Employee health and wellness is a significant factor in productivity, wellbeing, and performance that cannot be overlooked.
As such, health and wellness must be a part of any effective engagement strategy.
Research shows a direct correlation between health and engagement.
A Gallup study found that 62% of engaged employees feel their work positively affects their physical health. Yet that number drops to 39% among non-engaged employees and down to a mere 22% among employees who are actively disengaged.
Likewise, 54% of self-assessed disengaged respondents say their work has a negative effect on their health, while 51% see a negative effect on their well-being.
Caring about employee health isn’t just a perk or a nice gesture; there’s also a strong business case to be made for employee health and wellness initiatives.
Organizations that invest in health and wellness actually save money in the long run by curtailing healthcare costs and reducing productivity-loss due to illness-related absenteeism. The Harvard Business Review found that on average, employers who invested in comprehensive health and wellness initiatives saw a nearly 3-to-1 return in money saved.
Health and wellness campaigns also play a role in creating that oh-so-important emotional connection between employers and their employees.
Group fitness challenges also promote teamwork, camaraderie, and bonding, and gives individuals in your organization the sense that you’re all in it together.
The key, however, isn’t to focus on one-off perks, but rather to create a lasting, long-term health and wellness strategy that’s built into the fabric of your company’s culture.
How to Craft an Effective Health and Wellness Program
So what does an effective wellness strategy look like?
Your Health and Wellness strategy should be voluntary, long-term, physical, fun and competitive. It should also include access to good nutrition and mental health support.
Here are some tips to create a lasting, effective wellness strategy:
Encourage Participation, But Always Make it Voluntary
Undoubtedly, participation in wellness activities is beneficial for individual employees and the organization alike.
But you can seriously undermine the effectiveness of your workplace wellness strategy by mandating participation.
Employees need to feel that they are free to choose their level of engagement in these programs – especially for physical activities like fitness challenges.
In all likelihood, your job is slowly killing you.
That may seem like an exaggeration, but it’s actually grounded in solid research.
In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine this year, researchers found that the sedentary nature of American work-life is having an extremely harmful effect on the health of American workers.
Sitting for too long at work brings with it a host of negative long- term health effects, including increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and early death.
This is a frightening prospect for the health and welfare of our workforce, and for the long-term health of our economy.
Luckily, employers are increasingly taking notice, and proactively fighting the trend by creating incentives to get their employees moving.
One tack, favored by Mountainview-based personal genomics company 23andMe, involves providing onsite gym and workout space, and encouraging employees to engage in physical activity throughout the day. The company offers daily onsite fitness sessions that include Pilates, yoga, and strength training – often during work hours.
If you don’t have the space or money to invest in a full-blown onsite gym, don’t fret; all it takes is a little creativity to get similar results.
One idea is to hire a trainer or yoga instructor once or twice a week for group fitness classes at a nearby park. Even something as simple as encouraging daily stretching or walking meetings can have a tremendous impact on the overall physical health of the organization.
As beneficial as these programs are, however, studies suggest that physical exercise might not entirely offset the harmful effects of prolonged sitting. That’s why some companies (including 23andMe) are making so-called “active desks” – which include standing or even treadmill desks – available for employee use.
These desks have been proven to reduce sedentariness and improve mood without prohibitively impeding workflows.
Gamify Company Fitness
One great way to inspire participation in wellness activities is to unlock the power of friendly competition.
Group fitness challenges are a great way to get more people involved, while simultaneously making fitness activities more fun and challenging.
Pit departments against each other to see who attended the most gym sessions, or see who can be the first team to run a collective marathon.
You can even use digital fitness tracking tools to track who took the most steps or burned the most calories each month.
Provide Access to Healthy Meals and Snacks
The Harvard Business Review recently found that employees “typically consume one or several meals plus snacks during work hours.” The takeaway? The food options available in the workplace matter a great deal to the quality of the average worker’s diet, and therefore their overall health.
Providing access to healthy meals, snacks, and beverages throughout the workday is a great way to improve the overall health of your workforce.
The benefits of this strategy are twofold. Not only will their overall health improve, but employees will appreciate the sentiment.
Google, for example, is famous for offering healthy, gourmet-quality food options for its employees, and in a recent Quora inquiry, most Googlers cited the food options as their favorite perk.
The good news is, you don’t have to have a gourmet chef (or a Google-sized budget) to make healthy food options available in your workplace.Affordable and convenient options like SnackNation are an easy way to make healthy eating a part of your office wellness culture.
Don’t Forget Your Brain
Mental health is often left out of wellness strategies, due either to a lack of awareness, lack of resources or because of the stigma and sensitivity associated with these topics. But ignoring mental health issues is a costly oversight.
According to the HR industry organization SHRM, workers are under increased pressure and stress, partly due to the proliferation of Mobile devices, which make employees reachable at all hours. For many, this stress is manifesting as depression.
