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Workplace Wellness That Works

10 Steps to Infuse Well-Being and Vitality into Any Organization

Laura Putnam

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For Bill Baun, a great mentor and a big brother to me, and for my dad, Sam


My approach to workplace wellness has always been “different.” Perhaps that's because I come from a different background than most who are in the field. For years, I was a public high school teacher. My job, in fact my calling, was to engage every one of my students. Every day, I needed to design and facilitate a classroom experience that taught, motivated, and inspired, and that ultimately led my students to their calling.

Now I'm CEO of Motion Infusion, a well-being consulting firm, and I'm finding that I'm doing exactly what I did as a teacher—but with adults, and, specifically, with adults in the workplace. My job today, or calling, is to engage, energize, catalyze, and to promote lasting behavior change, moving people toward their higher purpose.

The workplace is essentially school for adults. Just as schools are uniquely positioned to foster positive growth and change in young people, workplaces are uniquely positioned to do the same with adults, especially in the areas of health and well-being.

The numbers clearly demonstrate that the traditional wellness model—one that overly relies on medical and behavioral sciences—is simply not working. What's the missing ingredient? A meaningful and lasting engagement of employees. We need to widen the lens and use a more interdisciplinary approach to promote wellness that works in the workplace, applying thinking from psychology, education, design thinking, and even advertising. To bring sustainable wellness to the workplace, we need to get creative: Imagination is the key to bringing research-based theories to life in real-world settings.

Evidence shows that effective employee engagement doesn't come from compliance-based programs with scary statistics. Lasting engagement stems from a movement that appeals to the emotions and inspires people to get “in motion.” A movement focuses less on the individual employee and more on changing the overall culture and reshaping the work environment so that healthy choices become the easy and “normal” choices.

By exploring the latest research and multidisciplinary best practices from a number of related fields in conjunction with real-world examples and case studies, I will show what every organization can do to sustainably increase the well-being of its employees so that employees can experience vitality on a daily basis.

This book builds on what I've learned over the past 10 years as a practitioner in the field of workplace wellness, along with my formal training as an educator, my experience in public policy and advocacy, and my passion for movement as a nationally competitive collegiate gymnast and professional dancer.

There's still a lot to be explored and discovered in the field of wellness. I like to refer to the field of workplace wellness as “the Wild, Wild West” as there are still so many questions with unclear answers. The challenges of obesity-related disease, poor health outcomes, and health care costs are as daunting as ever. But having the courage to seek input from unexpected sources may lead us to the solutions.

My hope is that by reading this book you'll discover new ways of looking at wellness and that you'll have step-by-step plans for implementing wellness programs that fit with your organization. In short, my goal is that you'll have the tools to create Workplace Wellness That Works.

Let's get started!


First and foremost, a very big thanks and acknowledgment to Karen Murphy, senior editor, for making this whole project possible. She took a leap of faith and provided superb guidance.

Thanks to the people who helped me with the actual writing process. MeiMei Fox got me started, kept me going, and made it all seem possible. Thank you to Leonard Gross who provided inspiration and mentorship. Thanks to Destiny McCune for her speedy and enthusiastic transcribing. Thanks to Peter Wolff for his excellent research work. Thanks to Michaele Kruger for her research assistance and transcribing. Thanks to Micaela Scarpulla for also helping out with research and fact-checking. Many thanks to Mari Ryan, Heidi Kuhn, and Christian Kindler for their helpful editing advice. I'm very grateful to Judy Howarth, who patiently and expertly edited the book in its first round. I am also appreciative of the additional team members for their follow-up editing, marketing, and assistance: Shannon Vargo, Michael Friedberg, Tiffany Colon, and Lauren Freestone. A very special thank you to Gray Pard Ponti for her amazing, lifesaving editing and proofing. Thanks to Madeleine Eiche who originally designed the “Motion Infuser” that appears on the book jacket and throughout the book. Thanks also to Megan Clark and Maria Guerriero for designing most of the graphics in the book.

