Reassessing Worksite Wellness After All These Years: Still Medical or Blossoming Into REAL Wellness?


One advantage of stayin alive beyond expectations (i.e., reaching a state of perennialhood) is increased wisdom and, sometimes, witnessing desired changes. That’s the hope, in any case, attributable to decades of increasingly prescient observations and greater openness to alternate experiences. What better time than later life to reexamine opinions and beliefs? Why finish with that old time religion or other fossilized attachments political, social and so on? Oftentimes, these hardened impressions are outdated or otherwise ripe for reforms. Or not.

In any case, many might benefit from periodic scrutiny of long held views. On occasions, some opinions, even biases, could be in need of amendments, or at least refinements.

A personal example is a long held claim that worksite wellness programming has been and remains overly medical, dating back to the modern restart of the wellness movement in the early 1980’s. Particularly with respect to three of the four dimensions of REAL wellness, worksite programming has ignored systematic efforts to promote positive mental skills, such as reason (critical thinking), exuberance (joy and added meaning) and liberty (expanded personal freedoms). The other dealing with exercise and nutrition (Athleticism) has received ample attention at worksites and elsewhere.)

Is there credible evidence of a turn toward REAL wellness, recognizing that such initiatives might be addressed by other terms?

Some colleagues more attuned to workplace best practices and innovations have urged a reassessment. I’m told there are REAL wellness priorities and programs underway that promise results.

Spurred on by an invitation to appear on a webinar of a leading worksite wellness organization to discuss the book Not Dead Yet (NDY). I decided, in true stayin alive fashion, to explore what’s new in corporate wellness.


On October 30, I participated in a hour-long webinar with Dr. Paul Terry, senior fellow and editor of the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO). The theme was Thriving & Flourishing (At Any Age)! The initial focus was the 56 tips for successful aging described in the book. Sharing the webcast podium with me was Susan Bradley Cox, one of the eighteen world triathlon champions over age 75 profiled in NDY.


Under the best of conditions, the impact of worksite wellness will necessarily be incidental relative to the larger issues employees face. Social determinants such as deficient educational levels, poor housing conditions, dysfunctional cultural influences, economic pressures, crime, mental and physical disabilities and much more are more consequential but not malleable by worksite wellness. While important, it’s helpful to realize that macro changes in society and the environment should be a priority, not to be overlooked while promoting worker wellbeing. A few health promotion classes and other initiatives to encourage good health skills and practices during the few hours per week available for worksite programming should not distract from the larger issues that most affect quality of life.

This point was made by economist Thierry Malleret at the 2019 Global Wellness Summit in Singapore October 15-17:

Skyrocketing costs of healthcare, housing and education are decimating the US middle class and causing rising inequality and anxiety-and the phenomenon is not limited to the US. But when it comes to social and environmental progress, the US appears as a significant, underperforming outlier. According to the Social Progress Index, the US is the only developed country that is backsliding, both in absolute and relative terms, compared to its peers. It now ranks 26th in social progress, while Norway comes first.

Many (e.g., Benjamin Libet, Dan Wegner, Thalia Wheatley, Sam Harris and a majority of contemporary scientists) marshal evidence to support the view that free will is a myth, that determinism prevails. If so, this takes the zing out of oft ballyhooed enthusiasm for self-responsibility, and witticisms such as P.J. O’Rourke’s crack that no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we’re looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power.


HERO is a national think tank whose mission is to advance best practices in employee health promotion. HERO provides leadership in research and education on the impact of worksite wellness, on best practices for positive health outcomes and on the role and nature of healthy cultures for successful employee performance.

Over the course of several years, Paul Terry has extended polite and always collegial invitations to consider more charitable assessments about worksite wellness. In the weeks leading to the webinar, while seeking to better appreciate positive (i.e., REAL wellness-like) programming, I reviewed HERO’s archived interviews with worksite leaders, as well as the organization’s annual forum proceedings, research studies, think tank meetings, scorecard initiatives, briefs, blogs and news releases. All impressive, to be sure.

