Mackey Suggests Motivational Dieting

Discussion
Nov 25, 2009
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By Bernice
Hurst
, Contributing Editor, RetailWire

Whole
Foods CEO, John Mackey, has told a Bloomberg interviewer
about his latest ideas on motivating employees to lose weight and “measurably
improve their health.” Using mobile laboratories, the company will
offer to check employees’ blood pressure, cholesterol levels and
body-mass index. This, added to whether they smoke or not, will help
them earn discounts up to 30 percent off store goods, if they can
be seen to be making positive efforts.

Whole
Foods spent $150 million last year on health care. Now, the company
wants to “empower” employees to share the responsibility. According
to spokeswoman, Kate Lowery, Whole Foods pays health care premiums
for its 40,000 full-time employees, or more than 75 percent of its
workforce, while part-time employees pay their own premiums.

If the
voluntary program, which starts in January, works as Mr. Mackey hopes,
employees could save money and get in shape while the company cuts
its health care tab.

“We’re
making an investment and we expect a return,” Mr. Mackey said.

More
than 100 high-risk employees have already participated in an intensive
retreat-style immersion program working for five-10 days with a doctor
for which the company pays “several thousand dollars.” Mr. Mackey
told Bloomberg, "Several
of those employees have told me the program saved their lives.”

With
the new companywide program, it will be easy for anyone to get a
baseline 20 percent discount. This, plus contests within stores and
regions, will encourage participation and maintain motivation, Mr.
Mackey believes. After the initial incentive, “The discounts are
on a sliding scale based on results.”

Bloomberg also
reminds readers of Mr. Mackey’s comments in a Wall
Street Journal
column in August that “most
health problems are ‘self-inflicted’ and can be prevented through
proper diet, exercise and similar lifestyle changes.” It is his belief
that “cost savings are achieved by ‘less government control and more
individual empowerment.'”

Discussion
questions: Are measurable discounts a good way to motivate behavioral
changes in employees around diet and fitness? Is this a smart way
for companies to reduce health care costs? Or are the risks of
employee coercion too great?

[Author’s
commentary] Pity Mr. Mackey had to go and spoil a good offer
by implying that anyone not losing weight was deliberately putting
their health and life in jeopardy. That, my friends, is purely
a matter of opinion (and, dare I say it, CHOICE).

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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11 Comments on "Mackey Suggests Motivational Dieting"


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Paula Rosenblum
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

Kudos for the author’s postscript. It seems as though the very, very last acceptable discrimination is against obese people. As Oprah Winfrey famously said, “Willpower? You want to talk about willpower? I didn’t eat a drop of food for 3 months. Can you do that?” And still, with all her money, power and willpower, she continues to fight (and lose) the battle.

There are people this program will inspire–the “mildly” overweight. There are people who will be mortified. And there are people who will continue to be made to feel like failures.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

The store discount incentive seems a bit controlling if you ask me. This reminds me of a conversation I had with a long-term Walmart cashier. She told me that she had interviewed with Whole Foods (“Such nice people”), was given a store tour complete with food samples and was later offered a position. I asked her why she didn’t take it. She laughed and said that there was “no way” she could afford to shop at Whole Foods and the difference in pay wasn’t significant enough to make up for it.

Mr. Mackey’s 20% might be a real incentive for employees who shop there anyway. For others, it may put WF above or just on par with competitors. Why not make it a win-win by doing the math and making it a cash incentive that still cuts down on health care costs?

David Livingston
Guest
11 years 5 months ago
I think what Mr. Mackey is doing is well intentioned but I also think he is setting himself up to win by default. He is going to solve a problem he doesn’t have. I just don’t see there being a problem with overweight employees to begin with. Whole Foods by their very nature tends to attract younger, healthy people to work in their stores. Therefore the need to send a significant amount of people into an immersion program would be minimal. My observations are that Whole Foods employees are already very healthy. I rarely see anyone over 40 working there. A 30% discount is a nice incentive as long as it applies to everything at all times, with no restrictions. However, we all know that Whole Foods is a very expensive store and that the typical average consumer could not afford to shop there unless there was about a 50% discount. Imagine if Wal-Mart or McDonald’s were to offer the same program. I’ve seen people on portable oxygen in wheelchairs working at Wal-Mart. When was… Read more »
Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
11 years 5 months ago

I’m all for any initiative that gets people eating healthy. The Whole Foods brand conveys the image of healthy living, so it makes sense to provide these resources to their employees. Think of the increased product knowledge when staff starts using the products themselves. An informed associate is one who can close sales and build baskets. Yes, even in grocery.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

This is an excellent idea for those who need the help. The company wins. But, what discount do the already healthy people get?

Mark Johnson
Guest
Mark Johnson
11 years 5 months ago

This seems to be a good idea on its face. It is trying to get those who may have an extrinsic motivation (money) to lose weight. Yet most studies show that their should be more an an intrinsic motivation to make the change sustainable. It will be interest to see how this plays out.

It also discourages those like myself, who work out one or two times a day, can run a 6 minute mile and bench press 1 1/2 times their body weight at almost forty. What incentive do I get?

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
11 years 5 months ago

For those who “don’t see there being a problem with overweight employees to begin with,” perhaps you missed the part about excess weight having been proven to negatively affect people’s health. And, negatively affected (poor) health increases insurance costs. This isn’t about the job performance of overweight people – one only has to look at NFL football coaches. This is about caring for employees’ health and, by the way, saving enough in insurance costs to give them a discount. This is a great incentive and a visionary program. I have a hunch that Mr. Mackey knows his employees far better than those who would pick around the edges of this initiative and infer that it casts aspersions at overweight people.

David Livingston
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

I want to clarify; I do see a problem with overweight employees, but not at Whole Foods. I just don’t see it as a problem when I visit Whole Foods. My experience has been that Whole Foods employees most likely already practice a healthy lifestyle. Finding an unhealthy employee at Whole Foods to me is like finding an overweight runner on the college cross country team.

Jack Rhodes
Guest
Jack Rhodes
11 years 5 months ago

It’s just a great idea no matter whether it’s Whole Foods or the US Olympic team. This program is not just for over weight employees; people die all the time that are in great shape running marathons. A great idea…other companies should follow.

Michael P. Schall
Guest
Michael P. Schall
11 years 5 months ago

I think some of you are missing the point here. It’s not just about obesity. (How many “obese” people do you see working in Whole Foods?) It’s about a way of life. Plant-based nutrition…nutrient-dense foods. It’s not for everyone, but then again, neither is Whole Foods.

If Mackey’s initiative wins just 10% of his workforce over to better quality eating, that’s four thousand people who’s health has improved and quality of life is likely better. And there’s probably a tiny savings in insurance premiums. Maybe he saves 100 basis points on the $150 million spent on health care (that’s $150 million bucks!). Mackey is returning to what made Whole Foods a sea-change retailer. One can only hope that others would follow suit–maybe we wouldn’t have to be talking about a “government option.” Kudos to Mackey. Get over yourselves.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
11 years 5 months ago

A company that encourages a healthy lifestyle is doing a good thing, in my opinion. Such efforts can include use of pedometers, identifying healthy choices in a cafeteria or prepared foods area, providing classes to increase knowledge with incentives to quit smoking, and making available practical information on how to deal with diabetes or high blood pressure or heart disease. Most important is that there be employee-wide efforts to look at ways to increase individual health and that small incentives be provided along the way.

Whole Foods’ program is not perfect but they are trying and hopefully results of their program can be shared with the industry. There is lots to be learned here as to what works and what doesn’t work.

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