This book would not have come to life in the way that it did without the many people I interviewed who shared their insights, expertise, and stories. Each is a great example of an agent of change. Thanks to Flip Morse, Allison Rouse, Francis Scarpulla, Amy Schoew, Sheryl Niehbuhr, Marjorie Schlenoff, Sheri Snow, Jennifer Flynn, Bill Baun, Jacqueline Szeto, Robin Oxley, Casey Chosewood, Sig Berven, Tim Blouche, Alexandra Drane, Amanda Parsons, Toni Parks-Payne, Emily Markmann, Susan Ganeshan, Alex Chan, Deb Smolensky, Denis Hayes, Jeff Coles, Dee Edington, Matthew Coan, Mike Radakovich, Lynn Vojvodich, Leslie Ritter, Emily Tsiang, Laura Young, Whitney Smith, Maggie Spicer, Josh Levine, Jennifer Pattee, Jennifer Pitts, Tom Drews, Joel Bennett, Marnie Ellison, Duane Bray, Firdaus Dhabhar, Lance Dublin, Mari Ryan, Marianne Jackson, Michelle Segar, Vic Strecher, Rosie Ward, Mike Ward, Paul Terry, Elizabeth Cushing, Judi Hennebry Wise, Julie Shipley, Mike Yurchuk, Kara Ekert, Douglas Burnham, Eric Stein, Patty de Vries, Tess Roering, Jay Powell, Cale Feller, Ryan Picarella, Jim Golden, Paul Johnson, and David Hunnicutt. I am particularly grateful to Firdaus Dhabhar who shared his work and kindly permitted me to include a model that he created.

There is a whole group of individuals who connected me with others and provided assistance in gathering information. A big thanks goes to Miriam Senft, who put me in touch with so many great people. Thanks to Seth Williams for connecting me with Clarabridge, along with Katie Clark and Andrew Lovett-Barron at IDEO who connected me with Duane Bray. Thanks to Anthony Mosse for connecting me with Robin Oxley at Virgin America. A thank you also goes to Lyta Hamm, Barbara Brown, and Matt Davis with Solano County for helping out with sending out a survey that provided helpful information for the book. Thank you to Sherri Novak, Stefan Gingerich, Heidi Vivolo, Debra Amador DeLaRosa, Gary Pinkus, Jackie Charonis, and Julie Kaufmann for their assistance.

In writing this book, I drew on the research and insights of many academics including (in addition to those interviewed): Kelly McGonigal, Robert Lustig, Howard Gardner, Edward Deci, Ron Goetzel, Jon Robison, Alfie Kohn, Michael O'Donnell, and Dean Ornish. I also am grateful to thought leaders who helped to shape my thinking for the book, in particular Marcus Buckingham, Daniel Pink, Patrick Lencioni, Arianna Huffington, Michael Gervais, and Chip Conley. A special thank you also to Chip Conley for agreeing to share his model in the book.

A very special thanks goes to Jessica Grossmeier, who generously contributed an enormous amount of time lending her expertise, offering editing advice, and very kindly connecting me with so many experts. Thanks also to Joel Bennett and Bill Baun for their time and helpful advice.

A huge thanks goes to Angelique Pera, who kept me sane and hopeful and inspired to think big. I am also deeply grateful for having had the chance to learn from Ted Sizer, an innovator in educational reform and former professor of mine, whose enduring wisdom guided and inspired me to think differently about education and engagement—and whose perspective shines throughout the book. Thanks to Logan Wales who shared good coffee and good humor, along with Amanda Corzine and Cassie Hanson at Two Skirts who offered a respite from my writing, and a big shout-out to my favorite fellow procrastinator: Melvin Thomas at Peets.

Lastly, I am enormously grateful to my family: my sister, Elicia; my brother-in-law, Roger; my fiancé, Chris; and my mom, Betsy. All of them tirelessly read through many, many drafts, offering their incisive thoughts, amazing editing, and endless support and love.