I was in my late teens when I first entered the workforce, working as a logistics coordinator in a busy home appliances store. The working culture in that company revolved around one idea – “the harder you work, the better your rewards will be”. In my mid-twenties, I was a young executive with a promising career – although, a stressed and exhausted young executive who was irritated all the time. That’s when I realized that success in one’s career does not co-relate with putting the highest number of hours to work. This made me actively start researching about practicing health and wellness in the workplace.
So, how do you promote wellness in the workplace? Workplace Wellness programs are about creating an environment in which the stress levels are minimal, and the employees are able to naturally and easily mitigate any stress or anxiety issues while working. This includes a wide range of practices including ways to relax the body and mind within the workplace, opportunities to move and get physical exercise, places and opportunities to properly rest when needed, as well as having effective communication, proper pre-planning, training and mentorship and more.
When it comes to promoting wellness, there is no one size fits all method that works for every company. The kind of physical and mental demands of properly performing the tasks assigned for each employee, the culture of work within the company, the environment in which they work in, and the size of the team they belong to are a few factors that should be considered when finding ways to improve wellness in the workplace. What works to reduce stress levels in a more physically demanding profession with fieldwork, may not work for a tech company where the employees are expected to sit in one place for long periods of time and perform tasks that can be mentally strenuous. (We have written a related article - 25 Desks Your Office Needs for Health & Wellness)
In this article, I will look into what workplace wellness really is, the statistics behind these wellness programs that every employer ought to know, how wellness within a work setting is connected to the overall health of a person, the benefits of wellness in the workplace, the model of workplace health and the overall best practices of workplace wellness programs that have already been successfully executed.
Putting together a good wellness program for an organization takes a great level of effort and perhaps some trial and error until both the employer and employees understand what works best for them. As mentioned in the introduction as well, just because one program works for one company, it does not mean it will work for another one. Following are some of the proven effective practices that any organization can adopt into their wellness program to achieve the best possible outcomes.
Having proper support by the leadership is essential when it comes to implementing a wellness program in any kind of workplace. From resource allocation to modeling to simply sparing the time needed for the employees to rejuvenate and keep a check on their stress levels during a workday, having a well-committed leadership is extremely important. The involvement of the management and leadership inspires and encourages the employees to join in the wellness programs, without dismissing them thinking they are not of any value to their immediate responsibilities.
There are many employers out there that support the concept of promoting wellness in the workplace. However, one of the reasons that they are unsuccessful in implementing it is not having a dedicated team that handles the wellness programs. A wellness committee of a company should ideally have employees representing all the departments and ranks, making sure that the program that they create work well for every employee. Their process of setting up a wellness program includes putting together a Wellness Vision Statement to keep the program focused on a clear end goal and carry out the workplace wellness model that will be discussed later in this article.
The people who are more physically active are less likely to develop chronic diseases during their life. One of the best ways to promote physical activities in the workplace is making sure there are on-site facilities for physical activities within the workplace premises. If you do not have the needed space to set up such facilities, you can always talk to your local fitness centers on providing discounts for your employees. Another way to promote physical activity is creating group programs where teams can have physical activities together. This can simultaneously become a great team-building exercise as well.
As for making more lasting policy changes that would make long term positive changes towards the wellness of the employees, putting together a written policy that actually gives the permission for them to engage in physical activities such as quick workout during their lunch break can be extremely beneficial. Finally, giving small and quick reminders for the employees on habits that benefit their wellness such as “Use the stairs” can make all the difference.
“You are what you eat” – and that applies to what you eat at work too, not just what you eat at home! Having a poor diet mostly consisting of overall processed food over a long period of time is a direct invitation to plenty of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart problems and even certain types of cancer. Promoting healthy eating habits is an essential part of a workplace wellness program.
There are many ways this can be achieved in a workplace setting. First of all, if you are an employer who has food and beverages available for the employees to consume, always make sure you have healthier options available. Creating awareness programs on the benefits of healthy eating should also be done simultaneously to the healthier changes that you are making. This can be done via emails, newsletters, special events, and even as an insert that you give your employees with their paycheck just so they don’t miss seeing it!
You can also work with the vendors and offer better prices for healthy items which creates another incentive for the employees to choose those options. Displaying nutrition facts clearly on the food items is another subtle by the effective way to make people think twice about what they eat.
Consuming tobacco is one of the most damaging things that one can do to their body. It increases the risk of a large number of terrible diseases such as lung cancer, heart diseases and more. Therefore, in order to ensure that your employees are as healthy as they can be, banning or at the very least limiting the tobacco use within the company premises is extremely important. If you have employees who find it difficult to quit this habit, try and help them by providing a nicotine replacement therapy program. Keep making awareness about the diverse effects of this habit.
In order to make awareness of workplace wellness and to further encourage all kinds of workplaces to implement a wellness program, Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Prevention, 2016) has published a recommended set of guidelines or a “model” in which a workplace wellness program should be planned and executed.
