Proactive vs Reactive Wellness: What’s the Cost?

Proactive vs Reactive Wellness: What’s the Cost?

wellnessThe messages we receive, be that directly or subliminally, influence our understanding of ourselves and our world. Examine the messages we receive around getting healthy. We’re encouraged to be proactive about our health and wellness. We hear things like eat well, exercise, prioritize your sleep, etc. When we encounter people who are healthy we tend to look at them with respect.

Now examine the message we get around our mental and emotional health. We’re taught to believe there’s something wrong with us if we want to improve our mental health. We get messages about being at rock bottom. There is a stigma around self improvement. There’s an undertone of shame associated with mental and emotional health. With this messaging no wonder people are hesitant to ask for support. If we were to apply the messaging we get with respect to our mental and emotional health to our physical health it would be as if we’re suggesting people get as fat as they possibly can THEN try to lose weight…..Does that sound like a good plan to you?

I do believe we’re growing in the right direction or maybe that’s a hope, but knowing stress costs American employers approximately $300 billion a year, 51% of workers feeling mentally “checked out (Gallup), companies spending around 75% of a worker’s annual salary to cover lost productivity or to replace workers (HuffPost) sometimes it feels hopeless. In a world that sends subtle messages shaming us about wanting to improve our wellness, how can companies create a culture that fosters a space supportive of improved wellness? The solution is through investment. Invest in your people to help them understand what is ok and what isn’t ok at your company. Teach people the way to show up in business with a proactive wellness approach rather than a reactive wellness approach.

Breakdown of Proactive vs Reactive Impact

  • Proactive wellness acknowledges the challenges our employees go through and creates a safe space where they feel secure vocalizing their capacity and grievances.
  • Reactive wellness stifles employees voices out of fear of losing their job if “they can’t keep up”
  • Proactive wellness invests time in teaching common wellness terminology
  • Reactive wellness blames and shames using fear as motivation (which is actually the lowest level of motivation)
  • Proactive wellness supports the individual making them feel valued and respected creating an internal desire within employees to work harder
  • Reactive wellness sends the message that each person is replaceable

On and on it goes. The cost in both proactive wellness and reactive wellness is time. With proactive wellness, you have to invest more time teaching the dynamics. In reactive wellness, you have to invest time fixing mistakes, and onboarding new people because employee retention is poor. Rather than trying to rewrite the book on how to revise company culture, what follows are 2 simple adjustments with low time investment and maximum return anyone can implement.


Imagine the following scenario and consider how you might feel given the differing experiences. You have a meeting schedule with your boss towards the end of the day. You’re excited to talk through a few projects you’ve been working on and need some clarity as to the path forward….


  • Your boss comes rushing in, 15 minutes late. She seems distracted and is cutting you off mid-sentence.


  • Your boss comes rushing in 15 minutes late. She shares she’s been in back to back meetings and is feeling a little frustrated given prior events. She continues sharing, this meeting is important to her, and she appreciates your patience with her tardiness. She asks for your understand that if she appears exhausted it’s nothing to do with you. The meeting proceeds and you notice your boss seems distracted and is cutting you off mid-sentence.

Given the 2 circumstances, how might you experience those meetings differently? I’ve given the same example in dozens of corporate workshops and the answer I get is always the same. In the first circumstance, the employee feels discouraged and irritated with their boss. In the second circumstance, the employee feels respected and valued.

This is a perfect example of “State Awareness”. It’s a simple technique where people are given the space to update the other parties on their state so things aren’t misunderstood or personalized. What this does is it drastically reduces the stress within the company because people have a greater understanding of each other. The best part is it doesn’t take a lot of time. It takes awareness within the team which also allows other team members to show up in a more supportive way. Plus, there’s the added benefit that comes with the awareness. When your employees get in the habit of sharing their state it helps them understand their capacity minimizing people overcommitting and under delivering.


Our brain works to filter and interpret information and that creates our understandings. The problem is all filters and all interpretations are not the same. It creates a dynamic where miscommunication is inevitable. However, we can drastically reduce the miscommunications within work by painting done.

Paint done is a term coined by Brene Brown which ultimately highlights detailed communication of expectations. When committing to a project the language normally sounds something like, “can you complete _____report?” What does complete look like? Does style matter or font? What parameters do they need and are there any specific correlations they might be looking for? If you don’t ask, how
can you know?

Paint done creates a simple way of asking the requesting party to think through all the details they need so that when they receive the project it’s done correctly the first time. The causation being the boss feels satisfied, the employee feels successful and life goes on. Where in contrast leaving things up to assumptions of what people mean creates a dynamic where the boss gets frustrated with the lack of understanding, the employee might feel insecure or concerned about their job security and has to re-do the report, wasting more time.


These are 2 simple but effective strategies any and all businesses can implement to improve the proactive nature of their wellness culture. The question I always find myself circling back to is “Do we care”?

Companies have EAP’s which makes me think they do care, but after hearing countless examples of how ineffective these programs are I get curious if the companies know. If they knew they’d fight harder for their employees, right? Or are they just trying to cover their butts from a legal standpoint?

I don’t have the answer, but what I do know is regardless of your level within a company there is nothing negative that will come from you as an individual implementing these techniques. So be the change and advocate for your own wellness, PROACTIVELY!

Change by Challenge

Interested in learning more? Contact Laura today where you can learn to think differently!