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“When it comes to Wellness … Are You Committed or Just Involved: A Call for Leadership”

Wellness in the Workplace 2.0

Random Observations from Thirty-Five Years in the Field

What Got Us Where We Are Today…Won’t Get us Where We Need to be Tomorrow


presented for your intellectually driven consideration, emotionally driven engagement

and—most important—your viscerally driven action


“When it Comes to Wellness … Are You Committed or Just Involved?”

A Call for Leadership

We all know the chicken and pig breakfast reference.  One is involved and interested, the other, however, is truly dedicated and committed.

So, when it comes to wellness, are you a chicken or a pig? And, yes, I know what you’re thinking and I agree…it’s just that the graphic was too much fun to make and too compelling for me not to use.

Don’t get me wrong, involved is great.  We need more people to get involved in wellness activities.  However, if you want to be a leader in this field you’re going to need to be committed to do whatever it takes to turn the sickness/wellness game on its head.  And, that means making noise, taking risks, living the life, being an active role model, and—in rapid turn-style fashion—assume the roles of diplomat, irritant, fact-finder, myth-buster, vocal supporter and vocal dissenter INDEPENDENT of your own political and occupational safety.  It’s one thing to cheer and back-slap at a health promotion conference with cronies and quite another to question a chili-cheese-dog-loving-bring-on-the-donuts CEO on the merits of cafeteria reform.  The “Involved” and quiet supporters will always make healthy food selections or bring their own healthy lunch to work.  The “Committed,” however, will stump for awareness, education and activities to advance a healthy culture for all employees.

Passion & Collective Cause vs.  Personal Interest & Sideline Support

Again, please don’t think that I don’t appreciate the role of a good follower who rallies behind an important issue.  I do.  These people are the backbone of any great movement.  That said, every significant initiative, if it is to grow and overturn status quo, must have strong, bold and, at times, daring, leadership.

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered with defeat, than to take rank with those poor spirits that neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the twilight that knows not victory or defeat.”

–  Teddy Roosevelt

I believe it all comes down to passion and purpose.  Regardless of where your constructive passion bubbles from, it is important for your overall wellbeing that you launch a campaign of self-discovery.  You need to find the source of not what makes you tick but what makes you WANT to tick.  There’s a difference.

What follows is a simple exercise to help you determine why you get out of bed in the morning.  It has helped many people over the years discover their path.  I invite you to engage…

Eleven Steps Toward Waking Up & Discovering Your Passion

1.  Write a personal mission statement


My personal mission is to progressively and consistently achieve measurably higher levels of physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual awareness by living a life of integrity, curiosity, authenticity, compassion, and dedication to the collective needs  of all beings.

2.  Assume you die, today.  Sorry about that.  Now, write your own obituary. Yes, I know it’s somewhat macabre, but it works so open your eyes — heart, soul and mind — and just do it.

Okay, I can hear some of you saying that it’s too much work and that you’ll do it later. No you won’t; the “Yeah, But…” syndrome will get it in the way.  Or, closer to the point for some, you won’t do it because you don’t want to face your current reality (sleepwalking and whining are much easier).  Some of you might simply avoid this exercise with the catchall “this is stupid” excuse.  But, some of you hearty souls will dig right in and be amazed, pleased, depressed, encouraged, enlightened, lie to yourself, proud, pleased, motivated to change or quickly crawl under the covers with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey while cursing the fact that you dared to OPENED YOUR EYES.

As with everything else in life, you have a choice.  You can remain in a deep stupor or you can AWAKEN to the good, the bad, and the ugly reality of where you are today…with the understanding that the little orphan Annie kid is right.

3.  It’s a miracle!  You get to live another twenty years!  Now, write your revised obituary and watch your passion begin to appear.

4.  Write down 3 risks you’ve considered taking but have been stopped by the “Yeah, But…” Syndrome:

5.  Name any and all reoccurring dreams (day and night):

6.  Ask 3 friends (family counts) for their impression of where your passion lies.

7.  List 3 – 5 books you’ve purchased the past 2 years.

8.  Top 3 Websites, Magazines and/or News Sources

9.  List Your Top Three All-Time Movies

10. Reflect on the above and journal your thoughts (no more than 3 pages), first thing in the morning, each day for a week.  Let it flow…don’t edit.  See (hear, feel, sense) where it takes you.

11. Go back and re-read your two obituaries

What did you learn from this exercise?  IF you found wellness as a constant theme and it both excited you and met your expectations, GREAT!  Start or continue your leadership pursuit.  If you saw wellness as an underlining theme to help achieve another objective, GREAT!  Wellness is an essential ingredient in any success formula.  Enjoy life and go for whatever moves your needle!  If you felt like the exercise is too much work, well, all I have to say is:

“Buack…Buack, Bauck, Bauuuuuck…Buack…Buack, Bauck, Bauuuuuck…”

“Do You Practice Situational Wellness? No Judgment…Just a Question”

Wellness in the Workplace 2.0



Random Observations from Thirty-Five Years in the Field

What Got Us Where We Are Today…Won’t Get us Where We Need to be Tomorrow


presented for your intellectually driven consideration, emotionally driven engagement

and—most important—your viscerally driven action



“Do You Practice Situational Wellness?  No Judgment…Just a Question”

Lessons from the Baltimore Catechism

This is truly a question without bias, value, or finger wagging.  Who am I to judge?   The question may also be rhetorical because we all practice situational wellness. You know, wellness when it suits our needs and doesn’t interfere with our momentary whims.  And, while I’d like to think we have control over our every-moment behavior, we don’t.  That fact is very clear.  Just look around, better yet, think about your own behavior.  It’s part of our nature to periodically give in to Monkey Brain and BSOS (Bright Shiny Object Syndrome).  It’s a feature of our evolution.

