Is your wellness program inclusive? Laura Putnam, author of “Workplace Wellness that Works” talks about inclusion in wellness

Diversity and inclusion are buzzwords these days and many employers throw these words around quickly without thinking about what they stand for. While it’s easy to impose diversity on your organization for the sake of it, inclusion is a different ballgame that requires hard work and a change in organizational culture.

The concept of inclusive wellness is essential to creating a successful wellness program. Employees are unlikely to engage in wellness initiatives if they don’t feel included or if the program doesn’t accommodate their individual differences.

In a recent episode of The Edelheit Experience, Jonathan Edelheit sits down with Laura Putnam to discuss the value of inclusion in an organization and its crucial role in employee wellbeing. Laura Putnam is founder and CEO of Motion Infusion. She is also the author of “Wellness that Works”, a book that shares a fresh perspective on workplace wellness.

Wellness has become the order of the day in business circles; employees are now very concerned about their mental, physical and emotional health, and employers have a lot of work to do to meet these needs in the best possible way.

“The pandemic has opened us all up, coupled with the murder of George Floyd, and we are now honest with ourselves and more aware of wellness and inclusivity,” says Laura. I’ll call it the Great Renegotiation; employees are now in the driving seat, more than ever in the past, and employers are now forced to pay attention to what really matters most to employees: well-being. »

However, there is a fundamental problem that has plagued corporate wellness programs for ages and contributed to their failure. When employers treat all employees the same and provide them with the same set of wellness offerings, programs will perform poorly.

“We haven’t paid enough attention to those external factors related to the world of DE&I, things like gender, race, age, and religion, that really shape our ability as individuals to be able to do the healthy choice,” says Laura. “What wellness looks like for each of us is different; so that everyone can choose what looks best for them »

Laura describes this barrier as a “wellness privilege,” where employers assume that employees already have more than the bare minimum social or other determinants of health. General wellness tips, such as spending more time close to nature to account for different employee access to these determinants of health.

Employees may be at greater risk of chronic disease due to where they live, their level of education, their working life conditions, their childhood development, or the presence of social inclusion or discrimination. These social determinants of health, or “common” as Laura calls them, significantly influence our health risks, and without factoring them into wellness program design, employers are literally wasting their time.

Employers need to sit down and ask these vital questions: What are these individual factors that make employee A more at risk of having a health problem than employee B? Instead of offering yoga classes or a meditation room to improve his mental well-being, does employee A struggle with depression and anxiety because he is discriminated against because of his orientation sex or religious beliefs? A million yoga sessions a day is unlikely to help this employee.

Is an employee’s income level a significant barrier to their health status? Does it influence where they live, the health of their diet, or the financial burden they face? These “streams” are the true determinants of health that wellness initiatives should focus on.

The first step to embedding inclusion in wellbeing starts at the top. It would be ridiculous to want to promote inclusivity in wellness programs when your corporate culture does not reflect inclusivity. Putting up this facade will only further drown out employee engagement.

It’s easy to tell your employees to change their health habits, adopt healthier food options, etc., but at the same time, employers overlook how important work influences health and workplace factors. work that lead to negative health outcomes.

“The question is your organizational culture in which well-being is fundamentally supported or undermined? says Laura.

Where is the inclusion of inviting BIPOC into an organization dominated by a white-led leadership team? How inclusive will members of the LGBTQIA community feel when they are not represented on the organization’s decision-making team? Do your wellness offerings and events cater to members of other faiths or is it a wellness package that reflects your organization’s subtle religious bias?

Your wellness plan will often take these social differences into account if they are not well represented on your high-level leadership team. Ultimately, this creates unused, irrelevant, and ineffective wellness offerings. The less employees are engaged in workplace wellness, the poorer their health becomes, and this problem most often starts at the top.

“Whether wellness is part of a manager’s job description or not, the manager has everything to do with how well or poorly their team members are doing,” Laura notes. “A study at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden found that if I’m an employee, my boss matters more to my health than my doctor; a negative or toxic boss increases my risk of having a heart attack 10 years later. So, when some employees joke about their boss killing them, they really mean it.”

Fostering inclusion from the top helps foster accountability, which ultimately trickles down to your wellness programs. Building this corporate culture helps redefine what your organization stands for and this, in turn, underpins your policies, procedures and policies for accommodating diversity in your workplace.

When employers consider these nuances, they will realize that well-being is not a stand-alone concept, but part of the very fabric of employees’ daily activities. It would be easy to create gender-neutral training facilities, for example, or facilities accessible to employees in wheelchairs or to ensure that a sign language interpreter is present at conferences and workplace events. to make sure everyone feels included.

Inclusive wellness takes a lot of work. This goes beyond employing people of different races, religions or sexual orientations; it’s more about providing an environment that accommodates their differences and building a culture that supports each of them. Without rethinking this foundational framework, employers may struggle to create wellness inclusion or drive the desired level of employee engagement in wellness programs.

Lola R. McClure