In the past, conversations about exercise classes, healthy meal choices, water intake, and protein: carbohydrate ratios were reserved for the local health club or gym. Now, human resource managers are seeing that the concept of wellness in the workplace has become increasingly more important; not only in employee retention but also in creating a successful and profitable business.
Every organization can benefit from embracing a philosophy of wellness in the workplace. Wellness is more than just a program or benefit but a true commitment to achieving higher levels of mental and physical wellbeing. At the most basic level, it involves protecting one’s workforce from harm or injury by advocating good lifting techniques and using back supports when necessary. A slightly higher level entails bringing in lunch-hour speakers to discuss nutrition, fitness, stress-coping strategies, and smoking cessation.
Every organization can benefit from embracing a philosophy of wellness in the workplace.
At the highest level of commitment, the company’s leadership must demonstrate buy-in to the concept. By showing the company that management clearly sees that success of the business as a whole is tied to the health and motivation of the individual employees, wellness becomes a core value of the organization.
In attempting to bring the concept of wellness into the workplace, businesses should consider three specific issues:
Corporate Culture of Wellness
Business performance is driven by shared core values. Values define a cultural foundation through which acceptable attitudes, behaviors, and practices are established, reinforced, and rewarded within the organization. Values may express the intention to care, to grow, or even to take personal responsibility for the success of the organization. Establishing a values-driven culture is an essential step in integrating wellness into the workplace.
Often companies have values expressed in the form of words versus behaviors. Undoubtedly, actions speak volumes more than words alone. One example of a commitment to wellness reinforcing a commitment to health is a company-sponsored 5K event. Irrespective of the specifics of the event, employees will be engaged by identifying a charitable cause, participating in the event, and seeing the health benefits of the activity.
Business contacts, friends, and relatives may be invited, enhancing community exposure as well. You may be pleasantly surprised by the giving nature and the generosity of many of your employees when they are given the chance to participate and give back to the community.
Wellness Programs & Benefits
In general, corporate policies reflect an organization’s philosophy. Groups wishing to emphasize their commitment to the health and wellbeing of their employees have set up programs which allow employees to participate in activities free of charge. Early morning boot camps, noon yoga power hours, and post-work meditation sessions promote a concept of teamwork and unity. Many employers choose to provide free gym memberships as an added benefit of employment. Mind you, this approach allows the talent to use the stipend for whatever they deem. Regardless, the sentiment has still been reinforced by the employer. Even before employees are hired, they will carefully weigh the benefits available. Often competitive salary offer will be discussed based upon the culture and value-added benefits. It has been estimated that more than half of employers in a competitive environment provide health-related or wellness fostering benefits.
Many work sites have smoke-free environments, pre-employment and incident-based drug testing, sick leave, personal leave, short- and long-term disability plans, and safety requirements. These are fairly standard across most businesses. Other health benefits such as dental, vision, and life insurance can often be important benefit offerings. Vacation policies are designed to influence work behavior practices. It is not uncommon to find businesses that offer unlimited paid time off. Such a policy requires a strong performance standard, but studies reveal that motivated employees actually may take less time off when given the opportunity to take unlimited leave. Many organizations foster creativity by encouraging their employees to such time to recharge their batteries.
Flexible working arrangements such as flextime and telecommuting have become increasingly more common. Such arrangements have been shown to improve health status indicators as well as to reduce stress and allow for better work-life balance. Increasingly, larger corporations are providing health-risk assessments and nurse-care hotlines, with some organizations even bringing alternative resources into the workplace.
Personal trainers, yoga, meditation, and even fitness challenges and lunch-and-learn program encourage wellness year-round. Recognition of the need for wellness programs that support the spiritual health of the whole person have made chaplains available in the workplace and have provided counselors for financial wellness programs. Whatever programs and benefits an organization offers, it should always be extended with the sentiment of care. It is one thing to provide a program or benefit and another to take the time to educate the workforce about the program and its benefits.
The Physical Environment
Wellbeing includes a person’s physical and mental health, as well as the social aspects of their work environment. In recent years generational, technological, and regulatory influences have shaped the office environment.
Today there are ergonomic desks that allow a user to sit or stand, exercise ball chairs, and even treadmill desks that are readily available.
Natural light and quiet spaces encourage people to take mental breaks. Something as simple as a poster that encourages people to take time between their next meeting to walk outdoors could express the organization’s philosophy on communication and health.
Some companies encourage play with interactive media areas, ping-pong tables, video games, and even pool tables. Creating a library of books for employees to trade or borrow has value. Converting a 10×10-ft area into a personal health kiosk – a self contained screening and resource module equipped with an automatic blood-pressure cuff, weight scale, health brochures, and other interactive resources is a creative and novel idea.
In today’s competitive business environment, it is critical for organizations to invest in human capital Taking a proactive approach toward employees’ health and prosperity directly influences the health, wellbeing, and success of an organization. Concepts of wellness in the workplace are likely here to stay.