This is a very important acknowledgement and admission.  Bodhis and Buddhas are rare where I come from and, my guess, where you live as well.

Join with me and repeat, “Unlike the Buddha, I practice situational wellness.”

This fact does not mean that we are weak, corrupt, inadequate, a bad person or the Anti-Buddha.  It means that we are human.  It means that we are imperfect.  I encourage you to embrace and celebrate your imperfection and that of others.  To do otherwise is to live a life of self-recrimination, denial, stress, shame, guilt, contradiction and duplicity.

Those who presume a higher plane of evolution tend to burst into flames.  Elmer Gantry is my name and hypocrisy is my game.

Before I go further, let me give you my definition of “wellness.”  I’ve presented this before but it’s important for this context.

well·ness, \ˈwel-nəs\: a dynamic objective and subjective progression toward a state of complete physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.  Incremental improvements can occur from pre-conception up to and including a person’s last breath

For the purpose of this essay, the key root words are “dynamic,”  “progress” and “increment.”  With wellness there is no end point, at least not in this lifetime.  Wellness is a paradoxical state wherein contentment of being and aspiration of becoming live in harmony.

Therefore it is not the independent act or goal that is the concern.  It is the understanding and intention (moral and ethical integrity) that separates the “saint” from the “sinner.”  Once again, it’s all about context.

1955, Sister Mary Wilma and The Baltimore Catechism

Bear with me as I take us back to the year 1955, SS Peter & Paul School on Cherry St. in Jamestown, New York.  Dogwood is in bloom, forthysias paint the backyard a bright yellow, my First Holy Communion is fast approaching (nifty white suit) and I have just reached the “Age of Reason.” This means that I am now morally responsible for my sins.  Hell could be my fate—will be my fate­—unless and until I understand, embrace and follow the teachings of the Baltimore Catechism.

When I was seven I was barely capable of remembering my phone number yet alone all those commandments.  However, that said, all these years later, I find some very good guidelines posted in that little blue book.  Whatever your religious or philosophical equivalent may be, it’s worth retrieving the moral teachings of your youth and see how they might be applied in your world, today.




What Would the Baltimore Catechism Say About “Wellness?”

Loosely interpreted, lesson 6 in the BC defines the existence of sin in terms of right or wrong, awareness and willful action.  Something has to be truly wrong, you must know it’s wrong and you must do it, anyway.  When these three criteria are met…you’ve sinned.   There’s also an order of seriousness of sin based upon how much damage it does to  your soul.  A sin can be material (didn’t know), venial (small) or mortal (really big deal).  Again, this is a loose interpretation.

So, in the world of wellness, you’re a “sinner” if:

  • There is evidence to support that the behavior you’re considering is — in any way — physically, emotionally or spiritually harmful to yourself or others.
  • You are well aware of the harm the behavior will cause.
  • You do it anyway.

Going back to context, if your intention is to do something you know to be harmful, you’ve compromised your integrity for the reward or the expediency of the moment.  It is this latter part…”for the moment” that makes all of us practitioners of situational wellness.

My message is not to preach: “STOP DOING IT!” That would be both naive and hypocritical on my part.  You’re going to continue “It” and so am I.  The issue is to make sure you’re not in denial with regard to harm and to be careful when it comes to triaging your “sins.”

Eat all the birthday cake you want, drink all the booze on Friday nights you choose, eat those “occasional” cheeseburgers to your heart’s content (or discontent), give children soda pop, fat and processed sugar and call it a “treat,” and smoke that celebratory cigar but just don’t tell yourself that you’re not a an avid follower of SW (situational wellness).

If, according to known science, something is harmful, all the spinning in the world won’t change the FACT that it is harmful.  Hey, I’m sorry but eating/serving jelly-filled donuts may be a venial sin compared to the mortal sin of deep-fried Snickers, however, they are both filled with known toxins and should be avoided if your intent is to stay on a path of wellness for you and those in your charge.

No judgment—I’m sure you’ll still go to heaven—I’m just sayin’… .  Be honest, that’s all. Oh, and be careful of using the “This-may-be-bad-for-my-body-but-every-once-in-awhile-it’s-good-for-my-spirit!” line.  As you well know this is a very slippery slope. Besides, 99% of the time, “This” can be replaced by something that won’t—if consumed as directed­—cause harm.

Avoiding the “Near Occasion” of Sin…

I also can hear the good Sister talk about the importance of having a firm purpose of sinning no more and to avoid near occasions of sin.  By near occasions of sin, BC means all the persons, places and things that may easily lead us into sin.  Something about “He who loves the danger will perish in it.”

The four kinds of occasions are:

  1. near occasions, through which we always fall
  2. remote occasions, through which we sometimes fall
  3. voluntary occasions, or those we can avoid
  4. involuntary occasions, or those we cannot avoid

Well, like I said, you and me, we’re gonna sin some more.  That’s a fact.  The issue here is, are you serious about avoiding unhealthy habits and actions…those you know to be harmful?  Or, for you, is their no paradox at all?   Doth thou protest too much about being with only a phantom aspiration toward becoming?  Important for you to figure out.

Meanwhile, those donuts sure look good.  Ah, what the hell, one can’t hurt.


Let me suggest a personal mission statement for every SW practitioner (all of us) to consider:

My personal mission is to progressively and consistently achieve

measurably higher levels of physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual

awareness by living a life of integrity, curiosity, authenticity, compassion,

and dedication to the collective needs of all beings.

