Fitting In: Extreme Corporate Wellness and Organizational Communication
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In this dissertation I examine the intersection of organizational communication and what I name extreme corporate wellness. I define extreme corporate wellness as the push towards more radical fitness and workplace health promotion via the exercise program known as CrossFit. I argue that a discourse of extreme corporate wellness furthers a social-Darwinian viewpoint of “survival of the fittest” not only in the workplace, but also in an employee’s personal and home life. This study combined participant-observation with 28 semi-structured interviews in a large, corporate organization that had recently shifted to CrossFit practices. By drawing on a critical-interpretive lens I am able to not only examine an organization’s movement toward a more fitness-minded organizational culture, but to also interrogate the implications of such a move. The findings in this dissertation contribute to three areas of organizational communication and wellness: (1) organizational culture, (2) power and resistance, and (3) corporeal ethics. First, organizational culture, including espoused values and shared levels of assumptions, took on certain changes because of an emphasis on extreme fitness. Employee participation in CrossFit led to strict notions of strength and masculinity not just in the organization’s gym, but also throughout the corporate offices and even into home life. The extreme corporate wellness discourse also contributed to employees’ understanding of not just fitness, but health, nutrition and lifestyle. Second, I use the concept of extreme corporate wellness to further illuminate important links between organizational culture, identity and branding and how those interact in the complicated play between power and resistance. My reading of the organizational fitness artifacts (e.g. organizational posters, marketing slogans, tangible objects) brings into question not only the assumptions of a fitness culture, but also demonstrates how the CrossFit [regime/discourse] perpetuates certain moral imperatives about health and fitness. Even though the organization originally attempted to create a more ‘authentically fit’ workplace through a mandate or vertically communicated message, the CrossFit program functioned much more obtrusively by means of concertive control. This powerful fitness initiative was then resisted by certain employees, resulting in upended notions of organizational time. While there were certainly benefits to the program, my study weighs those benefits against the consequences of extreme wellness and its attendant discourse. Finally, I theorize how the body serves as a political site between employer, government, and public in a way that forces researchers to think differently about corporeal ethics. Specifically, I demonstrate that body politics are perpetuated by an emphasis on the extreme, hegemonic, masculine world of CrossFit and that the implications of this fitness regime extend beyond the organizational walls.
workplace health promotion
James, Eric Preston (2014). Fitting In: Extreme Corporate Wellness and Organizational Communication. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from