Podcast #87: Linda Feltes on Workplace Wellness


A walker strides past a speed detection machine in the tunnel system in the basement of the Capitol. Image from Minnesota Senate.

Here’s a podcast conversation with Linda Feltes, the workplace wellness coordinator for the state of Minnesota Office of Management and Budget.

I first met Linda when we both testified in favor of the Saint Paul Bicycle Plan earlier this year, and so we met up later at Claddagh Coffee on West 7th Street. We sat down and had a great conversation about just what “workplace wellness” means, the freedom represented by car commercials, what an obesogenic environment is, the problems with the “social engineering” argument, and how the State government is trying to cultivate healthy habits. I hope you enjoy this important conversation.

Here’s a link to the audio.

Here are some highlights that came out during our chat:

Linda Feltes on walking: “Thinking on your feet,” that expression must have some from somewhere. I personally love working in Downtown Saint Paul because its so walkable and “nice ridable” to me, we have state employees working with worksite wellness committees to ask if the state can subsidize nice ride bikes, for example, or if we have adequate bike parking, or can use light rail to get between offices.

On workplace wellness: Workplace wellness is a professional field, a workplace wellness program creates an environment for employees, policies and systems that support every person’s intentions to be healthy. It’s environmental like urban design, its policies and systems change, the goal is to make a healthy work environment invisible to people. When I think of urban design I think of those dead end streets, cul-de-sacs. We have cul-de-sacs in work environments that are barriers to good health. We design buildings so that the elevator is the first thing you see. How do we redesign the environment through policy and systems changes.

On culture vs. habit: I talk about it in terms of culture. It think about culture all the time while I’m working on bigger infrastructure changes. I do a lot of speaking in state agencies. I really try and get people to reflect on the culture we live in, and how obeseogenic it is. People aren’t noticing that. We’re just creatures of habit, where we pick up these habits so that we don’t have to think about walking.

On individual vs. social behaviors: I always try to pull people away from the focus on individual behavior. It’s the culture that we live in. I’m fond of programming that tries to support us in our individual behaviors, but like an alcoholic going back to the same bar, if you want to change behavior you have to give people a different environment.

On freedom: I like to couch the conversation about freedom in a conversation about culture. We value freedom very strongly in this country. [For example] the vaccination discussion is a big one right now, where you’re talking about freedom versus population health. But we’re not as free as we think we are. We’re operating in a culture and systems that make [some food] inexpensive, I don’t even want to call it food, [so that] the junk food is cheaper than the healthy food.

Thanks for listening!

Bill Lindeke

About Bill Lindeke

Pronouns: he/him

Bill Lindeke has writing blogging about sidewalks and cities since 2005, ever since he read Jane Jacobs. He is a lecturer in Urban Studies at the University of Minnesota Geography Department, the Cityscape columnist at Minnpost, and has written multiple books on local urban history. He was born in Minneapolis, but has spent most of his time in St Paul. Check out Twitter @BillLindeke or on Facebook.