"Health Nags" in HR

This article accompanies Child's Play.

Monday, February 6, 2012
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In a column for Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Michelle Conlin, editor of the magazine's Working Life Department, castigated human resource professionals who "target" employee families.

"The health nags in human resources have exhausted every possible idea to goad you into good health. At several large corporations, they've realized it's no use turning employees into vegan hardbodies if their dependents -- also on the company health insurance plan -- are gorging on trans fats and becoming regulars at doctors' offices.

"That's why the next front in the Wellness Wars is not about you. It's about your husband, your wife, and your kids. While most big companies already have employee wellness programs, the newest trend is expanding those efforts to include dependents, says LuAnn Heinen, director of the National Business Group on Health, a Washington-based health-care think tank. ...

" ... Obviously, this battle is about more than slimming down and lowering blood pressure. Many policy experts believe that workplace wellness programs have great cost-cutting potential. A recent meta-analysis of existing studies by two Harvard professors published in the February issue of the journal Health Affairs found that for every dollar companies spend on employee wellness, medical costs fall an average of $3.27."

But that doesn't make such initiatives all that palatable to some observers, including some unhappy online commenters of the column.

Among the (somewhat intemperate and slightly edited) comments:

* I know only too well how this BS works. It may start out as a "voluntary" reward-based program, but as soon as its monetary savings becomes part of a company's yearly budgeting process, it will become mandatory. Don't be surprised if ... [it soon becomes[ "get fit or get fired!"

* Lets have a mandatory weigh-in of all the HR people and senior managers. Publish the results weekly. Put driving records of everyone ... online. Enough of the nanny state ... .

* We used to sneer at Communist countries for their trashy politics and intrusion into private lives. Yet private employers in the U.S. do the same thing. Only the American state and labor unions can limit the power of private commissars.

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* Yes. Soon we will be like Japan, where employees are weighed every year. Those who don't measure up, get fired. But amazingly, those who are the sons of the company heads or those who have professional skills needed don't get fired. It's always the low-level peons who get burned. Welcome to The New Fascist Eutopia of vegan nuts. Oh, in Japan you have to weigh an ideal 130lbs -- for a 6-foot man.

* What HR should be doing is gently discouraging employees from getting married. Intuitively we know that married employees are more demanding and less flexible, and recent research is showing that marriage is a strong predictor of unhealthy weight gain and increased heart disease

See also:

Child's Play

Overview of Kids Camp

Childhood Obesity Strategies

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