After receiving an advance partial draft of this article, Paul offered the following:

It’s a tall order to summarize all the ways that workplace health is aligned with REAL Wellness as it’s been occurring for a long time and has already apparently eluded your observant proclivities. I’ve pasted an editorial below that will be published in January. I think the ‘Pillars’ exemplify the liberty and reasoning aspects of your philosophy. My editorials are open access. In the past years I’ve written about voluntariness and autonomy (liberty), about parsing between facts, truth and empirical evidence (reason and liberty) happiness and meaning and life purpose in an interview with Richard Lieder and Vic Strecher (reason and exuberance). In each editorial I feature cases and examples of how the private and public sector are increasingly collaborating to achieve these REAL approaches.

All that strikes me as encouraging and welcome news. The theme of the recently concluded HERO forum was Thriving Organizations Achieving Well-Being Through Collaboration. Much attention was focused on the Federal government’s Healthy People 2030 initiative, a science-based rendering of 10-year national objectives. The goal of Healthy People continues to be improving the health of all Americans.

Based upon short (under six minute) expert interviews conducted at the last HERO conference with national figures in worksite wellness, a further glimpse into REAL wellness-related initiatives in corporate programming can be sensed.


Krystal Sexton, head of Human Performance and Care at Shell, identified psychological characteristics of employees who most impact organizational performance. Such Individual qualities include hope, optimism, resilience and self-confidence; team dynamic factors that matter most are those that tend to lift people up, provide role clarity and find common ground.

Unfortunately, this and the other interviews did not identify specific company wellness programs that addresses these drivers of company success. I’ll look on the bright side and assume there must be training for all that promotes specific agendas.

A video of and follow-up telephone and e-mail communications with Jessica Grossmeier, HERO’s Vice-President of Research, revealed the nature of the HERO scorecard. The instrument is designed to help organizations discover best practices for promoting workplace wellbeing. It identifies opportunities to improve and measure progress.

However, Ms. Grossmeier noted that the current version of the tool only addresses the Athleticism element, but invited suggestions about future iterations of the Scorecard. One resource was cited as an effort to help industry professionals develop more critical thinking skills. HERO has since provided more detailed examples of how to apply these critical thinking tips to findings in a number of research studies.

The Expert Interview Series on HERO’s YouTube Channel features additional short videos of national leaders who spoke at the recent HEROForum19′ gathering on the Achieving Well-being through Collaboration theme.

• Nico Pronk, Dushanka Kleinman and Mary Pittman on Healthy People 2030: Objectives for the Nation and the Role of Business.

• Sara Singer, Stanford professor on four pillars of a culture of health and the role of internal and external collaboration.

• Brian Castrucci, President and CEO of the deBeaumont Foundation on the business case for private sector and community partnerships and collaboration.

• Andrea Walsh, JD, President and CEO HealthPartners on the benefits to business of community health, on reducing stigma of mental illness and the imperative of partnerships.

• Matt Steifel, Kaiser Permanente on the relationship between social determinants of health and the role of these factors in workplace health and well-being initiatives.

• Karen Moseley, President, HERO on the role of collaborations and measurement development on what’s next and mission critical for HERO.

• Paul Terry, Senior Fellow, HERO, on new study findings released for the first time at HEROForum19′.


Before going any further, let me express gratitude to Paul Terry for extraordinary assistance that made possible this quick tour of contemporary developments and meaningful advances in the art and science of worksite health promotion. The links alone should be of value to many who might not otherwise have discovered these informative resources.

What’s amazing is that Paul provided this guidance while hiking down and out of the Grand Canyon, communicating only by carrier pigeons and mirrors to relay data to HERO headquarters in Minneapolis. (The part about hiking in the Grand Canyon is true.)

