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Why Wellness Matters at Work

Wellness. It’s something we all want for ourselves and our teams. But “wellness” is in danger of becoming just another HR buzzword.

Wellness isn’t fluffy, or a nice-to-have, or just a program for employees to shave a few dollars off their medical premiums. If you can help employees adopt healthier behaviors, you’re on the way to building more engaged, productive teams.

I’ve seen the evolution of wellness strategies implemented in companies over the last several years. At first, wellness programs were just a requirement to read articles and watch videos on healthy life choices. Now, organizations are implementing healthier food options in employee cafeterias, creating social activities around fitness, and performing acts of community service as a team.

Wellness programs should help employees reach their full potential physically, socially, emotionally and intellectually. Let’s look at the physical aspect of wellness. Here’s what I’ve learned — through 16 years of working in HR and on my personal wellness journey — about how to build a team that’s healthier, happier and more productive.

Work/Life Balance

We can’t talk about reaching your full potential without talking about balance. We all want work/life balance, right? It affects all four aspects of wellness and is an important foundation for a happy and productive workforce.

There have been times when I have found myself so engrossed in my work that I was ignoring pretty much everything else in my life. I was exhausted, not eating right, and making time to exercise felt totally out of reach.

It may be hard to turn work off at the end of the day, but no one performs at their best when they never unplug or recharge. Help your team by following these tips:

  • Break the cycle of constant work. Remind people to schedule regular work hours and stick to them, even if they work remotely or travel for work.
  • Set a healthy example. If the boss is emailing late at night, people get the message that being always-on is okay — or even expected. If you don’t want your team working at night and on weekends, you shouldn’t be either.
  • Take a break. Create a daily calendar reminder to remind yourself and your team to take a break. Go sit in the break room or cafeteria during lunch. Take a 15-minute walk around the building with someone different each day (and don’t talk about work). And always take your vacation time — no matter what.

Exercise

Have you ever caught yourself snapping at people more than usual — only to realize you haven’t worked out in several days? Yep, that’s me, raising my hand high. I’ve gone days, weeks and even months without working out to buy myself more time in the day to work or sleep when in the end it’s only making me feel more stressed out.

Exercise is a critical factor to increase happiness and productivity while reducing stress.

Is your team struggling to make movement a priority? Here are some tips for finding motivation:

  • Share accountability. Share your goals with your teammates. Knowing your team is cheering you on will make you much more likely to close the laptop and focus on yourself.
  • Make wellness fun. Start a competition or team challenge to motivate your team to get moving, either together (lunchtime walks around the building) or on their own.
  • Make it work for you. You will only be motivated to stick with a program that you enjoy and that fits into your schedule. If you hate running and love to swim, don’t join a running club, but make sure to take full advantage of that indoor pool at your local gym. With my unpredictable schedule, I couldn’t commit to the classes at my favorite spin studio so I brought the “studio” to me. Owning a Peloton bike allows me to take on-demand classes on my time at home.
  • Offer incentive programs. Don’t just offer a reimbursement for a fitness center or home workout equipment. Offer an incentive to those who use it. Gone are the days of taking a 5-minute health questionnaire, entering an estimated blood pressure and clicking on a few video links to receive $20 off your medical premiums each month. Motivate your employees to incorporate healthy behaviors into their daily routine.

Healthy Eating

Focusing on work/life balance and creating space for exercise are important. Making healthy food choices is the next step. When you’re glued to your computer, it’s easy to grab whatever’s available for lunch. I work from home and am on the road, so it’s easy to blow off a healthy meal and grab whatever is quick and easy instead. But I realize that Cheez-Its aren’t exactly brain food, and bad eating habits interfere with productivity.

I have seen companies dramatically rework the food for sale in the on-site cafeteria. The salad bar became the cheapest option, while the fries and chicken tenders were expensive (and eventually completely phased out). I’ve also seen companies swap out vending machines with healthier grab-and-go options.

You can help your team make smart food choices. Consider these ideas:

  • Offer healthy on-site options. Rethink what you serve in the company cafeteria. If you don’t serve food on-site, give employees healthy, easy options — like offering to order salads for lunch, or working with nearby restaurants to give discounts to employees.
  • Rethink “celebration” food. If you work in an office, it can feel like every day is another celebration — birthday cake, retirement party cookies, “just because” Friday doughnuts and Jane’s famous candy drawer. If you’re bringing in junk food regularly, it might be more of an unwelcome temptation than a treat for your team. Rethink how you celebrate with food.
  • Encourage healthier options on the road. For those who are not working in an office or who frequently travel, share tips for healthy travel snacks or better meal options at airports. How did you first learn about your favorite protein shake (since I don’t leave home without mine)? Because someone once told you about it. Keep sharing tips and ideas with your team.

HR leaders can make a major difference in helping employees create and keep physical wellness goals. It’s easy to gloss over “wellness” as just another buzzword. But on an individual level, if you can make a difference in employees’ daily habits, you’re guaranteed to build happier, more engaged, more productive teams.

Janine Comito is a senior advisor at IA. With a strong business analysis background, Janine has a unique understanding of highly complex HR challenges and the best solutions to achieve optimal results. She is also an excellent party planner who is famous for baking up a batch of her pumpkin whoopie pies.

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