Optimal Disruption: Why the quest for healthy living could be career suicide


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The workplace is full of apps, schemes, and coaches designed to optimise your wellness. But could the quest to turn yourself into a perfectly balanced professional eventually turn your life upside down?

If your New Year’s resolutions to be fitter, leaner, greener and kinder have been thrown into the trash can labelled “Try again in 2025”, then you’ll want to cut out this article and stick it on your wine fridge.

When it comes to healthy living and workplace wellness, what if you were doing it all wrong?

What if investing the entire company Christmas party budget on yet another ‘wellness app’ with a funny name consisting entirely of consonants (VTLTY or HLTHY spring to mind) was actually the worst thing you could do for employee performance?

Or perhaps the secret to business success wasn’t having a healthy, well-rounded workforce, but actually the opposite?

You might think I’ve overindulged in kale smoothies at the chillout bar, but there’s a growing argument that shows a ‘wellness workplace’ is actually the last thing Kiwi businesses need in 2024.

Harsh truths

Through my career, I’ve been at both ends of the workplace wellbeing spectrum.

I’ve arrived at work on Monday morning after getting 10 hours of sleep and running a half-marathon before breakfast.

I’ve also rocked up at the office with precisely zero hours sleep, smelling like I’d been snogged by Jack Daniels himself, after sprinkling a cocktail of substances on my cornflakes.

And I can say with some authority that the former inflicted equally – if not more – damage on my career than the latter.

My career rollercoaster highlighted a harsh truth that most businesses ignore:

The existence of workplace wellbeing apps, lunchtime yoga, morning tea mindfulness, and a delightful selection of herbal teas where the espresso machine used to be didn’t make a damn bit of difference to my performance.

What these things did achieve, however, was for the leaders of our business to virtue-signal while totally ignoring the issues that were causing me – and so many others – to self-manage our stress in the worst way possible. Plus, they were able to waste a hell of a lot of money in the process.

But too many people are afraid of asking an important question because they know they won’t like the answer: What if workplace wellbeing isn’t working?

We are creating a generation of employees who drop deadlines for deep breathwork classes, dodge conflict in favour of candle meditations, and can’t set boundaries because they’re too busy barefoot walking.

Well-rounded dangers

Yes, wellness is important. But too much emphasis on wellness – especially at the expense of performance, creativity and resilience – can throw team performance into a death spiral.

This flies in the face of everything we’ve been taught. But seriously, how many more articles on ‘wellness hacking’ do you need to read?

How many times must you drag a self-styled ‘mindset coach’ into the office to deliver the earth-shattering news that switching from a pizza and vodka-based diet might be a good idea? How often have you nodded and muttered something along the lines of, “I should get more sleep / exercise / time away from the phone”…. and then made absolutely no changes whatsoever.

So why do you believe you need more of the same?

We are creating a generation of employees who drop deadlines for deep breathwork classes, dodge conflict in favour of candle meditations, and
can’t set boundaries because they’re too busy barefoot walking.

We’ve become so desperate to make everyone ‘well-rounded’, that we have removed their edge. What happens when you remove someone’s edge: They become dull.

So, you’re left with a workforce that is dull, lifeless and possessing the backbone of a jellyfish washed up on Omanu Beach.

But hey, at least they got seven hours of REM sleep last night. Pity you can’t pay overdue invoices with optimised sleeping patterns.

A history of anti-optimisation

An optimised, healthy, well-rounded team is what every business says they WANT, but if you dare to look into the history books, you will discover this is the last thing an industrious, powerful, fast moving enterprise NEEDS.

Caesar, Joan of Arc, Shakespear, Lincoln, Edison, Churchill, Roosevelt, Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr… do you think they were all getting a solid eight hours on the pillow, tracking their macronutrients and ensuring they hit 10,000 daily steps? No.

You tell the world you want to create a team of leaders, yet you encourage your people to adopt precisely the opposite behaviours demonstrated by the greatest leaders in history.

Better yet, you say you want to create teams of high-performing people doing important work … but consider the teams doing TRULY important work in the world right now: Saving lives in the battlefield operating theatres of Ukraine; In the Amazonian jungles searching for a cure for cancer; Developing technology to take humanity to Mars in the tech labs of California.

I guarantee those teams are fuelled by sleep deprivation, sugar, caffeine, nicotine and energy drinks.

But you allow Karen and Kevin from the project management team to tell you they can’t submit their status report on time because they mistakenly added milk to their soy latte.

The secret potion

So, if workplace wellness isn’t the answer, then what is?

I’m not saying your office has to become the set of The Wolf of Wall Street.

But stop relying on the latest mindfulness tool as an excuse to dodge what really matters.

Give your people the resources they need to fix your customers’ most pressing problems.

When a team member’s life has taken a disastrous turn, give them your time, focus and attention, not the login details for a Chat-GPT powered AI counsellor.

And most of all, give them challenges and the space and support to screw up and fail.

A resilient, ambitious, workforce is not created in a cotton-wool-padded therapy room. It is forged in the fire of change and failure.

When did you learn to not touch a hot stove: When an adult tried to ‘protect’ you? Or when you touched a hot stove?

So, if you want the best for your team, colleagues, and leaders, stop wasting time, energy and money on being the comfort blanket.

Be the hot stove.

Related: POLAR PURSUIT: Conquering the Arctic in the quest for Peak Potential

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Freddie Bennett
Freddie Bennett
Guinness World Record Holder, podcast host and bestselling author, Freddie is known as ‘The Profit Hunter’. He helps business owners enjoy more time, money and freedom by discovering and extracting hidden profits in their companies. Freddie@conqueryourmedia.com

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