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Teaching employees to “do” health and wellness: Wellness inspirers as a technology of workplace health promotion
University of Gävle, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, Department of Culture Studies, Religious Studies and Educational Sciences. (STIHF)
2013 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

General description of research questions, objectives and theoretical framework

This paper takes issue with corporate concern for shaping and governing employees’ health and wellness. Corporations have long been concerned with employee health, but this concern has shifted from a focus on occupational health and safety to include individual health and wellbeing (Bjurvald 2004, Björklund 2008). This is much in line with neo-liberal developments in the public health field internationally in which the advance of a culture of risk has resulted in individuals needing to become self-regulating and self-forming (Turner 1997). This focus on individual health and wellbeing through self-regulation and self-formation has resulted in the development of various health promoting interventions, for instance in the workplace. Workplace health promotion interventions have been described as a two-edged sword (Lupton 1995, but see also for instance Allender, Colquhoun & Kelly 2006a, 2006b and  Maravelias 2009, 2012), meaning that interventions and programs concerned with employee health signal philanthropic motives on the part of the employers at the same time as they signal a control over employees’ bodies, exhorting them to engage in specific activities and not others in their spare time. Health promotion in the workplace thus serves to foster a culture of health consciousness and a desire to lead a healthy life, teaching employees what, how and why they should do in order to become happy and fulfilled with their lives and thus be more desirable employees.

As part of a discursive trend, workplace health promotion is being organized and governed on a European level by for instance a European Network for Workplace Health Promotion (ENWHP). The network aims at promoting good practice in workplace health promotion in all European countries, defining workplace health promotion as “the combined efforts of employers, employees and society to improve the health and well-being of people at work” (ENWHP 1997/2007:2). Basic network consensus on goals, vision and mission are recorded in policy documents, or declarations. For example, in the Luxembourg Declaration (ENWHP 1997/2007), implementing policies and practices that enhance employee health by making the healthy choices the easy choices is encouraged. The Luxembourg Declaration also points to important actions for improving workplace health, one of which involves promoting active participation. In an ever more health focused and neo-liberal society, corporations have started to introduce wellness inspirers into the workplace. A wellness inspirer is a regular employee who receives a couple of days of training in order to, besides their regular work duties, also function as an inspirer to help develop healthier lifestyle habits among the staff. The introduction of wellness inspirers to help advance employees’ health and wellness can hence be regarded as an example of promoting active participation among employees, and in this manner, wellness inspirers function as a technology of workplace health promotion. The purpose of this paper is therefore to explore how this phenomenon of wellness inspirers and their role in the workplace and workplace health promotion are discursively construed and operate to govern employees’ health and wellness.

Methods/methodology

The study is based on empirical data in the form of student theses and organization reports and evaluations on workplace health promotion with a specific focus on wellness inspirers. Original student theses were searched in DiVA which is an open database and archive for research publications and student theses produced in Sweden. The search term “hälsoinspiratör” (“wellness inspirer”) was used. Searches were also performed using the same search term on Scholar Google to find reports and evaluations from organizations using wellness inspirers. Out of a total of 103 references, 29 publications were selected.

The publications used were then analyzed using discourse theory, guided by Foucault’s (1978/2003) notion of governmentality. In Rose’s (1999:20) words, governmentality is to analyze “what authorities of various sorts wanted to happen, in relation to problems defined how, in pursuit of what objectives, through what strategies and techniques”. In this study, this relates to the discursive constructions of wellness inspirers, their responsibilities and organization which were analyzed in relation to the techniques for governing that the discourses produced in the name of health and wellness. What discourses were mobilized and what practices for governing of the self and others did those discourses produce?

Expected outcomes/results

The findings show a high degree of consistency between different organizations and different parts of the country regarding how the wellness inspirer was constituted. The wellness inspirer generally had a network of other wellness inspirers to turn to but was also expected to be self-sufficient in producing activities and inspiring co-workers, making it somewhat of a solitary endeavor. In the studied material, the wellness inspirer is also depicted as someone who offers inspiration, energy and good spirits. In this description of the wellness inspirer – or the expectations placed on the wellness inspirer – health and wellbeing is conceived as something that can be imparted upon and shared with people by the means of mere good cheer.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2013.
Keyword [en]
workplace health promotion, wellness inspirer, governmentality
National Category
Pedagogy
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:hig:diva-15137OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hig-15137DiVA: diva2:645826
Conference
The European Conference on Educational Research (ECER), 10-13 September 2013, Istanbul, Turkey
Available from: 2013-09-05 Created: 2013-09-05 Last updated: 2013-09-10Bibliographically approved

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