All this depression is costing us billions.
The Employers Health Coalition Inc. recently found that employers lose an estimated $100 billion annually in direct and indirect costs associated with depression, including as much as $44 billion lost to absenteeism and reduced productivity.
The long and short of it is that mood, cognition, and other factors related to mental health should be just as high priority as physical wellbeing. While most employer healthcare plans do cover mental illness, they are vastly underutilized by the people who need them due to fear of being judged at work.
Employers should be sure to speak openly about mental health issues to raise awareness and alleviate the stigma that mental health issues carry, as well as provide confidential tools and communications channels for employees to use to talk about these issues when they are in need.
Case Study: Walking From Chicago to LA in the Name of Employee Wellness
Shipping and logistics company Hassett Express is on a mission.
Or two missions, actually.
Employee engagement and wellness is so important to the Elmhurst, Illinois-based company, that they actually have two mission statements, one geared towards customers, and another inward-facing statement that pledges a commitment to employee wellbeing.
According to HR Manager Nichole Selock, the two missions are closely related. “The relationship we want to have with our customers and with our employees is very similar,” she explains. “We want to treat our employees with the same respect and engagement that they treat our customers with.”
Rather than just give lip service to these ideals, company President and CEO Michelle Halkerston took action, issuing an audacious challenge to employees in their headquarters: walk to LA… from Chicago.
Well, sort of.
To kick off their 2014 wellness week, the company launched a group fitness challenge. The goal was to collectively walk the equivalent of the distance between the company’s HQ and their farthest satellite office, about 2,000 miles away in Los Angeles.
To facilitate employees in their quest, the company handed out pedometers and created a custom web portal, where employees could log either the steps they had tracked.
Additionally, employees could also log activity minutes (i.e., time spent spinning, swimming, or doing yoga), which were then converted into steps and added to the total.
And because they’re located in an industrial neighborhood, the company provided information on safe walking routes near the office, and even broke down how many laps around a semi it takes to walk a mile. Workers heeded the call, and were out getting steps in during their lunch hours or before and after work.
The key to success, Selock maintains, was a sense of fun and friendly competition. Each week the office awarded a prize to whomever logged the most steps.
Additionally, when Hassett Express’ LA office learned that they were the destination for the virtual walk-a-thon, they sent a photo of a makeshift finish line to their Illinois counterparts for extra motivation.
The walking challenge was a ramp-up to promote the company’s wellness week, launching six weeks prior to the company-wide event. It came down to the wire, but the Hassett Express employees made it across the finish line (virtually speaking), hitting their 2,000+ mile mark a few days before the start of Hassett wellness week.
Why all this focus on wellbeing?
The benefits of the program were plentiful, and included a fitter, healthier team, and a strong sense of camaraderie. Ultimately, Selock contends, it comes down to creating a consistent culture that extends both inside and outside the business, as well as a conviction on the part of upper management of doing well by doing right by their employees.
“We want employees to be healthy enough to be with us for a long time,” Selock elaborates. “At the same time, we want the company to be healthy enough to be there for them for a long time too.”
Tips on Launching Your Own Wellness Challenge
Make it fun. The Hassett Express example involved an outlandish, outside-the-box challenge that involved weekly awards and recognition. The out of the ordinary appeal of the program was a big factor in its success.
Make your challenge part of a wellness culture. What also made the virtual walk-a-thon particularly successful was that it was an enthusiastic lead-in to a larger wellness program that included additional health information and initiatives. Hassett’s goal wasn’t to create a one-off event, but rather to create a dynamic piece of an overarching wellness culture that helps support the company’s internal and external goals.
Create a spirit of unity. One of the program’s strengths was the fact that while individual recognition was built in, it was ultimately a group achievement. Team members motivated, supported, and pushed each other to reach their destination, and the team grew stronger as a result.
Set team members up for success with tools and information. While the goal certainly was ambitious, Hassett Express’ provided employees with the support they needed to rise to the challenge, including pedometers, walking routes, and a custom web application to track progress.
- Bring in personal trainers or yoga instructors to conduct onsite fitness classes.
- Incentivize health-conscious choices, like biking or walking to work, or getting a flu shot.
- Organize company-wide fitness challenges to inspire physical activity while promoting teamwork and bonding.
- Get employees off their seats; reduce the sedentariness of office life by providing “active desk” options, such as standing or treadmill desks.
- Provide easy access to nutritious meals, snacks, and beverages via food delivery services like SnackNation.
- Make sure that wellness activities are voluntary, not mandatory. Employees need to feel that they are free to choose their level of participation.
- Harness the power of technology by providing your employees with digital fitness trackers.
- Open a dialogue about mental health and make confidential services available.
Check out the other parts of this series here: