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4 better ways to boost worker wellness than Amazon’s ridiculous ZenBooth

Corporate giant Amazon is taking heat over reports of its WorkingWell initiative, a physical and mental health programme intended to improve employee health in the retail giant’s fulfilment centres.

A leaked pamphlet, which Amazon has claimed was created in error and is not being circulated, encourages workers to invest in their own fitness and become “industrial athletes”. One aspect attracting particular attention is a plan for “AmaZen Booths”. Also called Mindful Practice Rooms, these kiosks are intended for employees to take breaks from work, experience periods of calm, and access mental health resources. Amazon deleted a social media post about the booths after being mocked on Twitter.

The details paint an unflattering picture of the company in light of its unprecedented rise in revenues, profits and stock value during the pandemic. Critics of Amazon say the company’s unparalleled financial success is on the backs of its 1.3 million employees who are subject to precarious employment contracts – issues that came to a head after an unsuccessful campaign among some US-based Amazon workers to gain trade union recognition.

Commentators are also saying that these workers experience higher than average rates of workplace injuries and are treated like “galley slaves”. In such conditions, it is argued, a wellbeing initiative is beside the point.

These programmes are gaining in popularity: COVID-19 has raised “wellness” up the agendas of corporations like never before – and not always in a good way. Many companies have introduced exercise classes, fruit and other sticking-plaster solutions rather than measures which assess risk, focus on prevention and prioritise “decent work” as a driver of both wellbeing and productivity.

Having been a judge for the Global Healthy Workplace Awards since 2014, I have run a critical eye over many corporate wellness programmes. Like other big companies, Amazon faces the challenging balance of promoting employee wellbeing without being accused of tokenism.

In trying to improve worker wellness, companies often miss the mark. Here are some things they should keep in mind:

1. Health and productivity can and must coexist

To imply that there should be a binary choice between health and productivity is facile and misleading. One of the more breathtaking things I heard from a senior executive of a large UK organisation during the pandemic was this:

Frankly, I think that job stress is a more effective driver of productivity for us than wellbeing programmes.

Far from being a niche or outdated opinion, this thinking is representative of a significant proportion of business leaders around the world. As it happens, this large organisation is also very keen to tell anyone who will listen that “employee health, safety and wellbeing is their biggest priority” – though when I checked their latest report to shareholders and prospective investors, the words “revenue” and “profits” outnumbered mentions of “safety” by a ratio of 25 to 1.

2. Lifestyle evangelism is no substitute for decent work

The former chief medical officer of UK telecoms giant BT, Dr Paul Litchfield, famously derided what he called the “fruit and pilates” approach to workplace wellbeing. He argued that no amount of healthy snacks in canteens, “step challenges” or company fun runs can compensate for jobs with impossible deadlines or targets, or the stress of reporting to a manager who is a bully.

One of the founding fathers of modern motivation theory, Frederick Herzberg, once said: “if you want someone to do a good job, give them a good job to do.” Wellness programmes that ignore this simple idea are unlikely to have an enduring impact.

3. Context is everything

The AmaZen Booths are no more than a contemporary take on many successful community and workplace mental health programmes such as the “Men’s Shed” movement, which originated among working men in Australia in the 1990s. It targeted older men, who can often find being open about mental health very difficult, by offering resources and support which encouraged reflection and “help-seeking”.

Similar booths have been used successfully by some UK employers. Electricity supplier E.ON created a “Head Shed” to encourage employees to find out more about mental wellbeing, for instance.

The real test of Amazon’s version is whether it is part of a genuinely coherent programme of initiatives which assess and reduce exposure to risk, and convince employees that the company really is prioritising their wellbeing over the long term. Having a well-branded initiative on wellbeing is never enough by itself, especially if many employees’ everyday experience of work is that it is intense, strenuous and toxic.

4. Employers: beware of ‘fool’s gold’

Employers need to be more critical consumers of wellbeing “miracle cures” offered by commercial providers. I have seen too many employers divert resources from unglamorous but evidence-based interventions (like having access to a good occupational health nurse) towards those meant to “showcase” their commitment to health and wellbeing.

Used by themselves, laughter coaches and head massages are really no more than perks, with little or no direct impact on health or productivity. Even very popular initiatives such as Mental Health First Aid have very little strong evidence of any long-term benefit.

Sadly, in the drive for more productivity, the health and wellbeing of employees can be among the first casualties. Reports of Amazon’s WorkingWell programme have, so far, not been flattering. Its challenge – like many other corporations – is to sweep aside the cynicism and demonstrate that its efforts will have tangible benefits for all of its employees and are not just PR spin.

