To my knowledge, the New York Times didn’t just get hacked. It’s not April 1st yet. And, as anyone who has been following politics knows, it certainly isn’t a slow news day.
So I am out of explanations as to why — in their upcoming Sunday Review feature ironically labeled “Gray Matter” — they would encourage corporate fat-shaming. The Times is a publication to which we have previously given multiple accolades for being way out in front of the emerging consensus that conventional wellness –and corporate fat-shaming in particular — doesn’t work. And yet…
Jumping the Shark
Three researchers from the University of Pennsylvania published a study in Health Affairs showing that you can’t fine or pay people to lose weight. It was a great study, and completely confirmed our own findings. Had they left it at that, it would have been one more nail in the “corporate weight loss challenge” coffin. But instead of reaching the obvious conclusion, based on the clear data, that incentives and penalties don’t work, they concluded that we simply haven’t found the right incentives yet.
No mention that maybe, just maybe, if it were possible to lose weight via behavioral economics, you wouldn’t need to treat employees like lab rats to get them to succeed at it.
Next, they did a small, non-peer-reviewed study of 281 employees in their own organization, and found that 15% of them would take some extra steps during a day if you paid them and then fined them–as compared to the alternative, which is what a normal organization would do: get really annoyed that these researchers are pestering their employees about the way they walk.
Oh, yes, and — exactly as most people, like Jon Robison, would predict — as soon as the incentives/penalties ended, the participants returned to their previous walking patterns.
The major questions left unanswered in this whole situation are:
(1) How do employees feel about being treated like the aforementioned lab rats?
(2) Why is it necessary to draw attention to employees’ weight, if they are getting the job done?
(3) Why should an employer care about any of these findings in the first place?