An On-Going Argument for Creating Healthy Cultures

Even if you adapt the above personal mission statement as your own, it’s not good enough.  We need help.  We need the help of the collective to protect the health of the individual.  I hope it’s clear by now that we are not good at self-monitoring.  Not pejorative, just good old observation sprinkled with brain science.  Rational thought plays second fiddle to random emotional reaction.  Schools, worksites, government and family structure must provide safe, secure environments that foster wellness (as described) while helping individuals avoid the “near occasion of sin.”  And, yes, this means no donuts at conferences, no sugar-treats at school functions, no candy bowls on desks and even (here comes the midwest heresy) no deep-fried Twinkies and Snickers at the State Fair!



Complete Report Available: 10 Key Observations from 35 Years in the Field

There has been such a positive response to this series that I have put it into one report.  If you would like a full complementary PDF copy of the “10 Key Observations…” simply send me an email and I’ll send it to you within 24 hours.

Future listings will be under the heading of

Wellness 2.0

Random Observations from 35 Years in the Field

Next Posting:

“Do You Practice Situational Wellness?  No, Judgment…Just a Question”

10th Key Observation: “Don’t Confuse Connectivity with Intimacy”

Wellness in the Workplace 2.0

What Got Us Where We Are Today…Won’t Get us Where We Need to be Tomorrow

10 Key Observations from Thirty-Five Years in the Field


10th Key Observation…



Don’t Confuse Connectivity with Intimacy

presented for your intellectually driven consideration, emotionally driven engagement and—most important—your viscerally driven action



Stop for a second and consider the possibility that

the more touch-points we have…the less in-touch we’ve become.

The other day, I heard a TV reporter ask a 20-something woman how often she talked on the phone.  Her response was, “Almost never.”  She, like most of those under forty, prefers texting to actual phone calling.  Her response as to why she texts:  “I find that texting allows me to avoid the awkwardness that comes with actual interaction.”

No, seriously, that’s what she said.  As for the reporter, not an eyebrow raised or a follow-up question asked.

“…allows me to avoid the awkwardness that comes with actual interaction.”

Is it just my white hair that finds this alarming or are there others of you out there that are just a little creeped out by her answer?

Yes, I understand the value of texting and instant messaging and I realize that the sheer numbers of contacts and connections has increased significantly. This part is all good.  The creepy part is that…knowingly or not…I think she nailed it.  Have we exchanged intimacy and actual interaction for expediency and ease?

As for the full spectrum world of technology, it’s been said that computers like IBM’s “Watson” will never totally  replace humans because they cannot convey the subtly and nuance often used to deliver the true meaning behind our messages.  All of us have dozens of shades of smiles, frowns, voice inflections, intonations, body postures, eye shifts, lifts and squints that add color, texture and clarity to our interactions.

As a university lecturer, mentor and trainer of hundreds of health promotion professionals I always stress the importance of crystal clear communication.  The order of preference for personal communication is:

  1. Actual Face-to-Face
  2. Electronic Face-to-Face (FaceTime, Skype)
  3. Audio (formally known as telephone)
  4. Video Message
  5. Audio Message
  6. Descriptive Personal Email
  7. Text Messages (Think 140 Characters or Less)

Wait, before anyone calls me old — “chronologically superior” — or out of touch (that would be ironic), let me again praise technology and its value in wellness, health promotion and daily living, in general.  I love it for peer support, reminders, data uploads, medical monitoring, rallying action, spreading information, quick hellos, and growing social networks.  It truly is remarkable and we’ve just scratched the surface!  Hot damn, hallelujah and bring it on.  My kids have the best hand-me-downs you can imagine.  At this very moment my daughter is anxiously waiting for me to pick up my new iPad2 so she can have my “old” iPad1.

But please, please, along with high-tech, keep fostering and building high-touch. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the IBM computer kick butt on Jeopardy but it’s hard to imagine “Dinner with Watson” coming to a theater near you, anytime soon. Also, all the emoticons in the world can’t replace a hug, a knowing look or an actual smiley face from a real little kid. I don’t find interactions with them to be awkward, at all.


What say you?


PS.  Toronto?

9th Key Observation: “Howard Beale Isn’t the Crazy One and Mr. Spock is Dangerous…”

Wellness in the Workplace 2.0

What Got Us Where We Are Today…Won’t Get us Where We Need to be Tomorrow

10 Key Observations from Thirty-Five Years in the Field


9th Key Observation…

Howard Beale Isn’t the Crazy One and Mr. Spock is Dangerous

presented for your intellectually driven consideration, emotionally driven engagement and—most important—your viscerally driven action


Where’s Howard?

You know Howard.  He’s the “I’m not going to take it anymore!” guy, the oh-so-angry, fictitious news commentator from Paddy Chayefsky’s award winning movie, Network (1976).

“I don’t need to tell you things are bad…everybody knows that things are bad.  It’s a depression.  Everybody’s outa work, or scared of losing their jobs…the dollar buys a nickel’s worth…banks are going bust…shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter… punks are running wild in the street, there’s nobody anywhere who knows what to do and there seems to be no end to it!

…we know the air is unfit to breathe, and our food is unfit to eat…we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had 15 homicides and 63 violent crimes as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be!

We know things are bad!  Worse that bad!  They’re crazy, it’s like everything everywhere is going crazy so we don’t go out anymore!  We sit in the house and slowly the world we live in is getting smaller and all we say is “Please!  At least leave us alone in our living rooms, let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything.  Just leave me alone!”

Well I’m not going to leave you alone.

I want you to get mad!

I don’t want you to protest and I don’t want you to riot.  I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write.  I don’t know about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street.

