Perhaps your corporate wellness program feels stagnant. Maybe it’s just plain ineffective. Not sure where to start? While meaningful changes may not happen overnight, strategies don’t need to be overly complicated or expensive to make a difference.
In fact, starting simple is key, says Colin Young, field operations director at EXOS. With most wellness programs, “the message just becomes too large and overwhelming so it’s difficult to keep people on vision and on point,” he says. Young suggests introducing simple, small strategies that can be measured in minutes. And don’t be fooled: Those small changes can go a long way.
Healthier employees aren’t just physically present at work more — they’re also more productive and engaged, says Tamara Nagy, senior director of fitness and wellness at EXOS. Robust health and wellness programs are also key for employee attraction and retention.
Read on for inspiration on elevating your wellness program and creating a healthier, happier workplace.
Step one: Spotlight the CEO.
It’s crucial to make sure the workplace environment matches your corporate wellness vision, Nagy says. Most wellness efforts are based around employees making positive changes that will impact their health. Asking employees to change ingrained behaviors is tough, she explains, and dependent not just on a willingness to change but also on having an environmental and social system to support those changes.
That’s where company leaders should come in. Young says support — or lack thereof — from managers can make or break the success of wellness initiatives. Having company leaders embrace change goes a long way in normalizing those behaviors as part of the workplace culture, he says.
And the opposite is true, too: A manager who works long hours and survives on coffee sends the wrong message to employees. Like parents, leadership can model healthy behavior from the top down.
A CEO taking time out of the day to go to a medical appointment, visit the gym, or just stretch will “say a lot more than any amount of internal marketing or anything that CEO could say,” Young says.
Step two: Target groups of employees.
Don’t fall into the trap of relying solely on initiatives marketed to all employees. A “Biggest Loser”-style weight loss challenge sounds great in theory, but Nagy says efforts like that are often unsuccessful.
“Not everybody is at the right place to make that behavior change,” Nagy says. Creating smaller programs that cater to specific groups can have much more meaningful results, like sponsoring a company Ragnar relay team. Looking at natural groups that form in a workplace — whether because of similar interests or similar life stages — is a good place to start, Nagy says.
Pre- and postnatal moms will likely share similar struggles when it comes to staying healthy. Co-workers that enjoy playing recreational sports on the weekend may inspire each other to get more active.
For even more success, have individuals — across all departments and leadership levels — spearhead specialized groups. Identify people who will champion the initiative, Nagy says. People who are vocal and passionate about something will naturally draw others. Also: Don’t be surprised if you find them in unexpected places, like your jiujitsu-practicing IT manager.
Step three: Make healthy options more visible.
Get employees thinking and talking about change more often. A good place to start is the company break room, kitchen, or cafeteria, says Jana Mason, performance dietitian manager at EXOS.
In most cases, a full overhaul isn’t necessary — or even the most effective. “You want simple, small changes, and then you build upon that,” she says.
Oftentimes, employees are simply choosing the quick, easy option. When nutritious choices are just as easy as unhealthy counterparts, behaviors change. “The bulk of their waking hours are at work,” Mason says. “What they’re exposed to for the most part of the day is what they’re going to be eating.”
She suggests providing healthy snacks in conjunction with less nutritious options already available. Set a bowl of prepackaged almonds near the vending machine or provide fruit and yogurt along with Friday morning doughnuts.
“You don’t want to be so strict and say you have to eat healthy all the time,” Mason says. “You want to give them that freedom of choice.”
Additions that feel special are also more appealing, Mason says. Put out pitchers of fruit- and herb-infused water, and something healthy may feel like a special treat.
Accompany changes in offerings with some information on why. A list on the benefits of staying hydrated may encourage someone to fill their bottle one more time. And those little things add up, Mason says.
“When people feel their best, they are their best and they’re going to perform their best,” she says. “That’s going to reflect on the success of the company as a whole.”
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