three hours of discussion about workplace well-being at today’s virgin disruptors event and here’s what i didn’t hear: health risk assessment, biometrics, incentives, penalties, health care, health risk reduction, ROI.

the lineup told you this panel on workplace well-being would not be your typical one. arranged by richard branson and the virgin group, the main panel was rounded out with sheryl sandberg (facebook/, tony hsieh (zappos), arianna huffington (the huffington post), jim clifton (gallup), and jackie reses (yahoo). the “warm-up acts” were BJ fogg (stanford), rachel thomas (, and a panel on happiness and joy with patty mccord (formerly of netflix), duane bray (IDEO), and raul leal (virgin hotels).

naturally, actual HR policies came up. arianna huffington mentioned their email policy that makes clear email should not be checked after work, and referenced a new policy that ensures employees see no emails while on vacation. sheryl sandberg highlighted facebook’s four-month paid leave employees can take anytime during baby’s first year. (she was of course asked about facebook’s egg-freezing benefit.) virgin’s unlimited vacation time benefit was mentioned. zappo’s holocracy progress.

but no time was spent debating how to engage employees in challenges, incent them to complete a health risk assessment, measure their biometrics. it’s not as if these companies don’t do these things. after all, richard branson owns virgin pulse. zappos touts onsite health screenings and wellness coaches on inside zappos. yahoo gave employees a free jawbone up if they agreed to walk 100 miles in 30 days.

but what these leaders of hugely successful and innovative companies suggested is that well-being is affected by one’s freedom and responsibility to do amazing things, one’s ability to bring one’s whole self to work and wonder at life, one’s right to have and attend to family, one’s firm knowledge that the customer experience and the employee experience align, and one’s just expectation that pay is not a gender issue.

how profound is that?







many companies form wellness councils to incorporate a broad range of opinion and experience into their strategy and to keep all players informed so the left hand knows what the right hand is doing. in my experience, these councils are invaluable, provided they follow certain guidelines.

1. fill the seats with the right bodies. it’s a given that your wellness manager and others from your benefits department will fill some chairs. the rest of the seats should be filled by members of your communications team, in-house alliance partners (e.g., health and safety), third-party partners, and field human resources. you also want to include some average joes and janes from different locations and roles and perspectives: the skeptics, influencers and naysayers.

2. be upfront about your ask. make sure you get your agenda out in advance and that you specify what type of involvement’s expected. is there any pre-meeting homework or data collecting they should do, or can they just show up? should they expect to leave with a task force or other assignment? clear communication makes the difference between a sound investment in a day offsite and one that’s more questionable.

3. include outside voices. your thinking is enriched by hearing those outside your echo chamber. invite other companies to come and share their story. hearing from others about their successes and travails provides inspiration and validation, and creates a knowledge circle that benefits everyone.

4. make it about the data and keep it bite-size. before you bring everyone together, make sure they understand your progress to date. share data, such as your progress toward goals, your upcoming priorities and tactics, and your available employee survey results, so participants come prepared. then be sure to contain your agenda to a few related specifics so you have meaningful discussion and walk away with determined next steps.

5. invite dissent and skepticism. you know there’s skepticism and cynicism about what you’re doing and why. you need to hear it. ask your participants to collect feedback and then create a safe zone for them to air what they hear. keep the negative feedback from derailing your agenda by immediately identifying and prioritizing action items to validate or counter these opinions.

6. spread the word. your council is your ears-to-the-ground troop, disseminating information and pulling it back in for your use. equip them with the tools they need to spread the word about the work being done and to collect feedback to enrich future council meetings.

these are my tips for leveraging a wellness council. what would you add?


this content was originally published on context’s monthly newsletter. subscribe so you get this and other content first.


NBGH/fidelity survey finds employers accelerating incentives, decelerating penalties

March 27, 2015

a survey from the national business group on health and fidelity asked employers to shed some light on their approach to incentives. based on phone surveys and responses from 121 companies, NBGH and fidelity learned: incentive amounts have risen at all companies. the average incentive for companies with between 5,000 and 20,000 employees is now […]

0 comments Read the full article →

health, the healthy bottom line, and rose-colored glasses

January 23, 2015

this post reviews the connection between increased wages and better business and employee health. for more on the topic, listen to february’s cohealth checkup, for which we’re joined by economist jan zilinsky and restauranteur bobby fry. this show will be available here beginning february 4th at noon EST.   in 2014, the movement to increase wages for […]

0 comments Read the full article →

top 3 cohealth checkup shows of 2014

January 15, 2015

  last year was an abbreviated year for cohealth checkup, a monthly internet radio show on workplace wellness trends i cohost with carol harnett. still, there was a wealth of content, with our top three shows clocking in 2,000 to 7,000 listens. 3. health at every size: is there room in today’s wellness approach? our […]

0 comments Read the full article →

jumping back in

January 9, 2015

wow, i’m rusty. i actually started writing the headline for this post in title case! some of you are aware that my mother was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in august 2013. my sister-in-law was diagnosed at the same time with stage II breast cancer. in september 2013 i decided to curtail any discretionary […]

0 comments Read the full article →

taking a leave of absence from blogging

September 11, 2013

i’ve been AWOL for a spell and i need to make this leave more official. without being too cagey, let me share that a member of my family is experiencing serious health problems right now and my focus is on that person and my family. i’m lucky. i’m one of the few who has great […]

0 comments Read the full article →

how did things go so wrong with penn state’s wellness initiative?

August 22, 2013

    incentives and penalties are two sides of the same coin. how you perceive and experience them comes down to how they’re implemented and communicated. just ask penn state, and CVS before that. right now penn state (PSU) is splashed across every newspaper, blog, and social channel. what’s brought the media to their doorstep […]

0 comments Read the full article →

cohealth checkup: the penn state wellness controversy

August 21, 2013

in an attempt to manage health care costs and engage a larger amount of employees in their health, a growing majority of employers are shifting from incentives to penalties, participations to outcomes. these employers may be on pins and needles as they observe the media maelstrom surrounding penn state university’s (PSU) implementation of their “take […]

0 comments Read the full article →

communications your employees crave: hempfest doritos bags

August 20, 2013

what it is: a legitimate doritos bag with an extra message. the seattle police department (SPD) wanted to remind attendees of hempfest, an annual rally in support of the legalization of marijuana, about staying on the right side of the law—even when that law now focuses on recreational and not criminal use. instead of distributing […]

0 comments Read the full article →