All I know is that FIRST – you’ve got to get mad!  You’ve gotta say ‘I’m a human being, God damn it!  My life has value!’

So, I want you to get up now…

I want all of you to get up out of your chairs…

I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell: ‘ I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’

I want you to get up right now.  Sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’  Things have got to change!  Friends; you’ve got to get mad!  Then, we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and inflation and the oil crisis…

First, get out of your chairs, sit up out of your chair, go to your window, stick your head out say it:

‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!’


You go, Howard!  Tell ’em like it is!

This year marks the 35th anniversary of Network.  Co-incidentally this is also my 35th year as a health and wellness professional.  It’s amazing (somewhat disheartening) that—other than objects of distraction—Paddy could have tapped out those words this morning.

Those of you who know my work know that I view the process of change as a linear, sequential process: intellectual (information), emotional (engagement), visceral (call to action) and cellular (habit formation).  The KEY stage is the visceral stage.  Or, as Howard would say, the “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” stage.

Sustainable change does not occur

until your soul awakens and your bones start shakin’.

During all of my years in the field, I’ve seen tons of data and periodic bursts of emotion but VERY little soul-awakening, bone-shaking action.  And, as for sustained change — please — don’t make go get Howard…he’s still really ticked.

The question is WHY?  Why do we not see, feel, and believe that the health platform is truly burning?  Why can’t we hear the crackle…why can’t we smell the acrid smoke?

Is Howard right?  Do you really think this (the health of our nation…our children) is the way it’s supposed to be?  Or, perhaps he is right and you simply want to be left alone with your TV, toaster and steel belted radials.

Mr. Spock is Dangerous

I just participated in my umpteenth health promotion conference; many of the same faces, many of the same PowerPoint slides … more studies coming soon.  Yes, Yes, YES! Research is important but it’s time to shift more of the science of life research to art of living research.  Facts without context are meaningless.

Until we can answer the corporate and personal “So What?” question…the “Why Should I Care?” question…we will remain trapped in this endless cycle of information and transient emotion.  Until we objectively tee-up the AH-Ha moment that subjectively awakens souls and shakes bones we are in danger of doing more harm than good.

We don’t need any more tinder wood…We need sparks!

Excuse me; I have to stop now.  It’s time for some fresh air.

much, much, more to come on this subject…


8th Key Observation: “Learn the Ways of the Sherpa”

Wellness in the Workplace 2.0

What Got Us Where We Are Today…Won’t Get us Where We Need to be Tomorrow

10 Key Observations from Thirty-Five Years in the Field


8th Key Observation…

“Learn the Ways of the Sherpa”

Diversity and Sherpa Leadership

presented for your intellectually driven consideration, emotionally driven engagement and—most important—your viscerally driven action


“Our actual ultimate root is in our common humanity…not in our personal genealogy.”

Joseph Campbell

Disclaimer:  While I did the normal kind of hiking as a kid and a little bit more when I was stationed with US Air Force in Alaska in the 60’s, I still consider myself a novice when it comes to high altitude trekking and climbing.  That said, I am certified in technical climbing by the Alaska Mountain Guides and Climbing School in Haines (photo above taken during training on 2000), I’ve trekked to the Mt. Everest Basecamp and the Summit of Mt. Kalapathar in Nepal in 2001, and reached the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro via the Machame  route in 2006. Currently I’m in training for a South American Andes trek this summer to Machu Picchu taking the Salkantay Mountain route with the great folks from International Mountain Guides (IMG).  I’ve also done training hikes in Colorado and a couple up-and-downs on the misleadingly rugged Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.

Why Climb Mountains?

Very nice, Giusto, beautifully said…

Yes, all that he said (perhaps not the pipe smoking part…) and more.  One of the “and more” things for me are the leadership lessons that I observe each time I head off with a mountain guide.  Whether it’s a leisurely hike on the Missouri Lakes Trail overlooking Beaver Creek, navigating a whiteout on the Davidson Glacier in Alaska, communing with yaks in the High Kumbu of Nepal, or crossing the Baranco Wall to the Karanga Valley in Tanzania,  I pay close attention to the head guy…the leader…the boss…the guide…The Sherpa.

And, yes, the true “Sherpa” is a member of an ethnic group that hails from the high mountains of Nepal—I had the pleasure of trusting in and learning from Ang Nima Sherpa while on the Mt. Everest adventure—but, for the purpose of this essay, I will refer to all guides as sherpas.  Also, I’m going to pick Africa for this posting but the principals of leadership and the lessons learned apply to all of my trekking adventures.

Diversity and Sherpa Leadership

“Machame, also known as the “Whisky Route,” no doubt in order to set it apart from the “Coca Cola” Marangu route is an option not for the soft-core [trekker]…”

– Mt. Kilimanjaro Travel Guide

RiddleDefying the odds, how do you get ALL twelve men and women ranging in age from 16 to 61, from diverse socio-economic-political-occupational-geographic backgrounds, to travel to Africa, trek to the 19,341’  summit of the highest free standing mountain in the world (that last foot is a killer) and—most important­—all return home safely to hike, trek and climb again?

Answer:  Sherpa Leadership

A good sherpa is agnostic when it comes to diversity.  His leadership skills and success are not influenced by your religion, ethnicity, country of origin, occupation, age or gender.  He doesn’t care…and neither does the mountain.

The sherpa does care about the mission, your commitment, training, endurance, flexibility, whole-person health, integrity, humanity, humility, team spirit, heart, guts and soul.  He is a blind integrator of cultural backgrounds and beliefs and the ultimate discriminator of ability, drive and determination.

The mountain doesn’t care about any of this.  Contrary to popular myths, mountains are not moved by your goals, aspirations, hopes, past history, future dreams, hardships, talents, money or even your integrity or humanity.

