“Workplace wellness programmes have been around for years,” Laura Putnam says. “But there’s abundant evidence suggesting that the traditional model simply isn’t working. For starters, the rates of obesity, stress, and lifestyle-related disease continue to rise. Nearly half of all Americans now suffer from some form of chronic health condition.”
1. Shift your mind-set from expert to agent of change
2. Imagine what’s possible
3. Uncover the hidden factors
4. Start with what’s right
5. Take a da Vinci approach to change
6. Go stealth
7. Create meaning
8. Design nudges and cues
9. Launch and iterate
10. Go global
So it’s clear, then, that the time is right for disruption and for a new approach to workplace wellness. Luckily for us, that’s where Putnam’s book comes in, and it even breaks it all down into bite-sized chunks so that you can read a chapter per day in your lunch break.
Putnam herself clearly knows what she’s talking about. She’s the founder and CEO of a company called Motion Infusion, a well-being consultancy that aims to boost engagement, positive behaviour changes and human performance improvement. She’s worked with Fortune 500s, government agencies, academic institutions, non-profits and more. If anyone can help us to catch a glimpse of the future of workplace wellness, it’s her.
She explains that change is always a challenge and that the best new initiatives are context-sensitive. With Workplace Wellness That Works, Putnam aims to “provide examples, resources and action items for taking an evolutionary approach to promoting employee health and wellbeing.” It’s a goal that she achieves, and then some. In fact, it’s one of the most comprehensive books on corporate wellness that we’ve come across, and the storytelling-based approach to conveying information works as well here as it does anywhere.
“Businesses that have taken a more creative approach to workplace wellness have achieved outstanding results,” Putnam says. She aims to show that “cultures of vitality are not just for cutting-edge companies but can be achieved in any organisation”. This book, then, is her manifesto for change, and we’d be wise to pay attention to the insights that she has to share with us.
As the subtitle suggests, Putnam’s book focusses predominantly on ten different steps that you can take to make wellness a key part of your workplace. These are further separated into three different sections, allowing you to tackle the problem a little bit at a time. One of the key messages that the author shares here is that a slow culture change is required, rather than just an order from the C-suite.
Let’s jump on in and take a look at the ten steps that Laura Putnam has to share with us.
“What do Oprah Winfrey, Morgan Spurlock and Michael Pollan have in common?” Putnam asks. The answer is surprisingly simple: all three of them are agents of change despite having traditional expertise. “Without any special credentials in nutrition, exercise physiology or even psychology,” she says, “all of them have influenced the choices of millions of people in the area of health and wellbeing.”
This is a great illustration of the power that agents of change have to offer. Arguably, Elon Musk is doing the same when it comes to space travel, but we can apply the same techniques to our day-to-day jobs to progress from being experts to being agents of change. Only by helping to usher in positive change can we make a real difference in the workplace.
If we can’t visualise the future that we want to create, we shouldn’t be surprised if we can’t then make it happen. “Agents of change imagine what’s possible,” Putnam says, “and then paint a picture of a desired future state that’s worth working towards.” This involves:
1. Creating a vision for what’s possible
2. Leveraging Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to move workplace wellness beyond health
3. Learning that our health is more than a physical check-up
4. Understanding the multiple dimensions of well-being
Putnam says that she wants to make us rethink the idea of us all being creatures of habit. “I would argue that we are more creatures of culture,” Putnam says. “If we really want to start changing behaviours, we need to shift our focus from changing a few behaviours, a few people at a time, to changing many behaviours, entire cultures at a time.”
To do this, Putnam suggests that we must first understand the hidden factors that come from our culture before determining the extent to which the larger, organisational culture is going to either boost or undermine your efforts. “Without culture on your side,” Putnam says, “it’s much more challenging.”
Putnam points out that wellness programmes usually start out with assessing risk factors, which is essentially documenting what’s wrong. The problem is that terror tactics don’t work. “The medical model,” she explains, “which is the primary inspiration behind the classic model of workplace wellness, is good at diagnosing problems, but not so good at motivating positive change. Rather, it’s good at spawning fear, which for most of us is not motivating.”
