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A Reset For Workplace Wellness?

flying cadeucii“The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.”– Dolly Parton

Sometimes, helpful perspective can be found in the most unexpected places. Ms. Parton may be better known for her achievements in country music, but her maxim also applies to certain aspects of the public dialogue on workplace wellness that have become a recurrent feature..

An example is a thread that has its roots in a blog invited two-part response counter-response (i.e., see the comments at the end of Part II) exchange between Al Lewis (aka whynobodybeliev) and myself that began November, 2014. The resumption of this exchange was initiated with my comments on a 12/4/15 post on this blog page from Ms. Dentzer, who noted the focus on return on investment that dominated the “debate” between Goetzel and Lewis on workplace wellness at the PHA Forum 2015.  Her post offered some questions for positioning future like-minded events in more looking forward ways. My 12/19/15 post, also on this page, offered a supplement to her formulation by urging wellness program implementers to also take stock of the empirical work that has been done to date on program impact. Indeed, it urged implementers to consider (re-) setting their sights toward the top end of what has been shown to be possible and referenced the success that Navistar achieved during the 1999-2009 period as a model. This, in turn, prompted another sharply worded response from Mr. Lewis, expressed in terms that were not only reminiscent of his counter-response noted above but have also come to typify much of his published commentary in this area, even on work that has met the test of peer-review.

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A Little Context in the Workplace Wellness Debate

Ms. Dentzer has once again offered a constructive course correction with her commentary on the most recent public installment of the workplace wellness “debate” at the Population Health Continuum’s November 2015 conference. Few have done so with as much clarity and impartiality over the years, and for this she merits this note of thanks. In this instance, for those of us who have followed and at times participated in this debate but did not attend the conference, it is most appreciated.

From her summation of how return-on-investment dominated the exchange, it appears that little new transpired in terms of the debate itself. If one went to the session apprised of the previously stated positions of Lewis and colleagues and of Goetzel and colleagues and of the communications each has published in response to the other, one would likely have left with the sense that no forward movement – either in their exchange or for the debate more generally – had occurred. However, while it is presumably preferable to have not missed out on a catalytic moment, employer investment in wellness remains a domain marked by much capacity to improve the health and productivity/performance in the workplace and communities and, by extension, the value and sustainability of health care reform. Yet, it is also sorely in need of the galvanizing coherence and direction that such a moment would foster.

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