Workplace Wellness That Works: A Book Review by Bob Morris

September 26, 2015
Bob Morris
Media Appearances

Workplace Wellness that Works: 10 Steps to Infuse Well-Being & Vitality into Any Organization

Laura Putnam

John Wiley & Sons (2015)

To accelerate personal growth and professional development, no other single source offers more and better guidance.

I agree with Laura Putnam and countless others that wellness initiatives really can help to establish and then nourish a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive. However different they may be in most respects, most (if not all) of the companies that are annually ranked among those most highly admired and best to work for and who are also ranked among those most profitable with the greatest cap value in their industry have such a workplace culture.

Putnam cites an early pioneer in workplace wellness, James Burke, CEO of Johnson & Johnson, who launched a program in the 1980s — “Live for Life” — whose strategy followed the classic model: assessment, feedback, programs, follow-up evaluation, and incentives to encourage participation. However, Putnam suggests that, for most companies today, “the classic model is simply not working.” She wrote this book in order to share what she has learned over the years about HOW to “infuse well-being and vitality in any organization.” More specifically, she offers a 10-step program to achieve that objective and identifies these seven factors that will make a difference:

  1. Leadership engagement on all levels during workplace wellness initiative
  2. Alignment of strategies with organization’s values, operations, and cultural norms
  • Peter Drucker once observed, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
  • Jim O’Toole asserts that the greatest barriers to any change initiative tend to be cultural in nature, the result of what he characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”
  1. Opportunities for engagement (i.e. time, accessibility, perceived sense of permission)
  2. Communication between and among all levels, areas, departments, etc. on an as-needed basis
  • The worst “silos” are disguised as human beings.
  1. Leveraging existing resources (both internal and external), perhaps by reallocation
  2. Continuous evaluation based on ongoing assessments in combination with feedback from participants
  3. Quality of programming in terms of appeal, incentives, quality of experience, recognition, and rewards

Putnam reassures her reader, “Together these steps will lay the groundwork for Workplace Wellness That Works” if everyone involved is wholly committed, not to a project but to a movement, not to specific activities but to a workplace way of life.

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Putnam’s coverage:

  • Elements of Being an Agent of Change (Pages 7-9)
  • 8 Activities to Sharpen Your Changemaker Edge (10-11)
  • Health Is More Than a Physical Checkup (32-34)
  • What Is Culture and Why Does It Matter? (58-60)
  • IDEO — A Culture of Purpose, Experimentation, and Reciprocity (61-63)
  • The 5 “F” Factors: Functioning, Feeling, Friendship, Forward, and Fulfillment (73-81)
  • Terror Tactics Don’t Work (89-90)
  • Building Your Internal da Vinci Team (112-120)
  • Creating the Engine for Your Movement (127-130)
  • The Power of Going Stealth (134-136)
  • Stress in the Workplace (139-141)
  • Top Opportunities for Going Stealth (146-156)
  • A Minefield of Unintended Consequences (170-172)
  • Relatedness (178-181)
  • Taking Well-Being Nudges and Cues to a Whole New Level (208-210)
  • Scientific Thinking Meets Design Thinking (217-221)
  • Launch and Iterate on a Program-by-Program Basis (228-234)
  • Creative Ways to Assess Engagement in Wellness (238-239)
  • Getting Started on Going Global (260-264)
  • Final Thoughts (273)

I commend Putnam on her skillful use of several reader-friendly devices such as checklists, dozens of “Action Item” exercises, boxed mini-commentaries, dozens of “Tips,” boxed anecdotes that provide real-world examples of key points, and a “Final Thoughts” section at the conclusion of all chapters, including the last, “Pulling It All Together.” These devices will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key material later.

Obviously, no brief commentary such as mine can do full justice to the abundance of information, insights, and counsel that Laura Putnam provides in this volume. However, I hope I have at least indicated why I think so highly of it. For leaders who now struggle to infuse well-being and vitality throughout their organizations, I know of no other single source that offers more and better guidance.

I conclude with a passage from an article, “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time,” co-authored by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy in the October 2007 issue of Harvard Business Review:

“The implicit contract between organizations and their employees today is that each will try to get as much from the other as they can, as quickly as possible, and then move on without looking back. We believe that is mutually self-defeating. Both individuals and the organizations they work for end up depleted rather than enriched. Employees feel increasingly beleaguered and burned out. Organizations are forced to settle for employees who are less than fully engaged and to constantly hire and train new people to replace those who choose to leave. We envision a new and explicit contract that benefits all parties: Organizations invest in their people across all dimensions of their lives to help them build and sustain their value. Individuals respond by bringing all their multidimensional energy wholeheartedly to work every day. Both grow in value as a result.”

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Bob Morris reviews mostly business books for several websites (including Amazon US, UK, and Canada) and interviews thought leaders when not helping his corporate clients accelerate their employees’ personal growth and professional development. Read more book reviews from Bob on his site, Blogging on Business.

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