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Healthy Doesn’t Have A ‘Look’

Be you. Be real. Be authentic. In today’s workplace, employees are no longer told to leave their personal lives at the door and, instead, we encourage our people to bring their whole selves into the office. 

Authenticity is celebrated as a sign of a transparent, open, welcoming, and diverse culture. It’s a come-as-you-are evolution embraced in aspects of the work environment ranging from recruiting to career development. But what about health benefits?

In an increasingly sensitive, culturally aware society where more employers have teams centered around efforts to engage ALL people -- are we remembering to address authenticity and cultural perceptions as we roll out wellness programs, develop benefits packages, and champion healthy lifestyle initiatives?

Recently, I was traveling with family, and I learned about a group of accomplished professionals from different fields who were gathering from across the country for a retreat focused on adopting cultural authenticity. As individuals, each brought different demographic, cultural, and ethnic perspectives to the table. 

While they had perhaps separated from a traditional pathway in their lives to pursue doctorates, special appointments, and other prestigious titles, they were returning to a place where they wondered if their people would relate and respect them more if they adjusted their behaviors to fit a perceived mold. In some instances, this meant gaining weight or eating certain foods they might not otherwise partake in vs. making healthy choices they know are better for their wellbeing.

I was surprised. I began thinking about how authenticity can mean not being real to oneself and showing up in life with perceptions of how to look, what to eat, how to talk, what to wear, and how to address wellness and personal health. As we structure wellness programs and health benefits for our teams, how can we support and encourage individuals to “come as they are?” How can we embrace the creativity and collaboration of many different voices—also recognizing that cultural pressures exist?

Basically, how can we provide benefits and wellness opportunities that encourage a healthy culture—a culture that includes everyone and does not have a look, size, or color? For employers, this means truly understanding your employee population, their health concerns, their families, and also their struggles to be well. Only then can we provide benefits and wellness programs that address our people’s needs. It also means teaching—providing educational tools and learning opportunities for employees to better understand what healthy is.

Specifically, size doesn’t show how active a person is, the lifestyle they lead, the food they put on their plates, or whether they’re mentally fit. We are all on different journeys. For example, an employee struggling with obesity or diabetes—two of the most common conditions—might come off as being overweight or lazy, when in fact, this person has lost 50 pounds and started walking during lunchtime. On the other hand, a slender person who seems fit because of a trim physical appearance might be depressed and struggle with substance abuse. Who’s actively pursuing better health? As employers, we need to be mindful of these judgments and emphasize acceptance and genuine authenticity to our teams while encouraging and supporting total health. 

So, aside from understanding your employee population as you consider your health and prescription benefits, it’s essential to deliver wellness opportunities that include everyone and promote health as a culture we all belong to. 

One simple way is to participate in our Fall Step It Up Challenge in partnership with Fitbit, October 17 through October 30. Also, plan on attending the upcoming IN-VALUE-ABLE Conference Series of events in January 2022—a way to kick off a new year with healthy ideas and perspectives for your workplace. We’re committed to helping employers engage their people in activities that promote wellness and a culture of health. 

As we look at what authentic means from a benefits perspective, we think it’s about understanding that our people come to us from various backgrounds. They have different families, experiences, and ideas about what healthy means. So when we can bring employees together around a mission of better health for all, that’s a win.

About Health Action Council 
Health Action Council is a not-for-profit 501(c)(6) organization representing mid-and large-size employers that enhance human and economic health through thought leadership, innovative services, and collaboration. It provides value to its members by facilitating projects that improve the quality and moderate the cost of healthcare purchased by its members for their employees, dependents, and retirees. Health Action Council also collaborates with key stakeholders – health plans, physicians, hospitals, and the pharmaceutical industry – to improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare in the community.

Patty Starr bio image

About the author

Patty Starr

Patty Starr is president and CEO of Health Action Council and is responsible for driving the strategic direction of the organization--build stronger, healthier communities where business can thrive. 

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