Workplace Wellness: The Right Prescription
Small Business, Small Steps
While most wellness programs are instituted at large corporations, you don't have to be one to incorporate health and wellness into your business.
Here are ten ideas to get you started:
- Encourage employees to take a walk and reconnect with nature. Even in New York City, nature is abundant - Susie Pusch, bungalow360
- Buy standing desks for employees - Fiona Gathright, Wellness Corporate Solutions
- Incorporate mini exercise breaks with pushups - Fiona Gathright, Wellness Corporate Solutions
- Don't stock candy and brownies in the kitchen, go with healthier options - Fiona Gathright, Wellness Corporate Solutions
- Encourage walking meetings instead of having everyone sit around a conference table - Elise Meyer, ShapeUp
- Implement stress-reduction programs. Millennials appreciate seminars on debt reduction for example - Fiona Gathright, Wellness Corporate Solutions
- Start a gratitude journal. Start weekly meetings by asking people to share a personal or professional win from the previous week - Deborah Connors, Well-Advised Consulting, Inc.
- Motivate with gift cards to popular stores - Fiona Gathright, Wellness Corporate Solutions
- Holiday programs to maintain weight are popular. Encourage employees to walk a little extra while holiday shopping. - Elise Meyer, ShapeUp
- Make sure "fun" incentives are fun for everyone so they suit everyone's tastes not just the person organizing the program - Nat Measley, CEO and Managing Partner at The Fun Dept, co-author of Playing it Forward: The Definitive "How To' Model for Creating a Winning Workplace Culture.
*2014 Gallup Survey can be found - here.
Healthy and happy employees are one of your business’ greatest assets. What steps can you take to implement a wellness program at your workplace?
Susie Pusch, owner of wholesale accessories company bungalow360, works her business’ location in the “avocado capital of the world” to a distinct advantage: she implemented a more organic approach to employee wellness, a “Go Outside” program that encourages everyone to reconnect with nature. To follow through with the objectives, bungalow360 put in a natural pond and a “food forest” so employees can work by the pond, walk in the forest or climb a tree.
Given that the small business, with three full-time and two part-time employees, is located in Fallbrook, California, such a program might be easier to execute year-round but Pusch is a firm believer in the many ways — both big and small — that businesses like yours can incorporate wellness into the workplace. And as Pusch has noticed, when you make it fun, employees are more than happy to participate.
The workplace as ground zero
Advances in technology have made the boundaries between work and home life more fluid and strict compartmentalization that emphasizes the 9-5 corporate culture is slowly giving way to a workplace where flexible schedules and constant email access mean more integration between home and work.
In fact, a *2014 Gallup survey showed that among Americans working full-time, fewer than half (42 percent) report working 40 hours per week. A whopping 18 percent said they worked closer to 60 hours weekly while 32 percent worked between 40-60 hours a week. It makes sense then to focus on wellness at the workplace since employees do spend such a great deal of time at work.
Implementing workplace wellness also helps the company’s bottom line. “There’s a business case for wellness programs that show that healthier employees are more engaged and happier and invested in work,” said Elise Meyer, director of participant marketing at ShapeUp, a Providence, Rhode Island, company that implements wellness programs for corporations. What’s more, workers’ health can have a direct tangible effect on healthcare costs where companies are paying for employee insurance, pointed out Fiona Gathright, president of Wellness Corporate Solutions in Bethesda, Maryland.
The workplace is a great crucible to implement what ShapeUp labels “social wellness” programs, where the power of teams and behavioral economics can have huge impacts on outcomes. For example, a person focused on losing weight will do much better if the immediate peer group around him is also invested in that final goal. The workplace is a great medium to leverage that kind of group dynamics toward positive outcomes, Meyer said. The company promotes teams focused on wellness goals with each member serving as motivation for the others to jointly be invested in achieving desired results.
And while many wellness programs are instituted at larger corporations, there is absolutely no reason why small businesses can’t also work ideas into more informal arrangements.
The carrot-and-stick approach
You can make the wellness program as much fun as you think it can be but what if some employees just don’t want to participate? Think outside the box, advised Megan Talpas, wellness coordinator at Spire Wellness in Indianapolis. “There will be people who have the mindset that wellness is not for them. Think of programs that aren’t centered only around healthy eating and exercising,” she said. Chair massages or even monthly game days are popular options. “Eventually these individuals will notice that the culture around them is embracing the health changes and will see others having fun making it easier to join,” Talpas added.
Fiona agreed that there are many ways to increase employee participation and reminded business owners that weight shouldn’t be the end-all of wellness programs. “As long as you’re exercising and active, that’s more important,” she said, adding that her company penalizes employees who are smokers by charging a little higher health insurance premium but also providing a smoking cessation program for free.
Offering fun incentives or “carrots” often helps. A “steps” challenge where the company is divided into teams and their pedometer results measured, keeps things competitive and engaging. Break health and wellness programs into bite-sized components. Add small but fun programs or “days” like Meatless Mondays or Fun in Nature Fridays, advised Pusch. “Educate employees in the process and let them decide if they want to participate. No one likes being told to do something.”
Culture is everything
If there’s one big “something” that businesses can do, it’s making sure that the work culture makes room for such programs to be successful. “You absolutely have to have buy-in from the top level, management has to walk the walk not just talk the talk,” Gathright said. “If employees are going on a 15-minute yoga break during the middle of the day, management has to support that.”
In fact, Deborah Connors, president of Well-Advised Consulting Inc., says that company culture should come first. “There is a very common misconception that putting a program in place will create wellness yet without addressing the culture of the workplace, these initiatives are likely to have little effect,” Connors warned. “We tend to live in a society that likes checklists and step-by-step programs. While these are definitely easiest to implement, they are rarely successful because every culture is different and what works in one will not necessarily work in another.” She suggested simple ways of shifting business culture in the right direction by focusing on outcomes, and increasing engagement through mindfulness (encouraging employees to take a two-minute break to think about posture or get up and walk around might not seem like much but is a good start).
The costs of implementing a wellness program can vary across the board depending on the complexity you choose but the benefits are real. “The biggest costs in most of these come in the staff time required to lead the initiative,” Connors said. “Tangible benefits can be seen and measured in productivity, employee turnover, satisfaction and absenteeism.”
Susie Pusch has seen these effects first-hand with less stress among employees who are then more present at their jobs. The company’s plant-based diet served for lunch has been especially popular. “Today we had lentil tacos,” she said, “everyone is going to want the recipe, they’re so yummy.”