The Courage to Address Everything: The Need for Complexity in Corporate Wellness

The mere existence of corporate wellness is an extraordinary achievement.

It’s based on an widely-accepted idea that would’ve been anathema just a few decades ago — that we, employers, have an ongoing responsibility for improving the physical and mental health of our employees, a pursuit completely reconcilable with our duty to shareholders. When our employees are well, they become more productive and creative, more resilient to stress, and ultimately better for the bottom line — the humanists and the capitalists march hand in hand.

With such a huge win-win on the table, it’s extraordinary to me that we don’t actually meet the mandate.

The Courage to Address Everything: The Need for Complexity in Corporate Wellness

Instead, we offer partial solutions to wellness — reduced insurance premiums for good health markers, gym reimbursements, fitness challenges. We fail to address sleep, social connection, reflection, work/life balance, and focused rest — all items necessary for improving the physical and mental health of our employees.

What if, instead of taking a reductionist stance, creating minimal programs with minimal effect, we mirrored the complexity of human wellness in our efforts? What if we addressed the physical and the mental with equal and adequate attention, if we explored the full constellation of habits necessary to actually aid our teams in becoming well?

What if we did more?

Of course, the objection is likely already echoing in your head — “We cannot get our employees to participate in simple, single-focus wellness programs. How would we ever get their sustained participation in more complex ones? How would we get them to address nutrition, exercise, sleep, connection, and do their work every day…”

A rational point, but one that misses human motivation by a wide mark.

We don’t do things because they’re simple or easy. We do things because we perceive there is likely to be a benefit, one with significant enough value to justify the effort.

In other words, we’re looking for a balanced relationship between the means and the ends. We’re not looking for easy; we’re looking for effective.

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So, we see where simple corporate wellness initiatives fall short — in the absence of more widespread lifestyle changes, a step challenge is unlikely to deliver a significant enough bodily change to justify the 10,000 steps a day. A $150 annual gym reimbursement doesn’t begin to cover the cost of regularly coached, worthwhile workouts, and so the benefit of fitness remains disconnected from the proposed solution. Reduced insurance premiums for favorable cholesterol markers don’t begin to cover the effort of learning to prepare meals at home, of fighting temptation, of learning the nuance of proper nutrition.

We must do two things — describe the benefit and prescribe the path. And we must do so believably, with enough complexity that a rational and motivated individual can see that the path, if pursued, is likely to lead to the benefit, regardless of the perceived difficulty.

We need do more.

So, we ask our corporate partners to bring their employees a real solution. One that addresses the physical (exercise, nutrition, mobility, hydration), the mental (reflection and Well-Being Practices), and the bridge between them (sleep).

And we speak to the employee, not as a person to be nudged into a single, inadequate behavior (“Take the stairs, Bill”), but as an adult who can clearly see that taking on lifestyle change is a matter of seeking improvement in many aspects of their lifestyle, from the kitchen to the gym to the mental space where gratitude, calm, social connection, and rest take priority.

The Courage to Address Everything: The Need for Complexity in Corporate Wellness

We ask our players and partners to take on a program where the outcome will actually meet the extraordinary mandate of corporate wellness — delivering productivity, health, and profits.

We ask that corporate wellness develop the courage to address everything.

Our solution, the Whole Life Challenge, is not the panacea — but it is a large step in the right direction. We, along with our partners, understand that we can respect the complexity of wellness alongside the intelligence of our teams, and deliver a program that asks more.

Of course, our goal is not to maintain a monopoly on this approach, but to see it become more widespread, with corporate leadership eschewing token efforts at employee wellness in favor of committed, holistic solutions. Together, we’ll move beyond an era where the mere existence of corporate wellness is an achievement and into an era where the outcomes of corporate wellness become remarkable. Together, we’ll finally achieve the promised win-win.

Jon Gilson
Jon Gilson is a coach and writer, and the CEO of the Whole Life Challenge.

Previously, he founded Again Faster Equipment, a functional fitness equipment company created to serve the CrossFit community. Established in 2006, Jon took the Company global in 2012, twice landing on the Inc. 500/5000 list of America’s fastest growing private companies.

From 2007 to 2013, he served as a Senior Lecturer for CrossFit, Inc., training aspiring CrossFit trainers at over 100 seminars, including engagements in Iceland, Afghanistan, Moscow, Holland, the United States, and Canada. Jon also served on the CrossFit L1 Advisory Board, helping establish policy for the organization’s training efforts from 2011 to 2013.

He’s also done stints in state government, gym management, and consulting — and currently teaches classes at CrossFit City Line.

Jon graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2003, summa cum laude, with a B.A. in Psychology. He also holds a Graduate Certificate in Finance and Control from the Harvard Extension School, 2006, and has completed coursework in data analytics.