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Wellness Works (and Pays off!)

Today’s blog post is for my working peeps. If you own a business or are an employee who wants to advocate for wellness in the workplace…read on, my friends!

The saying don’t sweat the small stuff is true – but when it comes to big stress; work stress, we should definitely be sweating it…out. Because exercise and other stress management strategies are not only good for our minds and bodies but for our productivity and engagement in the workplace.

According to an American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence survey in 2013, a third of working Americans have chronic stress related to their job. Not surprising.  Further – the World Health Organization (WHO) says such stress costs businesses in this nation $300 billion a year. That’s BILLIONS, y’all. And, more studies than I can cite show that physically and mentally healthy employees are happier, more creative and more engaged – oh yeah, and they miss fewer days due to sickness!

More and more employers are expanding their corporate health and wellness programs to improve employee health and create a more positive workplace culture. A survey on wellness programs from Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) predicted employers would spend an average of $693 per employee on wellness-based programs in 2015 and expand wellness programs in 2016 and 2017 to include stress management and financial wellness education.

But where do companies get the most bang for their buck? It’s not enough to just throw money at a gym membership for each employee, or have a blood pressure screening event once a year. Workplace wellness must be comprehensive and consistent. My time in corporate America allowed me the opportunity to see great wellness programs and be part of companies that truly “walked the walk” when it comes to encouraging healthy behaviors.  However, I’ve seen some not-so-great examples as well.  Many times, companies send mixed messages by what they offer and their actual actions.  One offered gym membership discounts but keep a cabinet of free snacks for employees that include chips and candy.  Another firm planned quarterly health screening events but their Free Lunch Thursdays were always carb-heavy, sauce-laden and generally not healthy.

In my research of great corporate wellness programs there are some real superstars with sizeable investments in wellness–Twitter offers on-site acupuncture, Google has nap-pods and Zappos sponsors “wellness adventures” – employee field trips to try something new like golf, laser tag or trampolining.

Obviously, there is a wide definition of what workplace wellness means. How do you promote a culture of self-care and wellness without a Google-sized budget?  After 20 years in corporate communications working closely with HR leaders to interpret employee surveys and communicate employee benefits and perks, I’ve learned that any benefit program (and really, any internal initiative) is more successful when employers follow and role model three simple behaviors. Engagement. Education. Empowerment.


Ask yourself: “Are my employees part of the wellness process? Do they want more workplace wellness programming? Can I identify a few wellness ambassadors who are committed to healthy behaviors?”

Your answers to these questions will likely tell you if your employees are engaged in and embracing the idea of wellness in the workplace. If your answers were no, or I don’t know, you have a fantastic opportunity to engage your staff in bringing more wellness into the workplace. Here are three ideas for engaging in the conversation and jumpstarting a wellness culture in your business:

  1. Talk about it. Decide to discuss wellness.  That alone creates awareness and engages your employees to think about their own health, stress reduction, etc. Start small – with a few minutes on the next staff meeting agenda, or through an email communicating other benefits updates or changes. Partner with your HR team to find the right time to start talking about healthy behaviors and new wellness initiatives.

  2. Create a wellness committee. Or, ask for a volunteer to be the wellness lead for your department, division, etc. You already know who likes to lead or who has the potential to lead. This accomplishes two things – engaging employees in the wellness process AND providing an opportunity for someone to lead a project or initiative. This team/individual should be responsible for helping to develop the survey, bringing ideas to the table and planning wellness events in conjunction with HR and company leadership.

  3. Survey your employees about wellness. If you’ve never offered any kind of wellness benefits, you can’t assume to know what your employees want. You don’t want to offer a “daily step challenge” walking program if most of your employees are looking for higher intensity programs or gym memberships. And, don’t assume they aren’t interested in nutrition workshops in a group setting. Sometimes you need an anonymous channel or a resource for one-on-one counseling for people who feel uncomfortable talking about certain topics in front of peers.


Ask Yourself: “Do my employees know what their benefits include for wellness? Would my employees benefit from more awareness around (insert health topic)? Are my employees aware of the benefits of nutrition and exercise?”

