In Workplace Wellness that Works, author Laura Putnam argues that there needs to be a shift in the way we talk about health and wellness at work. Instead of focusing only on individual physical risk factors and health behaviors, she wants to start focusing on health more holistically, in a way that includes other important factors like physical energy, emotional resilience, finances, feelings of connection to coworkers and the community, capacity to express one’s self authentically, and, finally, the belief that one is fulfilling a higher purpose.
While I agree with Putnam completely on this point and was eager to hear her ideas on how to accomplish this objective, it became very clear to me early on that this is not a book for the layman (i.e., me). Putnam very specifically states in the introduction that her book is designed for “anyone tasked with workplace wellness”–maybe a manager in human resources, a safety coordinator, a senior executive, or an external consultant.
So just be prepared: Workplace Wellness that Works is a tome. It is truly PACKED with information, and I suspect that even the most experienced HR person (or whomever) will need days (perhaps weeks or months) to digest all the stories, ideas, examples, and action steps in here. I finished the book and felt like I had just attended a three-day seminar on fostering well-being in the workplace. It’s an intense book.
The book gives 10 steps for creating, building, and then sustaining a workplace wellness plan that, you guessed it, works. Each step has its own chapter, and each chapter contains many examples of companies who made that particular point work, as well as action items to help you make that point work for your own team. Here are the steps:
Step 1 – Become an “agent of change.” You don’t need to be an expert on wellness to start the process. You need to be (essentially) a motivational speaker, a person who can trigger emotion in others in a way that makes them want to act.
Step 2 – Imagine what is possible. Use images to evoke an emotional response.
Step 3 – Examine the workplace culture, especially what things are unspoken or taken for granted. (I actually loved how she reworked Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in this chapter. That section was one of my favorite parts of the book.)
Step 4 – Start with what is going right–e.g., people’s strengths, their shining moments. Also, stop with the negativity and scare tactics already.
Step 5 – Collaborate internally (with HR, compensation and benefits, facilities, IT, etc.) and externally (with vendors, your community, etc.).
Step 6 – Don’t make your wellness campaign obvious. Incorporate it into existing routines. Keep it under the radar. You might end up fighting fewer battles this way.
Step 7 – Help people create meaning, something internal that will provide lasting motivation for them.
Step 8 – Design nudges (environmental prompts like signs, reconfigured meeting spaces that gently force people to be active, etc.) and cues (cultural prompts like policies, rituals, etc.) that make healthy choices the easier choices.
Step 9 – Launch your wellness initiative, evaluate it, fix the bugs and address the issues, then relaunch it. Don’t be afraid of mistakes. Embrace them, make your program stronger, and move forward.
Step 10 – Think globally.
There is also a final, very comprehensive checklist of action steps for each step at the end of the book.
Like I said, this book is absolutely filled to the brim with well-researched concepts and helpful ideas for implementing a new or better wellness plan at work. And if you are a higher-up in HR or a similar department, you will most likely find a whole lot of useful information and suggestions in this book. But if you are like me, just a little so-and-so who isn’t in charge of any such program or person, you might want to steer clear. Better leave this one to the professionals.