Motivity Partnerships
Integrated Workplace Wellness Solutions


Strategies for Wellness at Work

Toxic Work Culture, Turnover and Wellness


Recently, I heard of a company that has now tasked their HR Director with doing a desk check-in with employees.  It’s not what you think. This is about whether or not there are butts in seats. You heard that right. Apparently they believe that highly educated adults need to have a big brother standing over them in order to get work done.   Otherwise they just won’t do anything.

So, people that have gotten an education, many at very high-end colleges and universities, have proven track records at other employers, and were hired for that reason now suddenly are so irresponsible that they need to be reminded to work.   And work can only be done when you are seated at your desk or seated in a conference room. Really?

The sad news is this is a “wellness” company selling “wellness” to their clients.  If a wellness company has a toxic culture, a culture where there is no trust, how can they possibly help their clients build health and wellbeing successfully in their client’s  work culture? I think we all know the answer to that. No surprise. They've got turnover issues and related costs.

Lack of trust leads to poorer innovation.

All the bells and whistles, all the beautiful marketing, does not mean that a wellness company can provide your company with a better strategy and meaningfully address issues like bad stress, turnover, and shadow culture.  No amount of healthy snacks or “cool” working environments makes up for bad behavior by leadership, including regular use of foul language in meetings and/or the quiet acceptance of biases or worse, outright discrimination.  There is plenty of data that shows that micromanaging and a lack of trust leads to poorer innovation and more turnover. Yes, this is related to worksite wellness and wellbeing.

Years ago I met with an HR team that wanted to add more health and wellbeing for their employees.  When asked, they said their leadership had no interest or belief in anything wellness related. But HR saw the need.  

Here were some of their issues:

  • Employees were onboarded with virtually no training, no connection to others in the organization, and were expected to hit very high numbers of sales or engagement within a few months.  Sink or swim.

  • No emails or messaging not directly related to selling or servicing a client was allowed after 9 am or before 5 PM.

  • No posters or art on the walls, other than what was required by law.

  • The office environment was grey on grey cubicles with poor lighting.  Employees were told to not bring in personal items.

  • Bathroom breaks and lunch breaks were monitored.

  • Employees were publicly called out for minor infractions.

When walking through the space, there was no one smiling.  No people interacting. It was all heads down on their screens and/or on the phone.  HR was getting a lot of feedback about employees being overly stressed and there was, as you can guess, a lot of turnover.

Your company needs leadership support for a successful wellness program.

HR wanted to put in a wellness program.  They were well-intentioned. However, I had to explain to them that no step program, no magical lunch and learn was going to address the issues that were causing the working environment to be unhealthy.  Without some leadership support, this would be a waste of their time and money. Without leadership understanding the financial benefits of a healthier work culture and the science of better productivity and engagement, they wouldn’t see change.

I walked away.  I found out a few years later the company was no longer in business.  No surprise. Did the “churn and burn” approach to employees finally catch up with them?  Did the word spread on Glassdoor and social media about their toxic culture? I don’t know.  But their doors are closed.

What we do know is that without a comprehensive approach to culture and wellbeing that is whole company, whole team, whole employee focused, wellness doesn’t work.

What is needed:

  • A well thought out, culturally specific strategy connected to the organization’s overall goals and mission

  • Focusing on what you already have in place and understanding if it is getting the company results

  • A fully developed project plan with achievable action steps and measurable goals

  • Leadership that not just buys in but participates

  • Creating initiatives with the workforce, not putting in what you think they need.

For that to happen, a company needs to take a step back and evaluate where they are and whether or not the money and time they are spending on products, services, and resources to have employees be engaged and productive is actually working.  Leadership needs to know if they have the right vendor/partners to create real change for their workforce.

Three questions your organization should be asking:

  • Do we have a thriving, inclusive work culture (really)?  

  • Do we have check the box initiatives that aren’t getting the organization results?  

  • Do we know if we are wasting time and money on wellness that isn’t working?   

About the Author

Mim Senft is the founder of Motivity Partnerships a workplace wellness consultancy that offers an integrated solution with vetted wellness partners that work for your culture and your team. She has over 20 years of corporate experience in project management, benefits design and wellness program strategy and implementation.  She is a certified as a Worksite Wellness Specialist through the National Wellness Institute; has her GBA group benefits designation through the International Foundation of Benefit Professionals (IFEBP); her property and casualty insurance certification, Accredited Advisor in Insurance (AAI), through the Insurance Institute of America; and became a certified yoga instructor in 2006.  Mim is a regular speaker at conferences and roundtable discussions on topics related to employee benefits, corporate wellness/wellbeing programs, and keeping a competitive edge in today’s workplace. Mim Senft is also a co-founder of Global Women 4 Wellbeing (GW4W), a non-profit that empowers more healthy female leadership at all levels.