A new book, The Wellness Syndrome by Carl Cederstöm and André Spicer, provides a welcome antidote to the creeping cult of corporate ‘wellness’.
The two academics from Stockholm University and Cass Business School in London argue that the relentless focus on health and happiness is giving rise to ‘wellness syndrome’, which could actually do more harm than good.
Professor André Spicer of Cass Business School said: “For many years, governments have attempted to control how much people eat and drink, whether we smoke and exercise, and how happy we feel. More recently, big companies have got in on the act.
They encourage employees to sign up to wellness plans which require them to adopt a healthy diet, exercise, quit smoking and cut down on their drinking.
“This fixation on health and happiness often backfires. An obsession with individual wellness actually makes some people more anxious, guilty, depressed and ultimately unhealthy, both physically and mentally. People are under pressure to keep up an appearance of being upbeat and happy, even when they are not.”
He adds: “The pressure to maximise our wellness can make us feel worse. We have started to think that a person who is healthy and happy is a morally good person while people who are unhealthy and unhappy are moral failures.”
The Wellness Syndromereveals how more and more companies are introducing wellness programmes for employees. In the US, companies already spend more than $6 billion on such programmes and over 70% of the Fortune 250 have employee wellness programmes in place. These can include everything from smoking cessation and weight loss programmes to free gym membership, healthy eating advice and life coaching.
This tendency, the authors argue, has gone so far that some organisations have now moved from banning smoking to banning smokers. Following the lead of the Mayo Clinic, many health care organisations no longer employ people who smoke and routinely test employees to ensure they stay off cigarettes.
Other firms force employees to wear life-tracking technologies that keep a record of their heart rates, stress levels, how much they eat and their sleeping patterns.
Dr Carl Cederstöm of Stockholm University says the wellness culture is also influencing leadership styles, with CEOs routinely displaying their physical prowess by engaging in adventure sports and endurance activities. Between 2001 and 2011, the number of US CEOs who ran marathons increased 85%.
“The assumption is that to be a good corporate leader, you don’t just need to be good at your job, you also need to be super fit. This myopic focus on wellness can lead to new forms of discrimination. It can lead to people who have a perfectly suitable skill-set for a job being overlooked because they are deemed to be unhealthy or unfit. People who fail to look after their bodies are now demonised as lazy, feeble or weakwilled,” he said.
To find out more or to order a copy of this entertaining book, visit