Case: handling the unhealthy employee


  1. Add your opinion about the choices and decisions being made—if this was your company would you make this choice? 
  2. What would you do differently?   

 Bill is an award-winning newspaper reporter for the city news who can crank out twice as many feature articles as anyone else. To keep relevant in a period of downsizing in the newspaper industry, Bill also maintains the newspaper blog and social network pages. Over time, his work hours grew. He often chain-smoked his way to 3 hours of sleep or less. He gained weight and started to develop a considerable waist. He always had snacks by his desk because he had little time to go out to a restaurant or make a home-cooked meal.

Bill was known to be irritable and often yelled at his colleagues for not getting information he needed for articles. “Time is important. The second reporter to the story might as well be the last reporter to the story.” His colleagues thought he was too pushy and often yelled back at him.

One morning he collapsed at his office desk. He was rushed to the hospital via ambulance. Doctors found that he’d had a retinal stroke with loss of significant vision in his right eye. Doctors said he would be fine as long as he would lose weight and take better care of himself.

Diane is the owner/manager of the newspaper and is concerned about Bill’s condition, along with that of with the other overworked reporters and editors who have been survivors of the many downsizings over the years. She has decided to implement several stress and health management policies to help maintain productivity while keeping the employees healthy. In an employee meeting, she mentioned several new initiatives as follows:

“First, in the past, smoking has been limited to offices. Now smoking will be banned from the building. If you want to smoke, there will be a designated smoking area in back of the building
“Second, in the past, vending machines have had junk food. Now the machines have been eliminated. Fresh fruits and vegetables will be provided for free in the cafeteria.
“Third, periodically, courses on healthy eating and exercise will be provided by experts. These courses will be regarded as important as mandatory staff meetings. The courses will last for approximately 1 hour and may involve minor physical activity.
“Fourth, health checks by a nearby medical service will be available for free twice a year. This will be totally paid for by our organization.
“Finally, if management feels that you are overworked or overstressed, we would like to sit down with you and talk to see what is happening.”

Bill was aghast at this new policy. In discussions with a colleague, Bill said the following:

“Diane is trying to impose her will and culture upon me. Smoking relaxes me. I write better when I smoke. Now that there is a no-smoking policy in the office, this is the one thing that would increase my blood pressure through the roof.”

“The vending machines were a convenient way to get food. I am a carnivore, and I like my occasional beef jerky. I like my chips. Granola is for the birds.”

“The mandatory classes concerning nutrition and exercise are a waste of time for the staff. If there is a great story out there, it is more important to get the story in the middle of the day than waste time on Diane’s religion. The newspaper provides significant financial incentives for each feature that is published every week. I write the most features because I am good at it, I write fast, and I need the money. My wife’s sick in the hospital, and I’ve got two teenagers to feed. I might lose my house.”

“The ‘free’ medical service and management visits about health are basically nosy efforts by management to pry into personal business. It is none of management’s business to intervene in my personal affairs.”

There are several other reporters in the office who feel the same way as Bill and have threatened to resign if Diane’s initiatives go through. The reporters offered a very simple alternative of having the newspaper add 3 days of sick leave benefits per year. They feel that Diane has no right to impose her lifestyle and her culture on them. Diane especially has no right to monitor the lifestyle and personal habits of employees that do not affect work.

Diane counters the group by saying that lifestyle and culture can affect work. “If you are not healthy, in the long term, you will not be productive. I want you around for a long time.”

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