The Redesigning Wellness Podcast

022: Shifting the Wellness Paradigm with Jon Robison (Part 1)


Jon Robison has been stirring the wellness pot for the past 30 years. He is co-founder of Salveo Partners, an expert consulting and professional development firm that guides organizations to create thriving workplace cultures, enhance organizational performance, and cultivate employee wellbeing.

We kick off the conversation discussing Jon’s philosophy around wellness/well-being. Turns out he doesn’t like either word and prefers the word “health” because it’s all encompassing. He feels that the World Health Organization definition of health doesn’t really fit anyone because health is not just the absence of disease or infirmity (anything not perfect from age, etc.).

Health is what you do with what you have or with the circumstances you’ve been given.

Jon does use the word “well-being” at the worksite because wellness has become so bio-medicalized. He likes Gallup’s well-being model because it includes multiple dimensions, including career.

I ask Jon what got him thinking outside the traditional wellness program model. He’s always had an interest in the big picture. He started out thinking traditionally then started reading the literature (due to his mentor). and reading outside of the field.

Jon answers the questions what’s right and wrong with the wellness industry.  I like what he said around what’s wrong with the industry as he like to focus on paradigms not people. He believes wellness professionals are well-intentioned and compassionate but overall, the industry is stuck.

Organizations are complex living systems. We are treating people and organizations like they are machines. Jon defines a culture of health vs climate of health.

Jon then talks about the Safeway Amendment and how the average incentive is $693 per employee per year. He feels incentives promote cheating, lying and taking short cuts. They decrease cognition and creativity. Employees come to expect and need the incentives. After prodding, he admits he’s a hater of contingent rewards.

We talk about weight loss programs in the workplace. The majority of people lose weight and 90-95% gain the weight back, most gaining back more weight than they lost. He suggests a warning label on weight loss programs that says something like “some will lose weight but the vast majority will gain more than when they started”. Weight cycling is not benign.

Because we end up going well past an hour, I ended up making my conversation with Jon two parts. Next week, I continue my conversation with Jon.

Books Referenced: Firms of Endearment

The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni

Drive by Dan Pink

Search Edward Deci on You Tube video (his videos are about motivation and how you create the conditions for people to motivate themselves).

Jon’s bio:

Jon Robison holds a doctorate in health education/exercise physiology and a master of science in human nutrition. Jon has spent his career working to shift health promotion away from its traditional, biomedical, control-oriented focus, with a particular interest in why people do what they do and don’t do what they don’t do.

His new-released book: How to Build a Thriving Culture at Work: Featuring The 7 Points of Transformation, written with co-conspirator Dr. Rosie Ward gives organizations a realistic, step-by-step blueprint to accomplish the difficult task of transforming their cultures to be healthier and more productive — “from the inside out.”

Aside from his work Jon’s passions include his wife Jerilyn, music, humor, a 5-lb living Teddy Bear named Ginger and watching his gifted son Joshua play college soccer.