Next Things First

The Office on a Diet by charlottegee
September 28, 2008, 4:18 pm
Filed under: wellness | Tags:

The season premiere of “The Office” (9/25/08) entered the world of employer-sponsored wellness initiatives*, with the main office in New York announcing a “Biggest Loser”-type contest: The branch that loses the most weight earns extra vacation days. Let the games begin!

Every week over the summer, “The Office” employees are weighed on a freight scale in the warehouse. Things soon get a bit out of hand, of course. Some employees take the challenge too far by forcing coworkers to walk five miles or purposely ingest tapeworms to lose weight (not a tapeworm). They–very sadly–eat fruit at birthday parties (but soon sneak some cake), one goes on a Master Cleanse diet and passes out, they turn up the heat in the office to create their own sweat lodge. You get the idea.

Eventually HR steps in, sending a memo saying this kind of behavior is not supported, and Michael the Branch Boss winds up in a fat suit, telling the employees that big is beautiful.

All of this is funny, but raises some interesting questions. With team-based competitions and employee wellness programs popping up all over the place now, how do organizations ensure that they don’t let things go too far? For example, Shape Up The Nation is a workplace team-based competition, where employees track and post various things online such as weight loss and pedometer steps. What’s to keep someone from getting a bit out of control? From walking miles and miles a day (instead of working) just to win the competition?

And, what about (gasp!) cheating? Sally said she walked 200,000 steps, but how can we be sure?

Taking a step back, BusinessWeek’s The Debate Room recently featured a pro and con argument about wellness programs in general: Employee Wellness Is Ill-Conceived / Businesses should stop trying to meddle in their workers’ health and fitness habits. Pro or con? As expected, interesting points on both sides.

No matter where you come down on this issue, two things seem pretty clear. First, a program’s incentive structure must be appropriately constructed with the organization’s (and the employees’) unique needs and wants in mind. And, secondly, there must be some ground rules set from the beginning to avoid participants going to extremes, which are never healthy anyway.

*Note: Employer-sponsored wellness initiatives are based on the idea that healthier employees are more productive and cost less in terms of health care claims costs. Obesity, smoking and lack of activity are all usual suspects targeted with these programs.

Posted by CharlotteGee


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