When study after study showed HR managers how closely tied office work is to poor employee health, we knew that something had to be done. Professionals spend the vast majority of their waking hours sitting still at a desk, working hard but not working their bodies enough to burn the calories that are required to think clearly. This results in obesity, heart problems, circulation problems, and chemical depression which eventually leads to sick days and steadily decreasing productivity. Both HR professionals and their more health-conscious millennial hires agreed that employee wellness programs were the answer.
It's been over a decade since the trend began and more than a few results have been assessed in terms of effectiveness, adoption rate, and mistakes made by well-meaning employers. We've learned a lot about both how to implement a great wellness program and what to avoid. Today we'll cover five of the most effective "Dos" of employee wellness and five matching "Don'ts" that have been recognized along the way.
Do: Provide Healthy Food in the Break Room
One of the simplest introductions to an employee wellness program is healthy catering. Professionals looking to make the most of their lunch break and get a pick-me-up before the afternoon slog often choose the wrong foods because they are fast, convenient, or tasty. If you want to see fewer cups of ramen or burgers from across the street in your break room, try offering your employees a free selection of healthier options. This can be done either by ordering lunch a few times a week from somewhere that serves vegetables or providing healthy groceries for employees to cook for themselves.
Don't: Forget About Food Allergies and Dietary Restrictions
Providing healthy food is always a friendly gesture, but it's all too easy to forget that some people eat differently, and not just out of preference. Employees usually don't have a reason to disclose dietary restrictions to their employers because it's not relevant to their job. When they bring their own lunch, severe food allergies, medical requirements, or cultural dietary restrictions are a private matter of what they pack or buy.
However, when you're providing the food, it's important not to leave anyone out or put them at risk. When planning your meal wellness program, be sure to check with each employee and be ready to provide a meal alternative for them when catering for the group.
Do: Encourage Employees to Get Up and Stretch During Work
Remaining sedentary is the biggest risk to employee health in the book resulting in most of the employee unwellness symptoms that have been noted in the past few decades. In response, many employers have been trying ways to encourage their staff to get up and get their blood pumping from time to time. One of the easiest approaches and likely to get the most participants is the occasional stretch.
Separate from the usual break system, make it a shared activity for entire work groups to get up, move around, and shake out the built-up lactic acid in their muscles and joints. You might be surprised how much a mood boost this is as everyone is subtly more comfortable when they sit back down.
Don't: Host Mandatory Strenuous Activities
Along the same lines, many well-meaning employers have tried to implement group workout sessions instead of a simple stretch break. This can be a fun team bonding, relaxation, and fitness activity but it can also be problematic for employees who are not as physically capable as you may have believed. There are many medical conditions and disabilities that are not apparent or relevant to desk work and so you may not be aware that some employees can't or shouldn't participate in strenuous activities.
While hosting games of catch or calisthenics might be a good idea, be very careful to make it clear that they are not mandatory and there is no stigma for not participating. From pregnant women to employees with invisible muscular disorders, be sure never to pressure or ostracize.
Employee wellness has become an important responsibility of the HR department in the last decade and with the right approach, you will be able to promote health for every employee no matter what their current health or physical capabilities are. Of course, to cover each issue with the thoroughness it deserves, we're going to need a second article. Join us next time for part two where we'll talk about plants, sports teams, and incorporating fitness into your company culture.
Over the last few years, employers have tried everything from Sushi Friday to departmental marathon training. Some tactics worked and some fell flat, but don't believe the current hype that workplace wellness is dead. That's just overreaction to employers who have tried tactics that didn't work. Today, we're here to finish talking about the top five ways to promote employee wellness in the office and five matching tips on tactics to avoid.
We talked about providing healthy food while accounting for allergies and dietary restrictions and how to encourage daily fitness breaks without excluding your less physically able employees. Let's pick up where we left off at making sure everyone gets enough oxygen.
Do: Use Living Plants as Office Decor
Your building HVAC does its best to keep the air clean, comfortable, and circulating but there's only so much an enormous machine in the basement can do to oxygenate your work environment. Natural green leafy plants are the best way to not only infuse your office with fresh oxygen the built-up carbon dioxide, they also make people happy. It's been found that simply seeing living greenery can brighten your mood and encourage relaxation.
Don't: Choose Plants That Will Trigger Allergies
However, it's a bad idea to simply choose whatever plants look nice and grow well indoors. There are a number of possible office plants that can do a lot more harm than good by causing sneezing, itching, and the necessity of taking drowsy allergy meds. Be very careful to fill the office only with hypo-allergenic plants. This way, you don't have to ask around about allergies employees might not even be aware of.
Do: Form an Office Sports Team
Office sports teams are a long-standing business tradition even before the workplace wellness trend. They provide a fantastic source of team bonding, outside work activity, and promote physical fitness. While not every team at work will want to form an outside-work sports team, many will be more than interested and happy to spend one night a week or month getting together and kicking a ball around. Simply by encouraging this and possibly providing matching T-shirts, you can increase the general health of your staff and support exercise as recreation.
Don't: Limit the Team to a Single Sport
There are some who might say to avoid the sports team entirely for the same reason mandatory calisthenics are a bad idea (excluding the physically limited). However, you don't have to sacrifice the idea of a team altogether. Simply take a page from elementary gym teachers everywhere and don't stick to a single sport. Instead, encourage a cycle of activities.
Put swimming in the mix for those who can stay active but have foot, knee, or hip problems. On soccer days, encourage your non-runners to hang out with the goalie. On softball day, encourage an employee who can't stand long to pitch the slow balls to employees who don't bat well. Just keep the channels of communication open so no one feels left out.
Do: Promote Health and Fitness in Your Company Culture
For our final point, remember that it's not just about what you do, it's about how your company culture responds to each employee wellness program. If it's considered 'uncool' to participate, no one will participate which is why so many employers see their programs falling flat. Instead, put some effort into changing the company culture. Make fitness something everyone should respond positively to with an understanding that fitness might be different for each person.
If an employee who has trouble with fitness shares that they went for a walk over the weekend, the response form their coworkers should be just as encouraging as it would be for a fit employee who went on a 3-mile run. When all fitness is considered good, even the fitness-shy will get involved.
Don't: Allow Shaming or Biggest Loser Challenges
However, there are definitely ways to shift your company culture toward fitness the 'wrong' way. What you don't want to see is the 'fit vs unfit' mentality in which employees who participate enthusiastically target those who are shy, overweight, or have trouble participating. The worst version of this is a very unfortunate trend, biggest loser challenges.
Let us tell you, after years of watching employee fitness programs that do and don't work: Never involve weight. Don't ask about it, focus on it, measure it, or do before/after pictures. Not everyone has control over their weight and metabolisms vary wildly.
Is your company looking for employee and workplace fitness programs that actually work for everyone? By following these five Do and Don't guidelines, you should be able to at least get started with some friendly health-promoting policies that can work for every single member of your staff.