Anti-wellness sentiment is—unfortunately—alive and well. Even the most well-intentioned workplace wellness programs can be met with backlash from employees.

While you can’t please everyone, it’s important to understand that promoting healthism in workplace wellness is dangerous territory.

Healthism, by definition, is a lifestyle that prioritizes health and fitness over anything else. “Over anything else” is a red flag. And it will quickly earn opposition.

Julie Guthman, professor of social sciences at the University of California Santa Cruz, says healthism’s ideology “encourages—even requires—us to be obsessed with our own health and sanctimonious about other people’s.”

Healthism is not the mission of workplace wellness.

When obsession and self-righteousness emanate from wellness programs, anti-wellness sentiment is spawned. Wellness programs fail themselves and their members when they morph into something more representative of a healthism cult.

Successful workplace wellness programs distance themselves from the hierarchy and judgement associated with healthism, keeping anti-wellness sentiment at bay by focusing on inspiring and supporting the individual member’s well-being journey.

Here’s how to take this approach with your wellness program:


Reward progress, not competitiveness. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Keep it personal


Wellness programs are neither superiority contests nor avenues to pit co-workers against each other.

Avoid encouraging this type of hierarchy and negative competitiveness by creating a program design and communications that promote and reiterate that each member’s wellness journey is personal.

Reward progress, not perfection


Because well-being is an individual, lifelong journey, wellness programs should focus more on progress, not perfection.

What may be a small achievement for one member may be a monumental achievement for another.

Components like Tiered Challenges are effective because they’re inclusive, rewarding members for each tier—or smaller achievement—they attain toward the bigger end goal.

Remain flexible


Well-being isn’t all or nothing, it’s about balance.

Flexible wellness programs inspire members on their well-being journey, while also supporting them when they stumble or lose momentum.

Create realistic timelines and ample opportunities for your members to succeed. Ultimately, whether times are good or the going gets tough, you want them to turn to your wellness program—not resent its unrealistic and unachievable requirements.

There’s no quicker way to earn member distrust than disguising healthism by packaging it as workplace wellness.

Successful workplace wellness programs inspire and support members in their well-being journey—encouraging everyone to participate, not revolt.