Commentary: “New year, new you!” It’s a mantra heard every January. But this year, let’s go for “New year, happier, healthier you!” Our focus should not be about resolving a complete overhaul, but instead, making our lives work for us to set us up for our best lives now. While many employees see the start to 2016 as the prime time to implement a wellness regimen, inevitable challenges – especially in the workplace – can quickly quash that fervor.
But it doesn’t have to be the case; companies nationwide have found ways to work wellness into their offices on a daily basis, bolstering employee health and happiness. Employees will spend a third of their lives in the workplace; it’s a key spot for sustaining a sense of wellbeing and self-care. Reports have shown that the extra effort toward implementation will pay off in spades, for both your employees and your bottom line.
Also see: “Wellness ROI comes under fire.”
The U.S. Surgeon General has backed the benefits that wellness programs and self-care promote, stating that such strategies are often cost-effective, reduce healthcare costs and improve productivity1. These include:
- “When employee health is poor, the indirect costs to employers – lower productivity, higher rates of disability, higher rates of injury, and more workers’ compensation claims – can be two to three times the costs of direct medical expenses.”
- “A 1% reduction in weight, blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol risk factors would save $83 to $103 annually in medical costs per person.”
- “Absenteeism costs are reduced by approximately $2.73 for every dollar spent on workplace wellness programs.”
Focusing on wellness puts your company in line to produce a healthier, happier workforce, with any short-term costs recouped in the long run. Here are some strategies to keeping health and wellness a primary focus for your employees all year long.
Also see: “Progressive companies take fresh look at what wellness really means.”
We’ve all experienced it: That big birthday celebration in the conference room, the junk-filled vending machine or the tricky lunchroom menu, requiring acute navigational know-how to circumvent the less healthy options or to decide to savor and enjoy one.
Companies can help keep employee health and wellness on track with just a few tweaks that position health as a core interest. For instance, before an office celebration, work with your caterer to make a few healthy, sweet and savory snack recipes, such as a healthier cucumber-based dip to accompany pita chips and veggies or mini cheesecake tarts that pack a lot of flavor in a few bites. Offset tricky snack options by asking interested employees to take turns bringing in shareable snacks or encouraging employees to keep a desk-drawer stash of healthier snacks. Companies can also encourage healthier choices by providing free fruit, revamping vending machines with healthier options or providing employees with reusable water bottles to promote drinking water all day.
Companies have found ways to incorporate healthier eating in the lunchroom as well, by encouraging employees to kick off a meal with a sweet fresh fruit or a crisp mixed green salad with dressing on the side. Ask health-conscious employees what theywould like to see more of on the menu, and then implement those requests.
Also see: “Are wellness programs falling short?”
Being more active doesn’t have to be relegated to evenings and weekends away from the workplace, and doesn’t have to require special equipment, or a change of clothes. Employers have found innovative, efficient ways to weave workouts, however short, into their employees’ workdays, and your company can do the same.
Entice employees to exercise by organizing office-wide lunchtime walks; circulating maps of enjoyable walking routes around the office, and free, trial-class passes to local fitness centers; sponsor weekly yoga or toning sessions; if you’re in a position to create an onsite gym, do so. Even if employees can’t break away from their desks, they can still sneak in some stationary blood-pumping activity: walk while on the phone; or while seated, do bicep curls with your water bottle, in sets of 10.
Many companies have found success in encouraging alternate commuting such as cycling, jogging or walking to work. Providing incentives – such as showers, secure bike parking and an atmosphere where it’s acceptable to sport bike clothes before or after a commute – might entice employees to ditch the drive.
Also see: “SAIF takes three-pronged approach to wellness.”
Increasingly, employees are motivated to achieve healthier, happier lifestyles, and doing so requires a more holistic view than that provided by the scale alone – many wellness programs now realize this.
Clinical evidence shows that happier people make healthier choices2,3. So consider providing opportunities for your employees to take care of themselves in ways that don’t just involve food. For example, try offering quick chair massages, incorporating meditation classes in the workday or designating quiet rooms to infuse “me” time options into the workplace.
Holistic wellness programs help to nurture the traits vital to making the right food and fitness choices by working to build empowerment, confidence and mindfulness. Companies can encourage these traits by supporting the need for “me” time: Allow employees to set aside parts of a busy workday to recharge; it not only contributes to the psychological health of workers, but also can help bolster their workplace engagement and productivity.
Also see: “10 reasons employees hate wellness programs.”
So clearly, opportunities abound for weaving wellness into the workplace. Do so while New Year’s resolutions are fresh, and help fuel that enthusiasm the entire year, for a journey that can result in happier, healthier employees.
Gary Foster, Ph.D., is the chief scientific officer at Weight Watchers International, Inc. Foster, a psychologist, obesity investigator and behavior change expert, was previously the founder and director of the Center of Obesity Research and Education and the Laura Carnell professor of medicine, public health and psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia. Prior to Temple, he served as a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
- National Prevention Council, National Prevention Strategy, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General, 2011.
- Boehm JK and Kubzansky LD. The heart’s content: the association between positive psychological well-being and cardiovascular health. Psychological Bulletin 2012;138(4):655-691.
- Lyubomirsky S and Layous K. How do simple positive activities increase well-being? Current Directions in Psychological Science 2013;22(1): 57-62.
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