Your Workplace Wellness Program is Killing Your Culture

Updated: Jun 3

Written by CultureCon Guest Blogger Maggie Gough.

If my spouse came to me and said, “listen, I am here to support your well-being. The reality is that our health care costs keep rising and our retention is really important to me. I want you to want to stay married to me. To that end, I have created this check list of things you can do to keep healthy, because I am invested in your health and well-being as much as you. I will need you to go get a physical as well as complete five other things on this list in the next year and you’ll need to provide proof. Oh and to prove you're not smoking, I’ll need an affidavit.”


Do you think that is going to help me get healthy?


Do you think that is going to drive my intrinsic motivation?


Most importantly: do you think we have a healthy relationship? Do we have healthy connection? What would you imagine the culture of our marriage and family looks and feels like?


You might be thinking, “but employment isn’t marriage, and our company has 2,000 employees.”


I hear you, but the premise stands. Employees are not in relationship with a company. They are in relationship with the people who lead the company. When the relationship is one in which the employer seeks to "fix" the employee, it is abusive and degrades your culture.


As a workplace wellness expert, I also hear all the time that wellness professionals need to solve business problems. I couldn’t agree more.  However, we have failed to understand that people are not business problems. People are essential to businesses and their well-being is a business priority.


Work is deeply meaningful to our well-being as humans. According to the Wellness Council of America, human wellness involves growth, achievement, and meaning. For most of us, we get those things through our professional lives, through our work. Work is a conduit of our well-being. 


If work is a conduit of well-being, then we don’t need to fix the humans, we need to fix work.  


In the past 50 years we have designed work for maximum human productivity. The failure is that we didn’t design work for human well-being. Productivity is a by-product of well-being. Work has not been designed to engage well-being, and therefore, employees don’t engage work.  They find other ways to fulfill their need for achievement, growth, and meaning.


Less than 30% of employees in the United States are engaged in their work. This makes sense. Work was designed to maximize productivity. As a human being, I was not born to be productive.  I was born to invest in my understanding of my purpose, to achieve things within that understanding, and to grow and evolve.  Keep asking me to improve my productivity for productivity’s sake and I will disengage. Now try to solve my productivity problem by giving me a predetermined list of things I can do to be healthier for the sake of productivity… nope, not going to work. 


Engage me in my sense of well-being through my own personal understanding of meaning, achievement, and growth… now that’s something I can get behind.

Workplace wellness will not work and it will negatively impact your culture if business leaders, do not inherently understand that work itself is the primary function of well-being for employees during their time serving a business.  


Organizational culture is created through a million micro-moments between employees in connection with one another while doing meaningful work that amplifies them. Build a wellness program around that and watch your culture improve too.


About the Author:

Maggie Gough, founder and CEO of Realize Wellbeing, has dedicated her life to helping create workplaces that exude energy and innovation through their vibrant, thriving people. Throughout her rich career in the corporate wellness industry, she has become known as a maverick, a champion, a revolutionist, and even a ninja (if you want a good story just ask her about that one).  


She has become a nationally recognized leader, a dynamic speaker, and a fierce advocate for businesses and the people who work there. Maggie is dedicated to empowering fellow wellness warriors, who through compassion, connection, and vulnerability, will change the landscape of work culture as we know it.

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