Don’t assume because you exercise five days a week and eat clean most of the time that your staff knows how to do the same. I used to think that EVERYONE knew how dangerous artificial sweeteners are to your health until I heard many “healthy” friends talk about their Diet Coke a day habit. Don’t assume, but don’t preach. Educate! Here are three ideas to get you started.

  1. Be Consistent. Your wellness activity can’t be once a year. Consistency is key to getting your employees thinking about living healthier. Start with a quarterly event – that’s only 4 times a year and manageable for a committee or wellness lead. Plan one health screening event, a company-wide charity walk/run, one lunch and learn with an outside speaker and another team-building/healthy living activity.

  2. Don’t Re-create the wheel. Start with your insurance provider. Most provide low-cost or free wellness programming, information, materials, on-site screenings, etc. Then, check out what local non-profits like the American Heart Association or the local YMCA offer in terms of wellness workshops or on-site trainings.

  3. Make it Part of Orientation/Annual Reviews. Your employees know about the major benefits and their value (Insurance, PTO, and 401k). But, do you call out your other, lesser known benefits and their value in an employee’s total comp package? Gym membership discounts, free nutrition counseling, resource hotline for family issues (divorce, death, moving, etc.). Don’t underestimate your wellness benefits and make sure your new and seasoned employees understand the value.


Ask Yourself: “Do my employees have the tools they need to be healthy, productive workers? How can I facilitate their quest to become healthier?”

Empowering your employees to be healthier doesn’t fall exclusively on your shoulders. You can’t drive them to the gym or go grocery shopping with them. You can only give them tools, information and suggested resources. Here’s how you can do that in a way that shows your commitment to wellness without being responsible for their actions.

  1. Wellness Menu Options.  Not every employee is ready to confidently walk into a gym or spin class. Give them some options for fitness. A paid gym membership is generous but consider a stipend for a streaming workout subscription that they can do at home or pay for an upfront meeting/evaluation with a personal trainer or health coach to help them find the right strategy for being more active.

  2. Forge Local Partnerships. Work with local fitness companies to offer discounts or freebies. Sponsor an employee shoe fitting event with the local runner’s store accompanied with a gift certificate or discount for new workout shoes. Ask specialty gyms (think: pilates, barre classes, cycling, cross-fit) for a free class pass for your employees. The other business gets the benefit of the free exposure and potential new customers, and your employees get to try something new at little or no cost.

  3. Stock up on healthy options.  Fill the fridge with fruit, veggies and hummus, Greek yogurt, low-fat cheese and other filling and nutritious options. Makeover the snack cabinet with low-sugar granola bars, 100-calorie nut packs, or healthy trail mix. Trade cans of soda with water bottles or a water cooler. Provide examples of good nutrition at your company-sponsored events. Right size portions, balanced options, vegetarian choices and lots of salads that aren’t just iceberg lettuce.  80% of our well-being depends on what we eat. Show your employees that nutritious food can be delicious.

Do these wellness ideas pay off? Research says it does.  Companies that make employee wellness a priority reap both tangible and intangible benefits. The Rand Corp., examined 10-year data from a Fortune 100 employer and published the findings in the Rand Wellness Programs Study.  It examined two aspects of the employer’s wellness program: lifestyle management and disease management. The conclusion? There was an overall ROI of $1.50 for every dollar that the employer invested in their entire wellness program. While the ROI on their disease management programs was $3.80 for every dollar and the return for the lifestyle management component was just $0.50 for every dollar invested, researchers did not consider an additional productivity benefit or the “Employee Positivity Factor” from the lifestyle management component. The Employee Positivity Factor can result in improved customer interactions, better relationships with co-workers, greater creativity and an overall more positive work environment.

So the research shows that wellness works, but it doesn’t have to cost a lot to obtain that ROI. Even small scale efforts can lead to big time results for employees and the health of your business overall.  However, if reading this still leaves you thinking, this is too much to take on and I don’t have time, send me a message and I can help point you in the right direction.  Whether it’s developing an employee survey, communicating your current wellness and benefits offerings, investigating and planning wellness events, or working with your HR team to develop presentations and materials to help educate your employees about the importance of self-care, I can help you mine through the options and get a plan in place.

To be an employer of choice, salary is just one component. Employees want to be valued and know their company cares about their overall well-being. You can be that company – where healthy happens!

Let’s get started!



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