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Workplace Wellness

Making the workplace well again. 

 

Improving Workplace Wellness

Today, more than ever before, a focus on mental health and overall wellness is the new norm for the workplace. This is largely because of the wave of new employees currently entering the job market — mostly millennials and Gen Zs. With good reason, these employees are looking for work environments that reflect their flexible, wellness-focused lifestyles. Of course, at its core, the idea of workplace wellness is for everyone. Naturally, top-level management and C-level employees as well as everyone down the totem pole can benefit from a better working environment. 

In the following guide, we will explain what workplace wellness looks like when it's done right, the many benefits you can expect from cultivating workplace wellness, and exactly how to adapt a new wellness program for the benefit of both employees and your company's bottom line.

 

What Is Workplace Wellness?

In different settings, the term workplace wellness can mean different things. Generally speaking however, workplace wellness refers to a work environment conducive to the health and well-being of all employees and others within it. In a more structured regard, workplace wellness programs are defined in the following way according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

“A coordinated and comprehensive set of health promotion and protection strategies implemented at the worksite that includes programs, policies, benefits, environmental supports, and links to the surrounding community designed to encourage the health and safety of all employees.”

Of course, there is also the idea that employees themselves can create and cultivate workplace wellness in their own right. This can be done by focusing on better eating habits; facilitating more movement throughout the workday; and cultivating wellness habits such as mindfulness, yoga, and meditation.

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Why Is Workplace Wellness Important?

An average employee spends approximately 50 hours of their week at work. That’s about one-third of one’s waking life every year. Furthermore, workers will consume about one-third of all their meals at work.

In other words, the workplace is almost like a second home for most of us.

It makes sense, as a result, that the work environment should be a place where employees can feel comfortable, valued, and taken care of. After all, if work is only stressful and over-demanding with no respite, this can lead to serious problems, both mentally and physically. In turn, the issues that result will be negative for employees and their livelihoods. But they’ll also be bad for the organizations they work for.

Fortunately, workplace wellness has transformed the way companies think about their businesses. Workspaces are even being built to reflect the new awareness of wellness at work. Office spaces are more open and brighter. Break rooms are stocked with healthier snacks. There are comfortable spaces to relax and find quiet time. Lighting is less harsh. All of these details and others play an important role in a workplace culture that is focused on health and wellbeing.

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Physical Health and Absenteeism, Stress and Productivity

It's a vicious cycle when the physical and mental health of employees is not focused on in the workplace. Employees who are overworked, overstressed, and undervalued are more likely to get sick. They are also more likely to take time off even if they aren't actually physically ill. 

From the perspective of an employer, this means a higher rate of absenteeism and a team of employees who are unhappy and unenthusiastic about their work. Not only is it more likely that the productivity within your organization will decrease as a result of this, but your workforce itself will likely take decrease as employees will begin to look elsewhere for a work environment that focuses more on wellness. A recent gallup poll supports this, revealing that excess stress at work causes workers to be almost three times more likely to leave their jobs. 

Unfortunately, excess stress from work is fairly common. Most often, it occurs when there isn’t time for rest and reflection at work, when healthy habits are not focused on, and when workers don’t feel appreciated and heard by their employers. 

Both workers and employers should consider reducing stress at work in order to improve their wellbeing and the success of the organization overall. 

 

An Evolving Workforce

As baby boomers retire, millennial and Gen Z workers are flooding the workforce. These young workers have unique expectations when it comes to their work environments. Not only are they looking for a more flexible, home-like atmosphere at their place of employment, but they are also demanding employers that are focused on wellness and physical health.

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This means that as an employer, if you want to retain the top workers in these generations, it is imperative that you address these issues by providing a strong health plan and creating "stimulating, healthy, and satisfying" work environments. Unfortunately, when this isn't the case, both millennials and Gen Zs are all too prepared to quit and look elsewhere for employment.

 

How to Achieve Workplace Wellness

Workplace Wellness Initiatives for Employers

We'll discuss some more key ways to implement a workplace wellness program further ahead, but for now, here are some initial steps you should take if you are interested in creating a wellness program within your company:

1. Survey your team.

Instead of creating a wellness program behind closed doors and revealing it all at once, get some feedback from your team first. This might mean starting with upper management and asking them what they would like to see in a workplace wellness program. But you should also ask everyone down to the lowest level employee at your company. Here are some questions to pose:

  • Is it easy to maintain a healthy lifestyle at your job currently?
  • How could it be better?
  • Is it easy to find healthy snacks at or around work?
  • Are you able to take breaks in order to integrate some physical movement throughout your day?
  • What kind of physical activity would incentivize you to move more while at work?
Is there a place you can go to clear your head and get some mental rest when you need it?
 
