I.T. and Greasy, Globby Doughnuts

Paul E. Terry, PhD

I love my colleagues in Information Technology. I also love greasy doughnuts. Why then, do I not love it when I.T. people bring in a big crate of greasy doughnuts to reward each other for their hard work? They only do this occasionally. Still, my latest way to chide them about it was to put a recent section of the Wall Street Journal right alongside their gloriously globby booty. The full-page feature, complete with pop-out quotes of long-suffering dieters feeling sabotaged at work, was titled: “Colleagues Who Can Make You Fat.” The article notes that fully 30 percent of dieters cited worksite colleagues as the culprits in foiling their dieting plans.

As everyone knows, annoying one’s colleagues in I.T. is something you do at your peril. In the military, you play nice with the barber and the cooks. In the private sector, you pander to I.T. lest your PC mysteriously crash. So let me reiterate: I adore my colleagues in I.T. One plays in a rock band and can reassemble his Rubik’s cube in world record time, another went to a Florida boot camp to shore up his baseball umpiring skills, another can sleuth out programmers’ bugs like she’s Agatha Christie, and yet another could win Dancing With the Stars except, well, he’s not a celebrity … yet! So they’re a brainy, fun-loving, interesting, accomplished lot who I love to death. Far be it for me to tell them what to do, except, for example, if their bad habits were expensed to the company. I’ve checked; their globby treats most assuredly are not.

So, this is an appeal to their problem-solving prowess. If A is my attraction to doughnuts and B is my belief in freedom, why doesn’t A + B result in being cool with bringing in doughnuts? With their training in algebra and Boolean logic, they surely have a better chance than I at solving for why the “commutativity” of the elements, that is, the order of the numbers, does not in this case affect the result.

But perhaps there’s more to this equation than A and B. Here are just a few properties to bring to the calculus:

  • This isn’t just about the fact that we’re a wellness company. Even some of our most staunch fitness- nut colleagues (and, yes, some are from IT) were conflicted when we circulated an article about local schools cutting back on sugary treats in lunchrooms. “Schools as birthday- cake- free zones” describes how school districts nationwide are changing food policies to address obesity and food allergy trends.
  •  I really do get that there is no end to the slippery slope of placing sanctions on unhealthy choices. The first of many national health conferences I’ve organized and hosted was called: “Private Lives ... Public Policies — Incentive Systems and Risk-Rated Health Insurance.” My first keynote speaker was Howard Leichter, author of “Free to Be Foolish,” whom I considered a brilliant spokesman against “outcomes based” incentive schemes. At the time, 1991, it was called “risk rating,” but the principle hasn’t changed: How do we fairly balance individual versus social responsibility for health? Leichter and I agree that the pendulum too often swings toward blaming the victim.
  • To wit, if “Colleagues who make you fat” had been a policy appeal to making healthy choices the easy choices at work, and it had been published in the New York Times, conservative leaning colleagues could simply dismiss the article as yet another socialist missive intent on regulating commoners. But this was from the Wall Street Journal. It recently joined the Harvard Business Review’s piece on health and shareholder value and other decidedly free market and independence advocates who acknowledge the inexorable link between health practices and worker productivity and health care costs.

And here’s perhaps the hardest variable to compute of all. Like most growing firms, we drive our I.T. team members incessantly for ever-greater output, which undoubtedly burdens them with more than their share of stress. What workplace policymaker can wield endless demands on one hand and reprove a simple pleasure like comfort food on the other?

So here’s the nub of this calculus problem I need help solving: If making healthy choices the easy choice is good, does that mean making unhealthy choices the easy choice is bad?

I’m going to go puzzle over this question with some sweet purple grapes.

Did I mention that I love my colleagues in I.T?

Paul E. Terry, PhD, is CEO of StayWell Health Management