Marshmallows and Employee Wellness
by Annette Gelhar
Remember all the recent studies about kids who are able to delay gratification in order to get an extra marshmallow, cookie or other treat? They go something like this: Children between the ages of about 3 and 8 are invited to choose whether to accept a treat right away or hold off for an extra minute or two in order to get 2 treats. Findings from these studies corroborate that the kids who choose to wait for twice the reward are also more successful later in life. Apparently, the self-discipline to delay gratification results in even greater rewards in adulthood.
Come to think of it, life is like that. Everywhere we turn, human behavior that results in an easy payoff or immediate comfort turns out to be untrue, impractical, morally unacceptable or downright harmful. Think slavery, smoking, fossil fueled vehicles, Bernie Madoff, credit card debt, grain-fed beef, and on and on.
Turns out even our treasured multi-tasking has been outed as a fraud. The frenetic behavior that made us feel smugly like card-carrying members of a technologically advanced culture, really isn’t that cool. We don’t multi-task—it’s not possible. We simply flip ever more quickly between multiple tasks, never mind effectiveness or personal wellbeing.
The “gotta have my marshmallow now” mindset carries particularly unfortunate consequences in business. Employers are conditioned to value earnings and ROI above all else. If some part of their business isn’t in line with that thinking, it’s replaced. Happy stockholders and holistic business decisions that don’t blossom into money trees overnight really don’t mix.
Some folks have gotten the evolutionary lesson though, and are taking roads less traveled for a more effective, long-term business outcome. One of the top examples of workplace wellness is the Googleplex in Santa Clara County, California, where Google employees enjoy recreational facilities once the exclusive domain of high-priced resorts: a gym, two swimming pools, and a sand-volleyball court.
Some smaller employers have now started setting incredible examples for their colleagues by taking the time to listen to their own common sense. They’re taking a look around at all the disjointed, quick-fix bandaids and contests passing for employee wellness initiatives and instead dedicating themselves to corporate wellness programs that approach people as the amazing, complex creatures they are. They’re looking at integrative health models and truly investing in their people, knowing the “two marshmallows” will be more than worth the wait.
Currently, workplaces are heavy with wellness programs no one will participate in without heavy monetary “incentives.” This sets up expectations for more of the same, and makes the employer with the most money able to lure the best people away with more generous monetary kickbacks. Have these employers moved the needle in terms of enlightening people on the need to take more responsibility for their own wellbeing? Have they decreased claims or premiums or increased productivity? Not a bit.
On the other hand, when you provide people programs that educate and support them to develop into their best selves you get employee loyalty, top performance and a reputation of being a great place to work. Oh, and primarily, people who now take responsibility for their health and due to their heightened understanding can be truly instrumental in turning our embattled healthcare system around. Will claims and premiums decrease and profits increase? What else could possibly result?
Disclaimer: Rarely will there be first-year ROI with this whole-person approach. But it’s pretty clear that, once implemented, the marshmallows will multiply exponentially. Here’s hoping more middle and small firms recognize these benefits and take the time to implement employee wellness programs that work.