This article by Stephen Bevan, Head of HR Research Development, Institute for Employment Studies, Lancaster University is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Molecule Hybrid Mattress Review – Sleeping Your Way to Wellness

It’s probably safe to say that the past year or so has been particularly stressful for almost everyone around the world. People have different ways of coping with stress but, more often than not, most of those strategies involve more activity, healthy or unhealthy foods, binging on entertainment, and a general lack of sleep. Sleep often gets sacrificed in today’s activity-obsessed world but, as athletes would tell you, it is also the key to actually being more active. Quality sleep isn’t actually easy to achieve and that is what Molecule’s newest Hybrid Mattress promises to deliver by combining the best of two worlds.

Craftsmanship

If the first impression you get from seeing the Molecule Hybrid Mattress is that it’s huge, you wouldn’t be alone. Then again, if you’re used to top-tier quality mattresses, especially from Molecule’s selection, this wouldn’t come as a surprise anymore. Of course, it’s not all foam or coils inside but somewhat of both, making up part of the Hybrid Mattress’ seven advanced layers that we’ll go into more detail later.

The quality and durability of the mattress are definitely top-notch. In its FAQ, Molecule even boasts it doesn’t have any weight restrictions or limits, making the mattress fit for anyone. That does come with a rather large amount of heft that will make it harder to turn the mattress around to even out the wear. Good thing you’re not supposed to flip it over since the Hybrid Mattress’s layers don’t work in reverse.

The top of the mattress is actually whether the magic starts, where Molecule’s quilted top wicks away heat from your body for a more comfortable sleep. At the same time, it serves as a comfortable and luxurious surface to sleep directly on with no need for any covers or pads in between. In fact, Molecule cautions using other materials to cover that surface as it may actually impede proper airflow and nullify the mattress’s effects.

A word has to be said about where and how Molecule makes the Hybrid Mattress. The foam it uses is made in the US, which is important not just because of the origin of the material but because of how it reduces the carbon footprint involved in shipping materials internationally. The company also boasts of its Variable Pressure Foaming method that not only reduces emissions by 97& but also removes the need to “air-out” the mattress before using them.

Technology

It’s easy enough to take sleep for granted and think that it’s just a matter of lying down horizontally on any surface and falling unconscious. There is, however, a large body of research and science dedicated just to studying sleep in order to gain the most benefits from this phase of regeneration for our bodies. That’s the very same science that Molecule applies in order to offer the best sleep that money can buy.

As we covered in our previous review of Molecule’s earlier mattress model, one of the secrets to sleeping comfortably and effectively lies in your own body temperature. Regardless of what climate you’re used to, you will find it hard to sleep if your body temperature is higher than normal. The trick, then, is to cool down your body by making airflow better beneath your body.

That’s what most of the Molecule Hybrid Mattress’ seven layers do, which definitely justifies its thickness. While the top cover wicks away heat from the body, the layers underneath let the air flow more easily compared to traditional foam. This is thanks in particular to the company’s AirTec foam that uses a matrix of open cells to let air through more easily.

Comfort

This isn’t Molecule’s first advanced mattress, of course, and it even just its second. While the Molecule 1 that we reviewed three years ago delivered on its promise, we also found it to be too soft for our tastes. Apparently, a lot did as well, making Molecule come up with this new product.

What’s completely new to the Hybrid Mattress is the MoleculeEdge coil system. This 6-inch layer is composed of individually wrapped coils to provide ample support to the body. It also has enhanced edge support so that you don’t just fall off when sitting or lying at the edge of the mattress.

In practice, all of these work together to deliver the elements for your best sleep. Comfortable materials, well-ventilated layers, and proper body support help condition the body for a good night’s sleep. Of course, it isn’t just about feeling good, which is actually the by-product of a well-rested body. It is more about putting the body in the proper condition to recuperate and recover from all the physical and mental stresses of the day.

Wrap-up

The Molecule Hybrid Mattress, without a doubt, delivers on its promise. It improves on earlier mattresses by adding a thick layer of support to help relieve pressure and keep you from falling off the edges.

It doesn’t come without its price, though, both figurative and literal. The queen-sized mattress we reviewed, for example, easily costs $1,899. Molecule does have a rather generous “100 Nights” return policy if you don’t get the sleep you’ve been promised. When it comes to your health, though, you don’t skimp on the essentials and nothing can be more essential to health than a good sleep.

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