So, when you are heading off to the mountains (wherever they may be) put your trust in leadership…not, the mountain.  One cares, the other simply is…

The Good Sherpa has…

  • experience
  • verbal and nonverbal skills
  • love of people
  • training
  • assessment knowledge
  • superior network
  • goal setting skills
  • 6th sense
  • knows when to carry your pack and when to give it back
  • passion for the journey
  • love of nature

The Good Sherpa values…

  • client wellbeing 1st, last & forever
  • client’s expressed goals
  • strategic team selection
  • impeccable field support
  • the “no jerks allowed” rule
  • direct, clear communication (no oblique speak)
  • the principal of “accept, respect & secure”
  • the power of the possible
  • mountains not caring
  • the reality that ego & hubris kill people
  • the power of the spirit and weakness of the flesh
  • the fact that form always follows function
  • the fact that basecamp is for discussion…the path is for following directions
  • on the mountain there is no room for metaphor, ambiguity or hyperbole
  • metrics
  • an emerging strategies approach
  • a life of healthy uncertainty

Much more to come on this subject…


7th Key Observation – “Wellness for the Ages: The Beaver to The Bieber”

Wellness in the Workplace 2.0

What Got Us Where We Are Today…Won’t Get us Where We Need to be Tomorrow

10 Key Observations from Thirty-Five Years in the Field


7th Key Observation…

“Wellness for the Ages:  From The Beaver to The Bieber”

presented for your intellectually driven consideration, emotionally driven engagement and—most important—your viscerally driven action



Over the past 30 years, one of the highest demand speeches and workshops I do for corporations is called:

“Pearl Harbor to Pearl Jam”

Wellness for the Ages

Certainly, much attention is given to the psychology of change.  Unfortunately—my 35+ years of field observation tells me­—the sociology of behavior and behavior change remains shortchanged.

This particular talk outlines the importance of avoiding cookie cutter approaches to wellbeing programming and for management to recognize the impact of both generational and cultural differences at the worksite.  According to audiences, the presentation is interesting, insightful, amusing and very practical … lots of “AH HA!” moments.

The last time I gave this addresses was last Autumn in Newport, RI, for a group of about 60 corporate wellness and HR folks.  I’m pleased to say that the talk was well received; however, as I considered the makeup of the audience, it dawned on me that the-times-they-are-a-changing.  Well, more to the point, the-bookends-they-are-a-changing.

The “Veterans” (Greatest Generation), 1916 -1924, are sadly all but gone from one end of the corporate spectrum and “Generation Y” (Millennials), 1981 – 1997, are about to share the stage with “Generation Z” (The Internet Generation), 1998 – 2010.

With a tip of my hat to Steve Cook from the Health & Wellness Institute (it was his suggestion), the talk remains basically the same but it now reflects a significant tick of the clock.  Going forth, the talk and workshop is called:

“The Beaver to The Bieber”

Wellness for the Ages

multiple generations at work…

Tom Brokaw’s favorite cohort is now part of the background story as they join the Ellis Island generation that came ashore at the turn of the 20th century.  Although no longer part of today’s active workforce, the influence of these two generations MUST be considered and understood if we are to maximize the exponential power of our multi-generational human resources.

When designing wellbeing programs and policies it helps if you have a basic grasp—for each generation—on the following:

Defining Events, Themes, Relationships, Rewards & Motivation:  What occurred on the world stage that helped form each generation’s psyche? What do they look for in a relationship and how are they motivated?

So, how about the Silent Generation (1925 – 1945)?  Most of these Korean War Era Americans are retired but many sit on boards, own stock and still influence the worksite.  Do you know what moves their needle and what shaped their dreams?  And, how about those Generation X, Y & Z folks?   Do you really know their likes and dislikes?  If you think all of your employees think alike, dance to the same music, and march to the same drummer, just have a Baby Boomer explain the poetry of rap and ask a Net Gen member to list their three favorite doo-wop groups and tell you “Who Wrote the Book of Love?”

multiple cultures at work…

“From Anthony and Rachel to Juan and Mei-Lien”

Wellness for Everyone

Of course, it’s not just generational but also heritage, custom, and culture that needs your attention.  In 1907—the year of the highest number of immigrants—over 1,000,000 adventurers were processed at Ellis Island.  Here are the top ethnicities of immigrants who passed through Ellis Island between 1899 – 1937:

In addition to those Americans whose ancestors came here via the horrors of slavery or those who identify themselves as Native Americans, the majority of you reading this posting can trace your roots back to western, central and eastern Europe.  The world I was born into in the 40’s and where I was raised in the 50’s was directly and indirectly influenced by this “Melting Pot” of heritage and culture.


But what about today’s new influences on culture, interests, and attitudes?  Where are they coming from?  Here are the top countries of origin of the US foreign-born population as recorded in 2007:

Sources: US Bureau of the Census

talk about a melting pot…


At your worksite, are you taking care of

The Beaver & are you ready for The Bieber?

How about

Anthony & Rachel…Juan & Mei-Lien?


6th Key Observation – 2001 to 2011: Same 10 Common Concerns

Wellness in the Workplace 2.0

What Got Us Where We Are Today…Won’t Get us Where We Need to be Tomorrow

10 Key Observations from Thirty-Five Years in the Field


6th Key Observation…

“2001 to 2011:  Same 10 Common Concerns”

presented for your intellectually driven consideration, emotionally driven engagement and—most important—your viscerally driven action


This is not meant to be a genie-in-a-bottle, but more to provoke thought and creative team solutions.


