The Ethics of Workplace Wellness

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Ethical theories provide guidance when making choices such as when considering whether to include a wellness program at the workplace. Ethics goes beyond right and wrong, which may not always be the same for everyone, and looks into the greater outcomes of choices. The ethics of workplace wellness include examining much more than the bottom line and extend into other areas including:

Respect for personhood

Providing a workplace wellness program shows employees they are respected. An employee is much more than what he or she can do for the company. An employee is a combination of personal and professional lives which are both enhanced through workplace wellness. By offering workshops to educate employees on healthy choices and providing exercise, meditation or healthy eating stations, employers are showing a respect for employees that goes beyond a paycheck.


A workplace wellness program does not discriminate against anyone for any reason. All employees have bodies and minds that benefit from wellness education. Employers who provide wellness options such as workout centers, counseling, smoking cessation programs, weight loss guidance, stress reduction and blood pressure screenings, show that they treat all employees equally and offer equal health opportunities for everyone. This goes a long way to boosting the company’s reputation for equality and will result in more employees wanting to be hired and for existing employees to remain loyal to their jobs.

Promotion of the common good

The common good refers to what is best for all employees. Therefore, if a workplace wellness program results in healthier, more productive workers who feel good about themselves, this common good is a valid reason to offer such a program. When employees realize the company has the common good interests in mind, a community develops and teams work together more effectively, which ultimately benefits the company’s finances and employee morale.

Workplace duty

The duty-based ethical approach suggests that companies offer wellness programs because it is their duty. In other words, it is the right thing to do. This duty does not depend on any results that companies might gain such as healthier, more motivated and more productive employees. Instead, it focuses on the company’s responsibility to offer wellness with no expectation of receiving any benefits. While a duty-based approach may be difficult to understand, it is a shift in perspective from focusing on the outcomes of a choice and instead on whether or not the choice to provide wellness education is the right thing to do.

The Golden Rule

This ethical approach essentially is “treat others how you want to be treated”. If an employer would like access to a wellness program or would want the higher-ups in a corporation to provide wellness for her, then she should provide wellness opportunities for her employees. Filtering a wellness program decision through The Golden Rule makes it less about any financial matters and turns it into a question of whether it is a priority that one wants for herself.

A Utilitarian approach

A utilitarian evaluates the consequences of decisions based on which decision will produce the most amount of good for the greatest amount of people. Since a workplace wellness program affects large groups of people, companies can design programs that bring good benefits to the majority of employees. The good benefits include improved well-being, stronger mental health and higher quality of life. Another way to look at this approach is to choose a decision that creates the least amount of pain. Since wellness programs often help to reduce physical and mental pain, a company can evaluate their decision through the utilitarian approach with the aim to produce large amount of good and small amounts of pain.

Human rights

The rights approach is similar to a duty-based approach, but it relies heavier on the idea that workplace wellness programs are a human right. This means that employees have a right to receive wellness education in the same way they have a right to receive compensation for hours worked. The rights-based approach also encourages companies to focus on employee health as the goal, instead of the benefits the company will receive through having healthy employees. It is a shift in mind-set again from looking at the bottom line and other financial benefits to making employee health benefits a priority.

The ethical approach to creating and maintaining an employee wellness program provides more reasons than strictly financial gain. These reasons are important because research from the July 2017 issue of The Journal of Nursing Administration says that 15 percent of companies may not experience financial benefits from workplace wellness programs. Although companies may consider starting a workplace wellness program with the goal of financial gain, the ethical reasons such as respect, equality, common good and duty shift a company’s priorities and make wellness promotion more beneficial for everyone involved.



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