1. Come up with a plan.

Next, use the survey information you've gathered and come up with a wellness plan that works for you and that you think will work for your employees. Remember that it's okay to start small. For example, you might do something such as offering healthier snacks in the break room refrigerator or buying water bottles for all of your employees.

If you'd like to create an incentive program that brings some competition into the mix, again, start small. Hand out pedometers and create teams. See which team can get the most steps in a week for a prize.

Taking things to the next level, consider investing in some wellness classes for your employees. Corporate yoga or Pilates classes, meditation courses, and other educational programs are a great way to get people moving and motivated.

2. Educate and launch your plan.

Now that you have a plan in the works, reveal it to your employees so that they know what to expect. Be sure to allow your employees to ask questions when they have them so that the parameters and options available within the wellness program you've created are clear and well-defined.

3. Assess.

After implementing a baseline program, check back in with your employees and see what they think. Create another survey, or hold a company-wide meeting where employees can voice their opinions. From there, you can go back to the drawing board and either save or scrap some or all of the steps you've taken thus far, adding additional programs and incentives as their need becomes apparent.

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At-Work Wellness Tips for Employees

1. When job hunting, look for employers who focus on wellness.  
If you are in between jobs right now, look for an employer who is going to focus on wellness in the workplace. During the interview process, remember that asking about health and wellness programs and incentives is perfectly acceptable. Employers know that this is something quality workers are looking for, and they'll want to show you that it's an area they stress.
 
2. Take advantage of any wellness programs or incentives your workplace offers.

Currently, the implementation of wellness programs is on the rise, and many employers have gotten the memo that a focus on overall health and wellness is what employees want. Still, many workers don't take advantage of the opportunities presented to them.

If your employer offers a wellness program or any type of incentive for partaking in healthier habits, take advantage of it. If you're unaware of such opportunities, you might need to do a little digging. Talk to your human resources representative to see if anything is available. Such incentives may be offered directly through your employer or through your workplace’s health insurance provider.

3. Take the breaks and vacations given to you.

Governments guidelines require that all workers receive a minimum number of breaks, a minimum amount of time for lunch, and a minimum number of vacation days. Still, many employees won't take these breaks and rests. It's not uncommon for workers to work through their lunches, postpone breaks, and rack up vacation days that they never use.

Daily breaks and regular vacations are integral to living a healthy lifestyle. We all need breaks and rest from the mental and physical labor we do at work. Furthermore, if you are attempting to remain competitive — either with your own coworkers or other departments or companies — remember that rests and breaks help you build up stamina to come back sharper and better able to adequately do your job. In this way, taking the rests and breaks available to you actually make you better at your work than someone who plows through and never takes time off.

4. Bring your lunch from home.

Not only is bringing your lunch from home a wise decision if you'd like to save money, but it will encourage healthier eating habits all around. Eating out every day can cost you anywhere from $40-$70 per week, on average. That's up to $280 a month. Conversely, taking a bag lunch from home is much cheaper and enables you to cater your meal for a healthier diet.

 

Wellness Jobs

If you are neither an employer nor an employee looking to cultivate more wellness in the workplace, you may be someone who is interested in actually working in corporate wellness. In fact, there are numerous corporate wellness jobs available, and this sector can be extremely rewarding and fulfilling to work in.

We'll discuss workplace wellness corporate jobs more below, but for now, keep in mind that there are numerous jobs available in this industry. Many of them are offered within individual corporations and organizations, but you may also choose to work as a traveling corporate wellness consultant. The latter enables you to consult with numerous companies on how to design and implement optimal wellness programs for their unique work environments.

 

Workplace Wellness Best Practices

Mindfulness at Work

Mindfulness is the practice of staying in the present moment, not lingering in the past or the future, and not letting your mind ruminate on worries or anxieties. Mindfulness is about focusing on the here and now, your breath, your heart beat, the fresh air on your cheek, the sound of a ticking clock, the taste of a warm cup of coffee ...

There are always ways to be more mindful at work. 

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Start by learning how to slow down while you're at work. We are often frantic and stressed as we type emails, respond to messages, answer telephone calls, and try to get the bulk of our work done in a flurry of frenzied activity. Make an effort to do one thing at a time. The antithesis of mindfulness is multi-tasking.

Next, set mindful reminders for yourself. For example, if you aim to be more mindful in your daily work life, you might set alarms throughout the day to remind yourself to “stay in the present moment.” Or, as peace activist and Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh suggests, you don’t have to let your telephone be a nuisance and tyrannize you every time it rings. Instead, make it a tool of mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “The next time your phone rings,” use it as a reminder to be mindful. “Stay exactly where you are, and become aware of your breathing: ‘Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile.’ When the phone rings the second time, breathe again … continue practicing breathing, and then pick up the phone.”