“We’ve got great programs, dedicated health professionals, and supportive management — so why is participation so low?”

Unfortunately, the “other guy” syndrome is part of human nature.  The norm reminds us that until a measurable event occurs — a teachable moment — people deny the need for prevention services.  This phenomenon is independent of knowledge and understanding; the cause is emotional.  “Yes, I smoke,” goes the story, “but I’m going to quit, soon; honest.”  “Of course I’ve put on a few more pounds, but this is the way life is.  You gain weight as you get older.  One of these days… .”  “I don’t drink any more than most people; besides, I can hold my booze, pretty well.”  “I know I should get more exercise, but right now, I’m too busy.”

The above excuses are all grounded, not in fact, but in desire.  The consequences of poor lifestyle choices are all real, however, they are not the person’s reality; not, at least, until there is an event.  This, the event; the heart attack, stroke, mental breakdown, divorce papers, child in crisis, bankruptcy, onset of type II diabetes, knee replacement, etc., triggers a marked increase in both motivation and activity.  The activity is emotionally driven by fear, pain, and the stark reality that, indeed, it can happen to me.  I am, now, “the other guy.”  Unfortunately, as the symptoms subside often the newly discovered good health practices seem less urgent and the individual begins to slip back into the world of “should,” and “someday” and the cycle repeats.

The bad news is that illness, age, and corresponding disability will increase disease management (DM) activity.  However, incidence of disease and the need to manage that disease is not where we want to see growth.  We need to foster growth on the prevention side of HP.  To increase prevention participation, we need to broaden our target market and focus on all the components of optimal health, and, we need to understand the role of staging and readiness to change.


“Our organization is increasingly diverse.  So, with a limited budget, how do we provide programs that are gender specific and accommodate differences in age and culture?”

The “Great Melting Pot,” as the United States was called at the dawn of the 20th century, consisted, primarily, of Western Europeans, however, today’s melting pot is truly international.  Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and India are the jumping off points for millions of today’s immigrants.  In addition to diverse cultures, the workplace often houses up to four different generations of workers; kind of a Pearl Harbor to Pearl Jam mixture of memories, attitudes, and expectations.

To be effective, DM/HP programs must respect and understand the history and sociology of health and lifestyle practices relative to age and culture.  The days of cookie-cutter programs are over — or, certainly should be.  Before throwing programs and activities at your employees you need to identify an individual’s needs, interests, beliefs, and position in the stage model.

In addition to understanding the dynamics of organizational culture and individual change, research shows a direct correlation between desired outcomes and degree of individual tailoring.  The more the individual feels that the program is speaking to him or her, the more vested they become in the process.  It the old story of which news bulletin grabs and holds your attention, more:

  • Typhoon Strikes the Coast of Japan
  • Hurricane Bearing Down on the Caribbean
  • Miami Prepares for “The Storm of the Century”
  • Funnel Cloud Spotted North of Town:  Take Cover, Now!


“What expectations should we set for our DM/HP programs and how should we measure success?”

It is important to remember that change is a process, not an event (more about this, later).  Certainly, when it comes to the DM aspect of HP, we can look to specific biometrics as one indicator of success.  However, in management as well as prevention, the initial key indicator is participation.  Regardless of anything else, programs must promote and reinforce entry and progression through the continuum of change.  Any movement along this continuum should be measured and viewed as success.

By limiting success criteria to bio-metric indicators you not only set your programs up for perceived ROI failure (more about that later) but, also by definition, you limit the breath of your program offering to that small segment of the population who is ready for a specific intervention strategy.  In tobacco use, as an example, you miss the 85% of smokers who are not ready to begin a formal intervention program but are primed for more education or need assistance in maintaining their non-smoking status.  Which tobacco control program is more successful: one that has 30 out 100 attendees tobacco-free at the end of one year, or a program that moves 600 out 1000 tobacco users from the point of NEVER wanting to quit their habit to thinking seriously about changing in the next 30 days?  As with so many options, they both have merit.  But keep mind that without the “pipeline” component, you will never have more than a handful of tobacco users ready, willing, and able to walk away from their addiction.  A successful (efficacious) process includes a strong feeder component.  Recruit, measure, and tout participation at all levels of change — awareness, education, intervention, and maintenance!

Reaching Dependents

“We know that a considerable percentage of our healthcare costs are incurred by dependents.  What can we do in the areas of DM/HP?”

Dependents range in age from birth through retirement years.  And, at each age, they can cost your organization, time, money, and energy.  Any DM/HP process that does not include dependants is fraudulent — not just inadequate — fraudulent.  To presume that your DM/HP efforts will have a significant impact on organizational health and dollars without including dependents is misleading and grossly insufficient.  Not convinced?  Take a look at your prescription drug utilization and your healthcare claims.

Because of expanded limited access, I suggest you take advantage of the 24/7 feature of electronic healthcare.  By using qualified public domain information and carefully selected e-vendors you can greatly enhance the health and lifestyle of dependent populations.  In particular, take a close look at programs specifically designed for teens.  Teens are huge medical claims waiting to happen.  Short-circuit these costs by targeting their unique needs.

Vendor Selection Criteria

“We are bombarded with individuals and organizations selling health-related products.  How do you sort out the good, bad, and truly ugly?”