So, did I benefit from this periodic review of my notion that worksite wellness has done too little to promote wellbeing while focusing too much on identifying and modifying risky habits? It seems so. As all study authors note at the conclusion of their research reports, further studies (and generous grants to fund same) are imperative.

It was certainly beneficial to learn more about the work the HERO organization is doing in this field. HERO is to worksite wellness what the National Wellness Institute once was to the promotion of the wellness concept and the Global Wellness Institute is for the concept today — a worldwide promoter of research, initiatives, roundtables, annual summits, discussions, gatherer of wellness evidence and sponsor of bold initiatives, such as The Wellness MoonshotTM: A World Free of Preventable Disease. In their own words, the GWI informs and connects key stakeholders capable of impacting the overall wellbeing of our planet and its citizens. Not incidentally, GWI makes all of its valuable information and resources available at no cost, which allows anyone, anywhere, access.

In conclusion (at last), this review has made me more informed and much more interested in learning more about new developments in worksite wellness relative to REAL wellness. Again, thanks to all who contributed, directly and otherwise.


Wellness initially took root as a lifestyle, a way that individuals make informed choices to establish and sustain positive levels of mental and physical health beyond the absence of illness and disease. The lifestyle is founded on personal responsibility, disciplined habits and skills related to effective decision-making, enjoyment of life, exercise, nutrition, stable emotions, personal freedoms of mind and body, ample meaning and purpose, a supportive culture and environmental awareness, among other life-enriching qualities. In a work setting, safety might also be promoted, in the form of freedom to speak freely without fear of retribution.

This meaning of the word is consistent with REAL wellness, the difference being that the modifier REAL introduces four specific categories or dimensions in which vital skills and positive outcomes are organized. These four dimensions can encompass all venues in which we function, such as the social, occupational and other life areas commonly put forth as wellness dimensions. (As if different skills were required for optimal functioning in varied spheres of life.) The four REAL wellness dimensions are reason, exuberance, athleticism (exercise and nutrition) and liberty.

REAL wellness should encourage and guide people to think and function rationally, to live exuberantly, to maintain physical fitness, to dine wisely consistent with factual nutritional knowledge and to live as freely as possible. The latter means becoming liberated from cultural or circumstantial elements such as superstitions, irrational dogmas and other mental and social limitations that add constraints on personal liberties.

And that’s about it, folks.

The end.

How Dog Ownership Has Changed Over 80 Years

An online search of comments and opinions declares that owning a dog in 1960 was very different than today. One quarter of dogs at that time were random street roamers whether they were owned or not. Ownership rules were much less defined. Even though there was commercial dog food available and Milk Bone treat company, the dog food industry only appealed to some dog owners. Mainstream dogs were surviving off table scraps and pouring gravy on your dog’s food was a huge trend!

Dog Trends of The 1960’s

Ladies of the 1960’s popularised smaller breed dogs that were easily carried around. It began a new trend in dog owning as the owners started to dress the small dogs in sweaters. 1960’s initiated major societal shifts in dog care, health and even animal ethics.

Veterinarians were few. In the 1960’s the science of veterinarian medicine was an established degree that required a few “short” years of university education, in a time when most people were getting by on high school graduation or less. It wasn’t a very popular profession and took too long compared to many other job options available. There were few applicants and few graduates of the program. Pet care was provided only on demand. Very sick and injured dogs were usually euthanized, as the system did not have the technology or resources to prolong life as we enjoy today.

Successful graduates were mostly male, and went on to work in remote areas of the country on farms. Specialising in treatment of illness and disease in large animals – bovine and equine. Veterinarian’s of the 1960’s also were trained in poultry disease treatment, so their focus was really about promoting farm animal viability for the human food industry sales and consumption.

Dog Owning in 1990: Veterinary Medicine Expands to Accommodate Urban Families and Their Pets

By the 1990’s radical shifts have occurred in veterinarian science. First off, a university degree is becoming more recognised as standard education for the work force. Well not mandatory for job obtainment in many fields, applicants with degrees are generally regarded as having more job opportunities and better pay with more social benefits. The 1990’s also sees more women students entering medical and science programs, even in veterinarian sciences. However, the majority of students and professors remain male.

