Beyond Rajio Taisou: New Directions for Creating Wellness at Work

By on March 11, 2015
Workplace wellness programs that focus on improving physical fitness are becoming commonplace in leading companies around the world.

This is something that has long been known and practiced in Japan. Honda pioneered an approach where they enrolled new employees in two weeks of exercise classes to simulate the movements they would perform on the job. Other companies soon followed suit as this approach quickly proved to reduce injuries, increase productivity, and reduce sick days. To this day, many companies still mandate rajio taisou – the 10 minute group calisthenics that all employees participate in on a daily basis.

Because much of the healthy workplace research and experimentation was initiated in manufacturing companies, it made sense to focus on the impact of physical health on physical productivity. With the economy shifting from work that is physically demanding to work that is mentally demanding, we need to shift our understanding of what is required to create a healthy workforce.

Fortunately, there is a growing body of research that has identified not only what employers must do to move beyond the physical elements of wellness, but how a focus on impacting these less tangible elements of wellness has an even more positive impact on the organization’s bottom line.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-being Index, a scientific survey instrument that measures, tracks and reports on the well-being of individuals and organizations is one of the world leaders in researching well-being. Their research has identified four additional elements beyond physical health that are essential to well-being: sense of purpose, supportive relationships, financial security, and community pride and belonging. Their research shows that compared to adults who are thriving in all five elements, those who are thriving in physical well-being alone are 68% more likely to miss work due to poor health, three times more likely to file a workers’ compensation claim, and five times more likely to seek a new employer.

Robertson Cooper has also developed a model of workplace well-being and employee engagement based on over 100,000 cases of data in a huge range of organizations. Their framework identifies similar drivers of overall well-being including: resources and communication, control, balanced workload, job security and change, work relationships, and job conditions. Their data indicate that physical health is not a driver of well-being at all. It is these six drivers that impact physical health as well as psychological health, morale, engagement, and commitment in individuals. These in turn drive positive organizational outcomes such as increased customer service, retention, attendance, productivity and, ultimately, profitability.

In short: physical health is only a small part of the equation when it comes to improving well-being at work and tapping into the benefits it offer for a healthier bottom line.

How do you get your organization to make the shift? With this deeper understanding of, it makes sense to move beyond the physical rajio taisou approach to workplace health, but how do you do this?

Understand the big picture. Gather the research on the financial benefits of a more holistic approach to well-being and find one or two models that you think will work for your organization before you pitch it to the decision-makers that you need to get buy in from. If you aren’t sure where to start, give me a call and I am happy to point you in the right direction.

Find a way to really care. Most leaders don’t care about well-being for its own sake – only for what it does to the bottom line. Just like dogs can supposedly smell fear, employees can smell inauthenticity. You can’t sell your leadership team on the benefits of holistic well-being initiatives based purely on the bottom line. There has to be some sense of excitement for improving their employees’ lives, not just the company’s profit margins. If the leader’s main concern is financial, they are not going to demonstrate the kind of commitment needed to see these types of initiatives through long enough to see bottom line results.

Know that you will need to change. For employees to have more control and a greater sense of meaning, purpose and fulfillment in their work – for them to feel more engaged, enabled and empowered to take charge of their own domain and create results – leaders need to be willing to let go of control, allow for creativity, and embrace the learning that comes from mistakes. This runs counter to the traditional command and control leadership ethic that is present in many organizations. For workplace wellness and employee engagement programs to really take hold and be sustainable over the long term, leaders need to be re-educated in techniques for unleashing the full potential of their people by extending them greater freedom, trust, and independence.

Be willing to stick your nose in where typically it is thought that employers don’t belong. Relationships, finances, sense of purpose, and community pride have been traditionally thought of as something that is personal, private, and none of an employer’s business. Leaders don’t need to become personal counsellors, but they can fund training programs that support employees to build the skills and knowledge they need to improve their finances, relationships, career fulfillment and community pride. The better-rounded the employees sense of well-being, the healthier, more energetic, more creative and more productive they will be in all areas of their life.


About Andrea Jacques

Andrea Jacques is the founder of Kyosei Consulting and the author of Wabi-Sabi Wisdom: Inspiration for an Authentic Life (available on She has spent more than 20 years developing the potential of people and businesses worldwide, five of which were in Japan. A dynamic speaker, coach, and facilitator, her work integrates spiritual insight with top-tier leadership, wellness and sustainability consulting to help individuals and organizations build thriving, purpose-driven cultures where employees know their work truly matters. She can be contacted through her website at