It may be a surprise to many employers, but investing in the health and wellness of your employees is more involved than just providing them with resources for AFTER they develop pain, injury or disease. Even the juiciest, gold-plated, VIP, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs benefits package will not help you if you’re a ball of stress, sitting all day, and eating poorly. Sure, your prescriptions and dental work might be paid for, but you’ll still be at a significant risk for heart disease, obesity, diabetes and even some Cancers.
Equally surprising is the fact that your investment in the health of your employees will pay dividends far greater than simply avoiding lost time due to injury. Employees who regularly participate in healthy activities, make an effort to remain physically active during the day can lower their risk for the nastiness that I mentioned a second ago. These employees will be healthier, less likely to require time off work, more energetic and overall more productive. When your employees are uniting and working together for a cause other than work, their communication, teamwork, leadership and morale may actually bleed into their work.
If I draw any sort of comparison here, it’s to your wife asking you to go purse shopping. When she asks if you want to go shopping, she doesn’t just want you to go with her. She wants you to WANT to go with her. In the context of your employee health program, you want your employees to WANT to get healthy for their own good. You want them to work together, encourage each other, and take pride in the progress that they’ve made together.
There are 5 keys to moving towards a culture of workplace health and wellness:
Many employees don’t have a clue what they need to do to be healthy. Personally, I didn’t know that eating a diet heavy in granola bars would make me into some sort of tank-child-hybrid, but it certainly did. Providing ongoing learning and safety sessions that cover a wide variety of topics including ergonomics, nutrition, work-life balance, sleep, stress management, conflict management, to name a few. Make sure your speakers are engaging and energetic or the only benefit to your employees will be an extra hour of sleep.
Provide your employees with opportunities to participate in physical activity. There are many activities that you can encourage your employees to participate in, that will not cost you a cent. You can encourage your employees to take walking meetings, use the stairs or have a weekly soccer game during lunch. If you are more willing to spend some cash, you can offer your employees the use of standing workstations, daily yoga sessions, gym membership subsidies, ergonomic assessments and yearly medical assessments. Make it clear to your employees that you, as the employer, are willing to be flexible to accommodate their healthy lifestyle.
3. Time away from the office:
Even if you have an amazing office environment, employees will appreciate the ability to spend some time away from the office. Encourage employees to take days off and vacations by assuring them that this is a necessary part of the job. Many employees seem to have the feeling that if they take a day off of work, they will be labeled as a slacker or miss out on an opportunity. This is a stigma that can cause employees to work too hard, burnout and reduce their ability to contribute to your company. Again, make it clear to your employees that taking time off is necessary and healthy.
It can be hard to get your employees to prioritize their health if you are bombarding them with things to do. Consider integrating health and wellness goals into their yearly performance goals. When your employees make progress towards their health goals, it is very likely that they will also be making progress towards their performance goals; reward them accordingly. Encourage your employees to provide activity-based performance goals, instead of personal health markers, which are more personal and harder to measure. For example: take a walk every lunch, stand for at least an hour every day, walk to work 3x per week, etc. Another incentive is to provide healthy and nutritious food options in the company cafeteria at a significant subsidy, compared to the junkier stuff.
5. Positive Example:
You can provide your employees with access to the best programs and the most relevant information, but if they don’t attend the sessions or engage in the programs, there will be no improvement. It’s extremely important that employees of all levels participate together, including managers, directors and chiefs. As a leader in the company, there are several things that you can do to promote this culture (and reap the healthy benefits yourself).
- Be the first to integrate walking meetings, every day.
- Attend and participate in every education session.
- Play in the weekly soccer game (or whatever game you choose).
- Congratulate employees who are adopting the healthy lifestyle.
- Be a part of the culture.
Every company is unique and every set of employees will benefit from a different approach. Some companies are full of health-conscious employees that are already competent in the strategies that they should implement to remain healthy. In this case, the focus should be more on providing these employees with programs and activities that will challenge them and promote their personal goals. Other less health-minded workplaces will probably need to be heavier on information and incentives to get the ball rolling. Seeking professional guidance (contacting me, perhaps) is a good way to ensure that your investment in a culture of wellness and has the most positive effect.
Healthy employees = healthy company.
Matt Gereghty is an Occupational Therapist and the creator of Are You Ergo? a website designed to amuse and educate, while raising awareness for ergonomics and healthy work habits. Be sure to try the Ergo Tool, a free interactive self-assessment application that will have you sitting like you should have been this whole time. Follow @AreYouErgo on Twitter or Facebook for ergonomics and health recommendations, occasionally bathed in sarcasm.