Employers are becoming more and more conscious of the fact that a crucial part of a company’s success is its employees’ overall wellness. Healthy employees will be more productive, take fewer sick days, and likely have a more positive outlook on their lives and jobs. Certainly, from a human resources perspective, most employers love to see healthy and happy employees, as it can beget a more cost-effective workforce.
First, you should determine what you think the best way to motivate your workforce will be. Workplace wellness programs can either be activity-driven or results-driven. This means that you can either plan for specific events or activities that are geared toward increasing the overall health of your employees, or you can provide incentives for employees to increase wellness on their own and then report back based on certain benchmarks of success. The method you choose likely depends on the type of business you operate, whether your employees are full- or part-time, in-house or in various locations, and whether they’re first-, second-, or third shift, or a combination of the three.
Whether you have a specific “program” for wellness or you’re simply trying to encourage a healthy workplace, the ultimate goal should be to help employees establish behaviors for both work and home that contribute to healthier lifestyles.
Here are a few tips for boosting wellness in your workplace:
Be generous with sick time:
Some workers feel that their sick time is so sacred that they don’t want to stay home unless they’re really sick. However, a worker who comes in with just the start of the flu, a bad cold, or a stomach virus is likely the most contagious in the days just before the illness worsens. Let your employees know that it’s OK to stay home if they’re sick; likewise, make your sick day policies ample enough that workers can take the time they need without jeopardizing their jobs or losing pay. Also, encourage managers to send workers home if the workers appear to be ill.
Regularly wipe down germy surfaces:
In an office environment, there are some places that everyone touches all the time, so those spots are where the most germs are spread. Have your cleaning staff include doorknobs, copy machines, elevator buttons, conference tables, stairwell railings, water coolers, the reception area, any phones used by more than one person, and high-traffic areas in their daily routine. A quick wipe-down with an antibacterial agent can be enough, but the more frequently they can be thoroughly cleaned, the better. While you can never completely sanitize an office environment, you can help prevent the transmission of cold and flu germs.
Along those same lines, have hand sanitizer available at all entry points and in places where people eat. Encourage them to use it, and hang signs in bathrooms reminding employees about proper hand-washing techniques.
Start an on-site fitness program:
You might not have the space or resources to build an on-site gym, but you can encourage your employees to take walking breaks. This can mean walks in or outdoors or even up and down stairs. Even a short walk can increase heart rate, which will clear an employee’s head and allow for better concentration the rest of the day. You can encourage this through friendly competition — set up a walking log where employees can enter their times or distances, hopefully motivating them to walk more and faster. Even include a prize for the employee who takes the most logged steps per month. Alternately, purchase inexpensive pedometers for your staff, schedule afternoon check-ins where you keep a list of how many steps each person took during the day, and select a weekly or monthly “winner.” This can help people get up from their desks and walk to each other rather than using email, or to take the “long way” back from the restroom or park farther away in the parking lot, all of which are encouraging more moving and a less sedentary way of life.
You might also be able to find a trainer or exercise class that will come to the workplace. Plan a time that’s right before or after work (or even at lunch if you have a shower available) and set aside an area large enough for employees to take an aerobic exercise class. It doesn’t have to be fancy; simply moving a table out of the way in the conference room can do the trick as long as each person has enough space so they don’t bump into one another.
Provide “healthy” furniture options:
Because of time and space restrictions, it might not be feasible to have actual exercise programs within your work environment. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t find other ways for your employees to work their bodies while they work their minds.
- Treadmill desks/standing desks: A treadmill desk is exactly as it sounds — a treadmill attached to a desk that is designed for walking while working. This is not for everyone, however. A reporter at Business Insider chronicled her day at a treadmill desk and said that although a good idea in theory, she had a hard time concentrating while sweating. She also gave the disclaimer that part of the problem was that she was using it as a competitive tool with a colleague. If you want to encourage the use of treadmill desks, perhaps offer them in a non-competitive way. Let people walk at an easy pace—no sweating, no competition. The alternative is a standing desk or one where instead of sitting in a chair all day, it adjusts to the user’s standing height. This might be significantly less distracting than a treadmill desk, but still would allow the user to use more muscles than when sitting.
- Exercise ball chairs: The medical community is divided as to whether these contraptions are actually beneficial, but lots of people swear by them. While it may not burn too many additional calories to use an exercise ball as a chair, it does improve your core strength because you use your abdominal muscles for balance.
- Ergonomic workstations: Back and neck problems caused by poor posture in front of a desk can be as harmful in the workplace as slips and falls or injuries suffered by workers engaging in manual labor. The technology your staff needs to use on a daily basis can help you determine how to set up ergonomic workstations that will benefit your employees. Remember: People are different, so their workstations should be, too.
Offer discounts on gym memberships as a perk for your employees:
For space and financial reasons, it might not be feasible to bring a gym or exercise regimen into your office environment. However, you can encourage healthy lifestyles by helping your employees with the push they need to join a gym or enroll in fitness classes. While gym memberships can be expensive, you might be able to cut a deal with one to offer lower rates as an incentive to get healthier.
Encourage healthy eating:
In today’s now-now-now corporate world, lots of employees are eating lunch fast, which often means take-out at their desks (i.e., fast food). If your office building includes a cafeteria, try to ensure that it has a good selection of healthy options. If not, offer a consultation with a nutritionist. This can be a one-time or multiple-time seminar where a nutritionist comes to your office to talk with your staff about healthy food choices and how to make them. How will you get your people to take a break from their busy day? Easy. Offer a free healthy box lunch for all who attend the seminar. It’s a one-time expense, but one that might encourage people to make smarter choices about their diets.
Ultimately, you can’t completely change someone’s habits or lifestyle. However, you can do things that will make it easier for them to make subtle adjustments and stick to them. The healthier your workforce becomes, the more productive they will be and the more impact it will have on your bottom line. If your company can spend some money promoting wellness now, you could earn it back in spades later.