Veterinarian clinics have been popping up all over the country to serve domesticated house hold pets who become ill or have an accident or need palliation. The medical approach is still largely on treating the problem, illness or disease. New ideas for disease prevention and health education are just beginning to cause another shift in veterinarian focus. From on-demand vaccinations to spaying and neutering for population control, leading themes show a broader shift in practice as veterinary medicine expands to meet the early needs of globalisation.

Owing a dog today, or any pet for that matter, really shows how our animals have become part of our family. Now a days most veterinarians suggest vet insurance, run expensive top-of-the-line technology to diagnosis every condition you bring your dog to the vet for. Many veterinarians are now female, with female enrolment higher than male enrolment at universities. Many program professors are now female as well. Veterinarian programs takes several years to complete, as they cover a wide range of animal disease and health promotion practices for domesticated and live-stock animal care. Universities now providing highly specialised degree programs. The shift towards health promotion and prevention continues and is in full bore! Veterinarian medicine today is proactive! Vaccines are recommended from puppyhood throughout your dog’s life span to prevent disease. Spaying and neutering is done routinely, dog’s are living longer and veterinarian medicine is prepared to care for them with medication, advise and therapeutic healers that offer a range of symptom control and promote longevity.

Owning a Dog in 2020: How Modern Dogs Live

We are at a huge advantage to live in this age of technology and indulgence. There are so many choices of dog food and treats that are as home-grown and healthy as our human grade food. Adding to a bunch of challenging but fun decisions is which brand to chose for your dog.

Mass globalisation has even provided more choices for adaption than ever before! Do you want a pet store puppy? A breeder’s high-end show dog? Adopt a dog from a shelter? Adopt an old dog to enhance the last stage of their life and provide palliation and love? Today, there are so many resources available to help you make the right decision.

Today the pet supply industry is overflowing with modern toys and supplies and gimmicks for your new puppy, or adult dog. Senior dogs are getting treated like never before – with advances in dog health and wellness and insurance coverage. Owning a dog has never presented such complex medical and ethical challenges as it does today.

Mass globalisation has even provided more choices for adaption than ever before! Do you want a pet store puppy? A breeder’s high-end show dog? Adopt a dog from a shelter? Adopt an old dog to enhance the last stage of their life and provide palliation and love? Today, there are so many resources available to help you make the right decision.

Today the pet supply industry is overflowing with modern toys and supplies and gimmicks for your new puppy, or adult dog. And senior dogs are getting treated like never before – with advances in dog health and wellness and insurance coverage. Owning a dog has never presented such complex medical and ethical challenges as it does today.

Dogs have really become part of our families. In some cases, even experiencing separation and divorce of their human owners. Dogs have been known to share time between each humans new home on a regular basis after the separation.

In some families they are the children. As more people chose to remain single, or have relationships and chose not to have children, or can not have children, getting a dog or dogs is becoming a more popular option. Dogs in these situations get all the love and the owners also get emotional fulfilment. Owning a dog is also cheaper than owning human children. Since the average child costs 14,000$ a year until age 18. In comparison, dog ownership costs 1000$ a year per dog. Dog ownership has a shorter time line. Instead of lifetime ownership – with dogs you get a shorter journey of lasting memories and can chose to continue or not at another time. Making dogs a more flexible, affordable investment anytime!

Looking To The Future

In the last 80 years the world has seen great advancements in dog owning, training, supplies and healthcare. There are 89.7 million dog owners in the US in 2017 driving market demand and defining trends in dog care. Even the way veterinarians are educated and run their practice has gone through radical transitions. Technology, innovation and best practice research is the driving force in the animal healthcare system we have today. But still over all this time, a dog’s unconditional love has not changed.