Twenty years ago, there were a handful of quality programs available through national vendors.  Choice was not that difficult.  Today, with the advent of the Internet and the flood of scientific data, there are hundreds of vendors anxious to for you to engage their services.  An upcoming article will deal specifically with this topic.  However, for now, keep the following in mind that a vendor should be much more than a provider of drop-off products and services.  They need to be comprehensive, accessible, flexible, and experienced.  Sound simple?  It’s not.  Due to limited dollars, you need as much quality one-stop-shopping as possible.  You do not have the time, dollars, or energy to have multiple contacts for each of your offerings.  Find an experienced multi-component provider and stick with them.  They will not only help you with paperwork and sanity, they will also help with triage, cross-over, data collection, analysis, and strategic planning.  Like a good pharmacist, they will also help you avoid unhealthy DP/HP interactions.  An excellent provider will have a pattern, philosophy, and support network that is consistent throughout their offerings; this will help you, immensely.  A good vendor is, at a minimum, equal to one FTE (full time equivalent).

Follow-On Programming

“Most of our employees have multiple risk factors; what should they do first and how do we help them maintain momentum once they get started?”

After some basic data collection, you probably have an idea as what is most important — and therefore, should-be-first — on someone’s list of disease prevention and management needs.  So, what?

Need is only a part of the decision process.  Interest, access, learning style, and belief in success are critical factors to consider when beginning a change program.  Hypertension, diabetes, and high blood pressure may signal weight loss for someone who is morbidly obese.  However, if distress is blocking visions of success, maybe a good stress reduction/management program is the way to go, first.  On the other hand, maybe someone has recently loss a close friend or relative to lung cancer and their teachable moment has arrived. If finances are in runaway mode, maybe financial responsibility is the first step (yes, this is part of comprehensive DM/HP — check your VISA charges if you doubt this…).  There are a number of factors that influence the whens, whats, hows, and whys of DM/HP.  The more barriers you can remove and the more control you give to your employee the more likely the individual is to begin a program, stay with it, and springboard their success into other areas of change.


“Funds are limited.  How do I provide comprehensive services without adequate resources?”

Look around.  Borrow from other departments.  Use the graphics person to help you with a promotion campaign, tap the IT folks to help develop and maintain a database, and pick the brain of your VP of sales to help you develop the right pitch.  A lament often is heard is, “I can’t do it all!”  Of course you can’t and if you try you will fail.  The common mistake is to place too much emphasis on acquiring operating dollars and not enough on controlling expenses.

Budgeting & Funding

“I seem to be on the short-end when it comes time for budget approval.  Any ideas?”

In brief, it is important that you keep your budget request reasonable, measurable, and tied to the corporate mission.  Also, find a champion; someone in senior management who inherently recognizes the full value of a solid DM/HP program.  And, most important, the tone, structure, and presentation of your budget request must look and read like any other business unit’s budget.


“My boss is a numbers person and wants to know how much everything costs and what kind of return we can expect from our investment.”

I’m tempted to refer back to my company carpet comment but I will resist.  Of course, management must believe there is value in what you’re doing and you need to show numbers.  The best way to do this is with the data collected from a business similar to yours and refer to it.  As shown earlier in this paper, national leaders like Johnson & Johnson and the companies studied in the HERO study (Chevron, Health Trust, Inc., Hoffmann-LaRoche Inc., Marriott Corporation, State of Michigan, and State of Tennessee) have already demonstrated both the costs of high risk employees and the ROI associated with comprehensive DM/HP programs.  Refer to authoritative resources such as the American Journal of Health Promotion for detailed studies.  Quite honestly, if someone wishes to shoot down any project based upon the inability to pin ROI to the penny, it can easily be done.  It usually boils down to the fact that management either believes in an extrapolated data position and in the intuitive logic of DM/HP or they don’t.


“Cost is always an issue.  How can we deliver quality services and watch our dollars, at the same time?

Cost is always an issue and it should be.  The good news is that it is a buyers’ market and you do have room to negotiate.  Unit price is one way, however, I recommend you use your leverage to expand service more than lower price.  As mentioned earlier, you should find a vendor who is willing to provide more than drop-off products and services.  All vendors should provide an open-line support person who will, in effect, become your staff person, someone who will guide you step by step with the introduction, marketing, delivery, and evaluation of whatever product or service you may purchase.  Price is usually fairly fixed, however, service is another matter.  Most top-notch vendors appreciate a client who is sincerely focused on using their products to the best of their ability.  It makes you both look good.  To sweeten the deal, offer to be a reference and an advocate to the vendor’s prospects.



5th Key Observation – Without An Irritant…There Can Be No Pearl!

Wellness in the Workplace 2.0

What Got Us Where We Are Today…Won’t Get us Where We Need to be Tomorrow

10 Key Observations from Thirty-Five Years in the Field


5th Key Observation…

“Without an Irritant, There Can Be No Pearl…Let the Spitting Begin!”

presented for your intellectually driven consideration, emotionally driven engagement and—most important—your viscerally driven action


Be honest.  It’s much easier—and safer— to sit back, complain, and wait for others to take action than it is to do something.  That is, of course, unless you have passion, commitment, laser determination and God on your side.

Well, actually, skip that last one. That’s the Dickie Smothers pitch — “God Likes Me Better” — that supports the US military-industrial complex (we should have listened to Ike) and looks nice on all of the banners.  I like to think that God is on everyone’s side.

In fact, let’s leave it up to God to choose her own favorites and let’s just stick with passion, commitment, and laser determination.  When these three driving forces are present you can’t sit still, you can’t wait for someone else, and you can’t shut up.  You stir and spit; you shout and stomp your feet. You seize and run with the torch that has been passed to you and your generation.  You are Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte I. You take the crown out of the Pope’s hands and you crown yourself.  Time is fleeting, daylight is burning, there are causes to advance and worlds to conquer!

“Emperor” too much? Okay. How about CI? Chief Irritant. You are the sand that produces the nacre that builds the pearl.  So, let someone else sit back, complain, and wait for others to take action…just below the surface there are pearls in-waiting and you are the irritant that makes it all happen.

