In a perfect world, your employees exercise before work, always reach for carrots instead of potato chips, and stay sharp and energized throughout the day. But healthy habits aren’t always the default choice for people — whether they’re at home or in the office.
Encouraging these behaviors starts with implementing a thoughtful wellness program. However, with all of the buzz surrounding wellness programs these days, it’s easy for them to gain a bad rap among employees — making participation more of a chore than a natural reaction. Some employees may be wary of employers getting too involved in their personal lives or forcing unwanted health goals on them.
But making the wellness dream a reality in your organization and capitalizing on the benefits of a healthier, happier workforce is achievable. By setting a positive tone for your wellness program and establishing a culture of employee trust and respect, you can rally your staff around healthy living and reap the financial rewards of a fitter, more productive workforce.
Of course, every company has distinct goals when it comes to wellness. But what does an achievable, idyllic healthy workplace look like in practice?
- Employees work in a state of flow.
Flow is the optimum state of productivity that results from living in the present, enjoying the process, and not stressing about the outcome. When employees work in a state of flow, they become so engrossed in the task at hand that they often lose track of time.
To promote flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” recommends striking the right balance between challenge and skill on one axis and anxiety versus boredom on the other.
According to Csikszentmihalyi, when people are bored, there’s nothing to pique their interests; little opportunity exists for personal growth. On the other hand, too much pressure at work creates counterproductive levels of anxiety. To prevent employees from reaching either extreme, hold regular conversations with them to gauge these levels, and set the stage for flow. Managers should stay in touch with their direct reports and make sure they’re being reasonably challenged.
- Fitness becomes an integral part of their daily lives.
Ideally, employees will go for morning runs or carve out time to exercise during their day —rather than discouraging this ideal, employers will welcome it.
But for most workplaces, this simply isn’t the case. Consider implementing programs to keep people mentally and physically sharp, or offer employees full one-hour lunch breaks to allow enough time to exercise off-site and recharge for the afternoon. One study by the Brookings Institute showed that regular exercise at work actually helps increase employees’ happiness and overall productivity levels at the office.
- Employees feel valued.
In the dream scenario, wellness programs don’t feel paternalistic — they come across as an expression of your respect for your employees’ well-being. Your staff should feel comfortable seeking help when health challenges arise, not fearful of how they may interfere with work.
Employees will appreciate the gesture and be more inclined to participate in programs when they know your intentions come from the heart. Instead of forcing wellness onto your staff or positioning it as a chore, give them a choice when it comes to their health. Then, provide the necessary resources.
Properly challenging and rewarding employees can also make them feel valued and more willing to opt into your wellness program. Develop projects for specific employees based on their skills, or assign tasks according to their strengths to show you recognize their talents. Offering rewards that directly tie into your employees’ achievements will also demonstrate your appreciation for their unique skills sets.
- Healthy eating is made easy.
Whether you subsidize healthy food in your company fridge — or employees simply know where to get the healthiest lunches — people will naturally start to choose more nutritious options. As a result, that 2 p.m. lethargy vanishes, and employees have renewed energy to concentrate on work.
On the other hand, a lack of nutritious food during the day can make concentrating difficult and impair decision-making. It also leads to fatigue, sickness, low morale, and greater risk of workplace accidents.
Research from the Health Enhancement Research Organization, Brigham Young University, and the Center for Health Research at Healthways found that workers who ate wholesome meals and exercised regularly had better job performance and lower absenteeism.
Google is one company that’s well-known for investing in its employees’ eating habits. Like many large companies, Google has cafeterias for its employees, but by strategically placing the salad bar near the entrance and the dessert table in the far corner, employees don’t have to go out of their way to make the healthy choice.
Consider looking into science-based wellness program providers that understand the importance of regular tracking and employee check-ins. The right wellness partner can help optimize your plan based on what works for your employee population and what doesn’t.
For this dream scenario to come to realization, your wellness program must start from the top. Dedicated and engaged leadership teams are incredibly influential and can pave the way by modeling healthy behaviors. Participation from the top goes a long way toward seamlessly integrating the program into the fabric of the company.
By arming your employees with the resources they need to make healthier choices, structuring the day so they can work out without negative repercussions, and showing you value their individual skill sets and well-being, everyday wellness can become a workplace reality.
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