I’m Calling Bullsh*t on Your “Corporate Wellness Program”

women sitting on chairs inside a room

Most leaders were not trained to be leaders. They became good at what they did and gained promotions into positions where they are then responsible for people. Most people leaders are in over their heads and this is why over 80% of the workforce experiences toxic leadership and conflict in the workplace. That statistic is staggering. 59% of the workforce in the US is not even really engaged. It’s not because they’re lazy. It’s because the workplace is untenable. Since COVID, many organizations have started implementing “wellness programs” and although I believe this is a step in the right direction, it’s still pretty surface level compared to what we know is really necessary for people to feel cared for.

women sitting on chairs inside a room

Over 80% of the workforce experiences toxic leadership and conflict in the workplace.

Cut the crap on these wellness programs. Offering a new pair of sneakers every quarter, encouraging mindfulness breaks during a stressful 60-hour work week, offering free yoga once per week, and a having a virtual therapist “on call” are basics that, although step in the right direction towards recognizing that human beings have emotional and physical maintenance needs, do not help solve the systemic issues that are causing emotional, physical, and mental stress and unhappiness. Employees have been stoked to just be recognized in what their basic needs are – this is how abusive the corporate work environment is – we are happy to be slightly taken care of amidst abusive and negligent work experiences. Companies have dumped millions into these new wellness program offerings (don’t forget to watch that video reminding you to stretch and eat while your co-worker is sabotaging a big project that your boss is screaming he needs on his desk by Friday!) and completely miss the mark on things we actually need to feel more balance and care in a way that is vital to our actual “wellness.”

Wellness means we have a handle on work-life balance, we are thriving at home and in the office, we are not overworked, the work environment is healthy and safe, we are valued and are able to come to work as our true selves, and we feel more JOY than anything else throughout our day. It means our bosses truly care about us, conflict in the workplace is resolved with positive and happy endings, and our core values are at the center of how our daily activities are prioritized. Are you there yet? I’m an expert in this stuff and I know I am challenged with achieving true “wellness” every day. The corporate structure is not meant to support you in your happiness, wellness, and desire to thrive.

After twenty years in leadership and stepping into my knowledge and experience as an executive leadership expert, I can tell you a few things that leaders CAN do to help authentically create a more inclusive workplace:

  1. Radically care for your people on a personal and professional level. Learn how to coach, communicate, and develop spaces for people to thrive.
  2. Learn your blind spots, biases, and ignorance. Be a voracious learner in behavioral science, relational and emotional intelligence, and conflict resolution.
  3. Learn how to build strong and healthy teams of people that know how to communicate effectively, empathetically, and collaboratively.
  4. Learn what people really need to thrive and then figure out how to provide them with the resources, support, advocacy needed.
  5. Place joy, care, and LOVE at the center of the organizational culture. Adopt Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), goals, and success measurements that reflect core values and that put your people first.

It’s time to recognize the damage leaders are doing in cultivating environments where surface level care means they are accountable for your actualwell-being. It falls a football field short of what is really needed. In a world where staying at a company means you make 50% less than if you leave and where only 5% of CEO positions are held by women yet are 53% more likely to experience workplace toxicity than men, free yoga on Wednesdays isn’t going to cut it.

Christine Fonner, M.Ed, PhD Candidate is an executive leadership coach for women. She is also the founder of Roam Your Soul, a women’s leadership and adventure community. With over 20 years in nonprofit and corporate leadership, she is a PhD candidate in Organizational Leadership, specializing in “the human factor” – the responsibility leaders have in creating “radical care” in the workplace and the connection between personal/interpersonal needs and joy at work. Christine has a Master’s in transformational leadership/change management and is a strengths-based transformational leadership expert. Learn more about Christine.

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