Putnam suggests that instead of starting out with what’s wrong, we should start out with what’s right instead. To help you to achieve this, she offers a four-step checklist:
1. Employ activities and campaigns that start with what’s right
2. Empower individuals to identify their well-being strengths or bright spots
3. Identify the bright spots on an organisational level
4. Identify the key metrics to reinvent a baseline on current level of employee well-being
Leonardo da Vinci is known as the ultimate Renaissance man, and with good reason. Whether we’re talking about his paintings or whether we’re talking about his inventions, da Vinci was a master of multiple different disciplines and so he was able to bring them together to create new and exciting ideas and approaches.
“If we truly want to elevate workplace wellness to the next level and do a better job of meeting common goals,” Putnam says, “we must take a more interdisciplinary approach and seek cross-functional solutions among departments. Like da Vinci, your task will be to bring together unlikely partners to create a multifaceted and coordinated team that can work with you to build the movement. With this team in place, you’ll then need to work together to develop and deliver da Vinci solutions.”
Putnam says that throughout the years, she’s discovered that using a hard sell for wellness is rarely a good idea. Instead, she advocates a stealth approach in which you “sneak” wellness in, often by leaving the word “wellness” out of the programme. She likens it to using a Trojan Horse.
“At Stanford University,” Putnam explains, “researchers began looking for more creative and more effective ways to encourage people to adopt healthier behaviours. They knew that traditional methods, such as telling people to eat better and move more because it’s ‘good for them’, weren’t working. The key to applying a stealth approach is to tap into what is already deemed ‘important’.”
This builds on from the last point, and the idea itself is pretty simple. If we find meaning in what we do, we’re more likely to stick with it. This holds true when we start a new job, but it also holds true when we implement a workplace wellness programme. If employees can see value and meaning in what you’re asking them to do, they’re much more likely to actually do it.
“Motivation comes in two flavours,” Putnam says. “Extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is doing something in order to get a reward or to avoid a penalty. It’s often connected with things that we ‘have’ to do. Intrinsic motivation stems from real meaning and enjoyment from the activity itself. Being truly intrinsically motivated, fully engaged and ‘in the zone’, is what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines as a ‘flow’ experience. Intrinsic motivation is connected with things that we actually want to do and can lead to a lifelong commitment.”
Have you ever heard of the acronym KISS? It stands for “keep it simple, stupid”, and it’s a well-known idiom amongst web designers which acts as a reminder that the easier you make a digital interface to use, the more likely people are to use it. Putnam describes this as the “make it easy” and “make it normal” imperatives, and she suggests that we can do this through designing nudges and cues.
Nudges: These are “the environmental prompts that make the health and wellbeing choices the easier choices (and, conversely, the unhealthy choices the harder choices).”
Cues: These are cultural prompts which “make it normal – or abnormal – to engage in certain practices.” Putnam says, “Examples of cues include policies, organisational values, rituals, communication, encouragement, recognition, modelling and core business practices.”
This section begins with a nod to Thomas Edison, who famously failed a thousand times before he was finally able to invent the lightbulb. Well, perhaps failure is too strong a word. In fact, when he was asked how he felt about failing so many times, Edison said, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The lightbulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
The lesson here is pretty simple, and it can be summed up neatly by a John Lennon quote: “A mistake is only an error. It becomes a mistake when you fail to correct it.” Putnam explains, “This is exactly the kind of spirit you should bring to your wellness movement – with individual employees, with the programs you develop or select, and with the organisation as a whole. Very simply, the launch-and-iterate approach means learning through doing.”
The last entry on the list taps into the idea of taking your wellness movement global, an important step for many international companies. Putnam says, “According to a recent survey of 11,000 companies in 15 countries, conducted by the Regus Group, the rates of stress in the workplace are exploding. On average, twice as many workers in large organisations (more than 1,000 employees) are reporting stress, and workers in China showed the highest rate of increase (86%).”
So it’s clear, then, that workplace stress is a huge problem across the world. This final chapter covers how we can tackle the stress and loneliness epidemics and covers:
- Why the need for wellness is now an international issue
- Why the need for well-being, especially emotional well-being, is also a rising international issue
- Examples of global bright spots
- The importance of sharing best practices across borders
- Steps you can take to build an effective global strategy
Putnam includes one final chapter on putting it all together, but we’re not going to summarise that here because then you’d have no incentive to pick up a copy of your own. With that said, we’ve covered plenty of ground here today and you should already have a pretty good idea of how you can get started.
Now it’s over to you to put what you’ve learned into practice. Try going back through this post and taking notes before creating a plan which you can put into action at your company. Then you need to measure the results and see what effect it has. And be sure to come back later to give us an update on how you got on! Good luck.
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