Environment matters. Employers can powerfully reinforce their wellness efforts by deliberately making the healthy choice the easy choice

What is true for virtually all health interventions holds particularly true for workplace wellness programs – the environment in which the intervention occurs directly affects its success. A nutritional education and weight loss program, for example, probably won’t do well in an organization where the cafeteria doesn’t offer, prominently display, and promote healthy options. That being said, many of the most important environmental factors are not so simple as having fruits and vegetables on display.

After all, the reason that environment is so crucial in health promotion is that a person’s environment determines how convenient, safe, and straightforward it is to practice any particular behavior. Does the healthy option require more or less work than an unhealthy alternative? Is it likely to be encouraged or discouraged based on what you see other people doing around you?

Workplaces can be particularly challenging to create an environment where people can default to healthy choices. Jobs that involve extended periods of time sitting at a desk or in meetings, for example, can strongly discourage physical activity, not simply for practical reasons but also for more culture-driven reasons – disruptions from the normal sedentary habits of the workday can be discouraged as unproductive or wasted time. In this way, employers can undermine their own health interventions by discouraging, through culture, the very behaviors that they aim to encourage in their health promotion efforts