Let the spitting begin!



Sophocles was right,  “No one loves the messenger who brings bad news.” As I have stated before, there are times when the boon, the prize, the newly found wisdom you bring to “fix things” is rejected.  No matter the treasure, it is still disruptive in a world that knows not, or little, of its existence or value.  What you may view as “The Answer” may well be viewed by others — particularly those in control — as the newest problem (read: YOU) to be dealt with, swiftly.

It’s no fun being spat upon.  Trust me, on this one.  I’ve been there; stimulated copious amount of sputum, toweled off, and lived to irritate again.  Being a CI is not always an easy ride but I like to modestly think­—modestly—that along with picking up a few dents in my armor, I’ve also triggered the formation of a few pearls here and there…


10 Ways to Succeed as a Corporate Chief Irritant…Without Really Trying:

  1. Fasten Your Armor (you’re going to need it)
  2. Pursue Your Need for Popularity Elsewhere
  3. If You’re Not the Boss, Find a Champion in the “C” Suite
  4. Practice “No-Oblique-Speak”
  5. Compromise on Tactics…Not Ethics or Integrity
  6. Irritate Without Judgment or Arrogance
  7. Beware the Ides of March (et tu ______ )
  8. Establish a “No Jerks Allowed” Rule & Embrace the Spirituality of Imperfection
  9. If You Think Everyone Around You is a Jerk…Look in the Mirror
  10. Repeat after me:  “Spit is Good!”

More to come…


4th Key Observation – The 2 Most Important Words in Worksite Wellness: “So What?”

Wellness in the Workplace 2.0

What Got Us Where We Are Today…Won’t Get us Where We Need to be Tomorrow

10 Key Observations from Thirty-Five Years in the Field


4th Key Observation:

The 2 Most Important Words in Worksite Wellness:  “So What?!”

presented for your intellectually driven consideration, emotionally driven engagement and—most important—your viscerally driven action



Or, another way of putting it:

Until you stir my soul and shake my bones you’ll only have half of my attention, at best.”



Until management experiences “THE GREAT AH-HA!,” the answer to the grand, existential question: “SO WHAT?” will remain suspended out in Vaporland, just beyond grasp.  Something left for another day.

Here’s how it works:

The Intellectual Phase is where credible data is collected and presented to management in a logical and rationale way.

  • “According to JAMA …”
  • “The American Journal of Health Promotion reports…”
  • “Latest studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine…”
  • American Dietetics Association recommends…”
  • et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…

Information is critical, of course—awareness is the first step in the education process— however, global reports sans personal context are nothing more than numbers on a page, sound bites from a Chamber of Commerce speech.  Interesting, but fairly quickly filed away or pushed aside by more immediate pressing needs.

Refer back to my posting on rational vs. emotional thinking…

The Emotional Phase kicks in when the information strikes a neighborhood cord; something close to home but not actually MY HOME.   You have a greater piece of management’s attention but if the news doesn’t directly impact your shop, the boss will quickly defer to the “I’m really very busy right now…someone else will take care of it … and it probably isn’t that bad, anyway” School of Denial.

  • “According to WSJ the ________ industry (our industry) continues to suffer as a direct result of rising healthcare costs…”
  • “Industry experts say that beginning Q2, 2014, the cost of healthcare will be double the cost of all other employer budget items, combined…”
  • Financial Times reports that the unattended wellness needs of today’s older employees will force the end of pensions for younger employees and place an even higher strain on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
  • “The Economist predicts that entitlements and employer mandated health benefits will drive more companies to pursue off shore operations and partnerships resulting in an even tougher job market for American…

All pretty scary stuff and I sure hope THEY (whoever THEY are) fix it.  Meanwhile, we’ve got a major  shipment to get out by Friday so let’s get back to work, people…

The Visceral Phase kicks you in the teeth and lodges in the belly when the “Boogie Man” smashes through your corporate front door.  No more theoretical. No more: “There but for the grace of God… .” No more tomorrows.  It is your shop, your health, your money, your family, your job, your life.

NOW you have my full attention.

“I’m sorry, what was it you were saying about… and, what do you need?  What action can I take…NOW?”

CEO Memo to All Employees:Due to expanding costs and shrinking revenue, it is with great sorrow and deep concern that I make the following announcement…”


Months Before the Memo…

Wellness Coordinator:Boss, all the studies show that obesity is on the rise,  stress levels are going through the roof, and that the World Health Organization puts the red, white and blue way down on the list of healthiest nations.

Boss“Um, interesting, but, so what?   How are those new treadmills working out?”

Weeks Before the Memo…

Wellness Coordinator“Boss, obesity leads to joint problems, higher absenteeism, depression, and increased healthcare cost and lower productivity.”  And, did you hear, Johnson & Sullivan Company said that their Q4 record loss was directly tied to increased healthcare costs and lost time on the line due to lifestyle-related illness?  If these losses continue they expect to close two plants and lay off up to 200 workers.  All because of healthcare costs! ”

BossSorry to hear that about J&S.  Good folks, but so what?  I still see black ink, here.  By the way, how much do we pay you?

Days Before the Memo…

CFOBoss, could I have a word with you.  Next year’s forecast figures have just been revised and there is a significant problem.”

Boss:  Yeah, sure; so what’s up?  WTF … #&%^#$%+ !!!


Okay, dramatic but you get the point.  When it comes to health and wellness, NEVER present information or make a budget request without first asking and answering the SO WHAT? question.  Get to the visceral action stage before it’s too late.  Align your information and requests with your company’s business objectives and COME WITH A PLAN…not just with a problem.

more at a later date…