 

Corporate Yoga

Corporate yoga or workplace yoga is becoming increasingly common. This type of yoga is done in the workplace, during the workday. Most of the time, individuals can choose to opt in either some or all of the time when corporate yoga classes are offered. In order to facilitate a corporate yoga program at your company, you must have a space where yoga can be practiced, and you must hire a corporate yoga instructor who can come in to perform class instruction on a regular or one-off basis. Be sure that all employees are aware of when and where office yoga classes will be held so that they can plan their work ahead and have the right clothes to participate. 

Why Do Corporate Yoga? 

Corporate yoga classes offer the perfect time for your employees to bond, relax, and cultivate a clearer mind. The time spent together in a peaceful, calming environment can help everyone connect in a unique and fun way. Communication will improve, and it’s certainly a way for everyone to de-stress and decompress. After a corporate yoga class, everyone should feel refreshed and ready to face the day — reenergized and ready to go!

Benefits of Corporate Yoga

Workplace yoga or office yoga can be done in a variety of ways. You may choose to invite a professional yoga instructor to conduct a one-off “yoga at work” event, or you might have someone come in once a week or once a month on a regular basis. Some companies even allow for employee-led yoga sessions.

Likewise, you can encourage corporate yoga practice individually as well. For example, educating your employees on how to do chair yoga or desk yoga can be useful when individuals want to practice specific poses on their own or just get some stretching in. Desk yoga generally involves poses and movements that can be done right at or near your desk, even in extremely small spaces. Chair yoga can literally be done in your chair. Such chair poses and exercises include:

  • The Chair Twist
  • Open Chest Stretch
  • Forward and Backward Shoulder Rolls

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Better At-Work Eating Habits

When we are excessively anxious or stressed, we tend to eat foods that are bad for us. For some, this is a nervous compulsion. Often, eating junk food like chips, cookies, and ice cream is a way to calm anxiety or feel good when we otherwise feel bad. Because the workplace can often cause stress and anxiety, it’s no wonder that at-work eating behaviors are often not very healthy. 

As stated earlier, however, most people eat at least one-third of all their meals at work. So, it can be extremely useful to learn how to eat better while on-the-job. One way to do this is to start bringing your lunch to work instead of eating out every day. Here are some other tips:

  • Always have a water bottle with you. Sometimes, when you think you’re hungry, you’re really just thirsty. Be sure to stay hydrated. 
  • Eat breakfast. A filling and nutritious meal first thing in the morning is the best way to give your body the energy it needs for the day. 
  • Try not to snack throughout the day. Or, if you do snack, aim to make your snacks as healthy as possible. Try veggies and dip, apples and peanut butter, hummus and whole grain pita chips, or a piece of fruit. 
  • Limit your caffeine. Caffeine isn’t necessarily bad for you, but too many cups of coffee a day can leave you feeling wired and frazzled. Aim for two cups maximum, or dose down the caffeine by adding some decaf to your mix in the afternoon.

Integrating Physical Activity Into the Workday

Implementing an office yoga schedule into your workday is a great place to start in order to encourage daily movement. Other ideas to increase daily physical activity include:

Walking Meetings

Walking meetings are meetings that are held while you and others are walking outdoors. Walking meetings facilitate physical activity, and they also get you out into the fresh air. The same goals can be accomplished in a walking meeting as can be accomplished in a regular meeting held in a corporate office or conference room.

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Break Walks 

Have a break throughout the day? Instead of staying seated, get up and walk around. Even if it's for just five minutes to go get a glass of water or snack from the break room, that small amount of activity will get your blood flowing and warm up your muscles.

Standing or Walking Instead of Sitting

Whenever possible, try to stand instead of sit. Investing in a standing desk is certainly one option, but you could also simply stand when reviewing documents, stand when chatting with a coworker, or stand when talking on the phone. This will improve circulation and burn more calories as well.

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Corporate Wellness Jobs

Considering a career in corporate wellness? This line of work can be extraordinarily rewarding and fulfilling. 

 

What a Career in Corporate Wellness Entails

You’ve undoubtedly heard about companies who offer on-site meditation rooms, organic snack bars, and decked out lunch rooms with gourmet meals. At these workplaces, managers care how well-fed and nourished you are, whether you got your minimum number of steps in, and how well you’re adjusting to your office space. Unlike other work environments, you’re encouraged to take breaks, go for walks, and chit chat with your co-workers. 

Sounds pretty great, right?

