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Home » Uncategorized » Bobby, We Hardly Knew Ye: Bob Merberg leaving Paychex

Bobby, We Hardly Knew Ye: Bob Merberg leaving Paychex

Do you know whether heartburn pills are safe for long-term use?

Bob Merberg is moving on from Paychex, and in a lengthy (!) podcast with Jen Arnold, offers his “greatest hits” of the many ways in which his mind has been changed (“flip flops”) during his ten years in that position, and some advice for the future.

By way of background, Bob’s IntEWn blog has been a refreshing voice from the wellness trenches. Bob is quite literally the only corporate wellness manager willing to risk the wrath of various internal powers that be in order to report what really happens in wellness. By contrast, most other blogs are written by various outsiders reporting what they think should happen (or they think is happening) in wellness.

Here are the highlights of what he has learned (“flip flops”) in the decade he has been doing this:

  1. HRAs have very little value
  2. Screenings have even less value than HRAs (“I was railing against screenings a really long time ago”)
  3. Incentives have even less value than screenings (“the hallmark of a sh**ty program”) and Bob has de-emphasized them. We have a more nuanced view.
  4. CEO support is helpful is wellness even if they don’t walk 5000 steps. There are things only CEOs can do (such as employee-friendly building design).
  5. Culture is very difficult to change, and employees generally hate culture change for many good reasons…but it is much easier to found the company with the right culture to begin with (like we did at Quizzify). “Where are the success stories in culture change?”
  6. Outcomes-based incentives are “shameful,” and are little more than a cost-shift to employees who can least afford it. (“Given all of us a bad name”)

Here is the good news, his view of Total Worker Health (as described by the CDC), which is influenced by more basic factors than broccoli consumption:

  1. Living wages and other financial assistance, like 401K
  2. Work schedules and too much overtime, a huge source of stress, should be managed
  3. Things like quotas and goals set too high to meet (like at Wells Fargo) that create incredible stress. This Wells Fargo story alone merits the entire podcast. Ironically, they have a wellness program that includes stress management. “You as an employer are creating the conditions of stress.”
  4. The employer should start with creating healthier jobs, rather than helping employees cope with unhealthy jobs.
  5. It’s not about behavior and behavior change — it’s about the workplace itself.

I’ll leave the rest to you. Don’t want to steal his thunder.

We wish Bob the best in his new career as a consultant and look forward to working together.





  1. temerick479 says:

    great post…I’ve wondered if some companies use wellness programs as a cover for stressing their employees to death.


  2. Sam Lippe says:

    I pride myself on getting your cultural allusions. But this one is a bit obscure. You may need to explain.


    • whynobodybelievesthenumbers says:

      OK, I guess you’re right. Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye was a best-selling remembrance of JFK by two former colleagues who knew him well.


  3. Marissa says:

    I got it! I’m not even in the industry any more. I just read these postings for their amusement value and obscure 1970s cultural allusions. helps that I think I’m the same age as Al


  4. markmhamann says:

    helps that I think I’m the same age as Al I pride myself on getting your cultural allusions.


  5. I pride myself on getting your cultural allusions. helps that I think I’m the same age as Al


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