someone that has been a regular in the gym and on the road, for many many years, I understand what you are saying. However, these programs have to use metrics that are trackable and verifiable. Pedometers are a pretty good way to do that. They measure steps/activity. Sure you can strap one to the dog and probably trick the system, but for the most part, they really are quite motivating and reliable. It’s a much harder thing to track/verify that I spent an hour lifting weights at home (or at the gym). You can’t just take people’s words for it, because *gasp* people will lie if it’s made easy for them do so. So in the case of Virgin Pulse, they track what they can. And honestly, it has made a huge difference in the activity levels of many of the people at my workplace, so for that reason, it absolutely IS EFFECTIVE. As for the 5 miles and getting a lesser number of activity points for a faster run, each tracker works differently. I would suggest using a FitBit and you won’t have any problems getting your activity for the day.

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