(Bloomberg Business) — Swedish trucking company Scania believes in the 24-hour employee. Scania workers aren’t just expected to be their best selves at work, they’re expected to be their best selves all the time. To help employees attain that ideal, Scania offers an extensive workplace wellness program to its 5,000 employees that includes access to an onsite gym, a team of health care professionals, and seminars in which employees can learn techniques for healthier living.
“Scania cares for its employees both on and off the job,” a human resources manager in 2011 told a researcher of its approach to workforce wellness. “We try to help them live healthier. Our interest and care does not end when they leave work.”
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But according to researchers Andre Spicer and Carl Cederström, Scania’s efforts didn’t always have the intended effect. Over the last four years, the two have studied wellness programs at hundreds of companies, including Scania. In their new book, The Wellness Syndrome, they describe how the company’s extensive wellness efforts stressed some employees. Because employees had every opportunity to stay healthy, those who didn’t meet extreme health standards sometimes felt like failures. “We noticed that they would begin to worry about their level of exercising,” Spicer said. One employee interviewed by the book’s authors said that he felt the need to stay fit to keep his job: “In these times when people are laid off due to the global financial crisis, you need to stay fit, and the health profile helps you do so.”
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More broadly, Spicer and Cederström found that more extreme corporate wellness programs such as those at Scania lead to increased anxiety and stress. “In the Scania case, they said: ‘I have to exercise or else I’m not going to be seen as an attractive employee. I’m not going to just be a bad person, but an unemployable person,’” said Spicer, who studies organizational behavior, psychology, and sociology of work at the Cass Business School in London.