One of the truly great things to remember about such workplaces is that these incentives and programs didn’t form out of thin air. Rather, someone had to come up with them! And that someone undoubtedly worked in the field of corporate wellness. 

A corporate wellness career is an excellent choice for someone who’s just starting out or looking to change vocations. Such a career can come in a number of shapes and sizes. You may work on-site with one particular company, for example, or you may work independently, traveling to several different companies who act as your clients. Lastly, it’s not uncommon to have your own corporate wellness business, allowing clients to come to you for consultations and advice.

Working in this field has a variety of benefits. You’ll get the opportunity to work with a wide range of people, and you’ll have the advantage of being able to help improve the physical and mental wellbeing of many people as well. In this regard, it’s essential that you have a wide range of skills under your belt. If you are interested in such an occupation, here are some qualifications you should have:

  • The appropriate certification(s), if necessary
  • Great interpersonal skills
  • Strong attention to detail
  • Good oral skills
  • Ability to be confidential as you may be speaking about and handling sensitive personal information
  • Familiarity with HIPAA rules and regulations
  • Ability to “wear many hats,” be creative, and juggle multiple projects at once
  • Ability to handle tight deadlines

The ability to inspire change in people is a unique and special skill you'll need to have as well. If a career in corporate wellness sounds compelling to you, consider applying to correlated programs at colleges and universities in your area. Some corporations and companies also offer in-house programs and certifications.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Wellness in the Workplace

Q: How do you promote health and wellbeing in the workplace?

A: In order to promote health and wellbeing in the workplace, within whatever wellness program you plan to implement, consider including things like:

  • Fitness trackers
  • Water bottles to promote drinking more water
  • Yoga mats for corporate yoga class
  • Paid fitness memberships
  • Access to health advice call-lines 
  • Healthy at-work snacks
  • Outdoor seating areas
  • Quiet places at work to meditate

 

Q: What are some workplace wellness activities?

A: You can essentially choose any health-inspired activity to be a workplace wellness activity. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Meditation breaks
  • Walking meetings
  • Mid-day corporate yoga classes
  • Mid-day fitness classes
  • Mid-day meditation classes
  • Healthy cooking classes
  • Mindfulness practice education
  • Unique fitness challenges, such as measuring how far everyone walks in a month

 

Q: What is the goal of a wellness program?

A: The main goal of any wellness program should be to actually improve the health and well-being of each and every employee, from the lowest level worker to top-level management and the CEO. Secondary goals of wellness programs should be to reduce absenteeism, increase creativity, improve productivity, improve staff morale, and reduce health insurance claim frequency.

 

Q: What should a wellness program include?

A: The majority of workplace wellness programs include some sort of plan or strategy to improve healthy eating habits, encourage physical movement, and reduce stress.

However, it’s totally okay to get creative with your own wellness program. For example, you might consider trying to help your employees:

  • Lose weight
  • Stop smoking
  • Get more/better sleep
  • Drink more water
  • Achieve a particular fitness goal (like running a 5k)

 

Q: Do workplace wellness programs work?

A: It’s not a guarantee that implementing a workplace wellness program is going to provide substantial results. However, there are steps that both employers and employees can take to improve the likelihood of success. Here are the best ways that a wellness program can lead to positive results and concrete benefits:

  • Create opportunities for an array of wellness activities at work
  • Provide healthy food and make it readily available
  • Provide incentives for wellness steps taken
  • Motivate employees to take time off (use their vacation days)

Q: Do wellness programs use fitness trackers?

A: Yes, they can. Handing out fitness trackers can make some wellness incentives easier to track — for example, if you want to incentivize getting more steps throughout the day or drinking more water. However, if you choose to allow your employees to make their own fitness goals or if the wellness goals you choose aren’t measurable with a tracker, you don’t have to use them.

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Better Living Through At-Work Wellness

Workplace wellness is now a pillar of organizational success and company culture. 

Cultivating a wellness-based environment in your workplace will benefit both you and your employees. Instead of simply witnessing unhealthy workplace habits and doing nothing, employers can take action and improve their work environments to promote better living. 

Likewise, employees themselves can act to improve their own behaviors at work — packing their lunches from home, taking walks during break time, or finding moments throughout the day for meditation or yoga. Lastly, for those who are truly taken with the idea of promoting wellness at work, a possible career in workplace wellness may be just the ticket. 

A final important point to keep in mind is that workplace wellness doesn’t have to be overwhelming and monumental in regards to breadth of change. Even if you simply instill a few changes — even just one! — to increase the promotion of health and wellbeing, this is an excellent place to start.

After all, as Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher and writer, famously said: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”