HR director’s wellness program is invasive and sexist

A reader writes:

I have some concerns about the professionalism and judgement of our HR director. There have been two incidents in particular.

Senior management recently decided to give all the employees Wellness Kits. The kits contained things like a jump rope, a pedometer, a healthy cookbook and a workout DVD. Sounds great, right? Well, half of the kits contained a Tae Bo workout, and the other half contained a cardio workout called “Buff Brides: Countdown to the Gown.” The bags with those DVD’s were given to the women employees. The DVD’s were selected by the HR Director, and he apparently saw nothing wrong with giving all women employees a wedding-themed DVD.

The second incident: At our company holiday party last month, the HR Director announced the winners of the Wellness Program participation contest. Basically, the region with the most participation won. Employees had been instructed to email the HR Director if they had quit smoking, lost weight, etc. to show participation. The HR Director, in front of the whole company gathered for a holiday party, listed the full names and exact weight loss of these employees. He did not ask their permission before announcing this to the whole company.

Are these things as bad as I think they are? What would you recommend I do?

Gross.

You’re certainly correct that you do not share anything related to people’s weight without their permission, and you do not give all women employees a bridal-themed DVD while men get a perfectly normal workout DVD. Especially when the DVD for the women has a cover like this one. Ick.

Why not talk to the HR director? Explain that you were uncomfortable hearing people’s personal weight loss information shared without their permission, and it made you concerned that personal information about you could be shared as well. Suggest that people often find weight a private matter, and that it’s not appropriate to trumpet any figures related to someone’s weight to their coworkers. You can also explain that giving all the women in the company a bridal-themed DVD is inappropriate and likely to be experienced as sexist condescension by many.

Consider using the phrase, “I think I’m speaking for many others when I say this,” because you probably are.

If the HR director seems like he gets it once you’ve explained, then great. But if he doesn’t, then at that point I think it’s reasonable to talk to his manager and/or your own. It’s not that these things are the worst crimes in the world, but rather that he’s in a position where he’s representing the company to all of its employees, and he’s acting in a way that’s sure to alienate people and make at least some of them think of the company as backwards and sexist. Good managers would want to hear that input (if they haven’t already drawn those conclusions on their own, which surely they should have, if they were on the receiving end of this stuff too).

But really, all of this is just one more reason for companies to stay out of band-aid type wellness programs. If employers want to do something to promote wellness, they should focus on what they can do to promote it — setting reasonable working hours and encouraging people to take vacations, providing healthy snacks in the kitchen, making it easy for employees to take walks during the day, offering excellent health insurance, and so forth — rather than meddling in people’s waist sizes or distributing condescending DVDs.

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