This takes many factors into consideration, such as the number of employees in the organization, their everyday needs, their personal wellness goals and the kind of environment that they work within the company. It can be done through simple email surveys sent to the staff, one on one conversation, bulletin boards, opinion boxes and more. The aim should be to gather as much data as possible in order to develop a detailed analysis of the workplace and its employees.
Just like any other project carried out by a team, proper planning makes all the difference to the outcome. The first stage of planning should include any policies, benefits and important programs that you have to put forth in order to make the wellness program more accessible to all the employees in a company. Some of the best strategies during the planning phase that would positively affect the next stages of the process is involving senior management to implement the program, creating an efficient communication channel with the employees and getting sufficient amounts of resources needed to successfully execute the wellness program.
Before moving on to implementation, it is important to properly communicate the vision and the objectives of this program to the employees. The concept of wellness differs from one person to another. In order to get a good outcome from a program designed for a large number of people, you need to ensure they are fully aware of what they are working towards. Ideally, you should have a combination of both individual and organizational level strategies to lead your employees towards personal wellness. When implementing the workplace wellness program, always ensure there are a sufficient amount of opportunities available for everyone which help them start, carry out and maintain good wellness behaviors both inside and outside of the workplace.
Finally, there should be a good evaluation process in place to determine the impact that you are making on employees. This helps sustain the program, and to continue to develop into a better program as the time goes. The evaluation also helps you measure the return on investment in this program, helping you secure further funding to make the program permanently in place as well. (We have written a related article - What Are Workplace Wellness Objectives?)
The highest percentage (close to 70%) of deaths in the US happen due to some kind of chronic illness - with cancer, heart diseases, diabetes, and respiratory diseases being the leading causes among them. They are also some of the costliest illnesses when it comes to receiving healthcare. Prevention is surely far easier and better than care when it comes to chronic diseases. A majority of these diseases are preventable with lifestyle changes and good diet habits. Due to a large amount of time a person spends in their workplace, any kind of lifestyle change or a habit should happen within the workplace for it to have a significant impact on that person. This is why the concept of wellness in the workplace is extremely important.
The relation between health and workplace wellness does not limit mean only physical health. In fact, there are eight dimensions of wellness that should be covered when putting together wellness programs in any type of organization.
Those who are in anyway skeptical about workplace wellness programs simply have to look at the recorded statistics on their performance to get an idea about their efficacy. “Winning with Wellness” is a report compiled by the U.S Chamber of Commerce in 2016, that truly make the case for this practice by shedding light on the value of a properly carried out wellness program in a workplace. (U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 2016)
According to this report, a large majority (87%) of the employers in the US are interested or are already committed to providing some form of a workplace wellness program for their employees. In fact, 73% of all employers in the US and 77% of the employers who own large scale organizations offer and are actively engaged in a wellness program in their organizations according to the survey.
Speaking of the positive impact from these programs, over 60% of the employers who have carried out a wellness program in their workplace has reported that they have noticed a decrease of the healthcare costs of their companies. Therefore, wellness programs are considered an investment for any type of workplace, with a clear return on investment within a time frame that can be as short as two years.
What are some wellness program ideals for small companies? Small businesses often tend to overlook workplace wellness programs due to them seemingly being too expensive to be accommodated in their budgets. However, there are many practices that can be introduced to a small business setting to promote wellness, with benefits such as improving the workflow and the productivity of employees.
This can be incorporated into the lunchtime or after work, where the team can go for a walk in a local park or even have walking meetings for more productivity.
Creating a system that rewards the employees with thoughtful gifts for completing health and fitness programs encourage them to focus on their wellness. These gifts can be personal and thoughtful, without having to be expensive.
(We have written a related article - 150 Employee Wellness Program Ideas)
Why is it important to have leadership support to successfully carry out a workplace wellness program? Having a supportive leadership is one of the most important factors when it comes to implementing a successful workplace wellness program in any kind of company. Regardless of how many new practices are introduced, or how many resources are introduced to improve the wellness of a company, if the leaders are not committed to those practices, the effectiveness of that program tends to drastically decrease. A survey conducted by Harris Poll reports that 73% of employees become more involved in wellness programs when senior leadership of a company properly commit and support them. Employees with immediate management or leadership that encourage wellness tend to have less stress and better overall health.
What has been the impact of workplace wellness programs that have been conducted so far? There are a great number of workplace wellness programs that have been successfully executed all over the world with varied positive impacts. They have impacted both the mental and physical wellness of employees in measurably positive ways. To give an example, a comprehensive workplace wellness program (Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City-Population Health, 2011) was done over the course of 3 years by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City. It involved 15 employer groups with 4230 employees and they saw drastic improvements in health, blood pressure control and also total cholesterol count of those who participated. (We have written a related article - 50 Workplace Wellness Quotes)
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