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Dos and Do Nots for Inclusive Employee Wellness Programs
Posted 3/26/2019
 
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Studies show HR managers office work is closely tied to poor employee health. Professionals spend the majority of their waking hours sitting at a desk, working hard but not physically exerting enough to burn the calories necessary to think clearly. This can result in obesity, heart problems, circulation problems and chemical depression which eventually leads to sick days and a decrease in productivity. Both HR professionals and their more health-conscious millennial hires agreed that employee wellness programs were the answer.

It has been over a decade since the trend began and more than a few results have been assessed in terms of effectiveness, adoption rate and mistakes made by well-meaning employers. We have learned a lot about how to implement a great wellness program and what to avoid. The following covers five of the most effective “Dos” of employee wellness and five matching “Do nots” that have been recognized along the way.

Do: Provide Healthy Food in the Break Room  One of the simplest introductions to an employee wellness program is healthy catering. Professionals looking to make the most of their lunch break and get a “pick me up” before the afternoon slog often choose the wrong foods because they are fast, convenient or tasty. If you want to see fewer cups of ramen or burgers from across the street in your break room, try offering your employees a free selection of healthier options. This can be done either by ordering lunch a few times a week from somewhere that serves vegetables or providing healthy groceries for employees to cook for themselves.

Do Not: Forget About Food Allergies and Dietary Restrictions  Providing healthy food is always a friendly gesture, but it is easy to forget that some people eat differently and not just out of preference. Employees usually do not have a reason to disclose dietary restrictions to their employers because it is not relevant to their job. When they bring their own lunch, severe food allergies, medical requirements or cultural dietary restrictions are a private matter of what they pack or buy.

However, when you are providing the food, it is important not to leave anyone out or put them at risk. When planning your meal wellness program, be sure to check with each employee and be ready to provide a meal alternative for them when catering for the group.

Do: Encourage Employees to Get Up and Stretch During Work  Remaining sedentary is one of the biggest risks to employee health, resulting in most of the unwellness symptoms noted in the past few decades. In response, many employers have been trying ways to encourage their staff to get up and get their blood pumping from time to time. One of the easiest approaches and likely to get the most participants is the occasional stretch.

Separate from the usual break system, make it a shared activity for entire work groups to get up, move around and shake out the built-up lactic acid in their muscles and joints. You might be surprised how this boosts the mood as everyone is more comfortable when they sit back down.

Do Not: Host Mandatory Strenuous Activities  Similarly, many well-meaning employers have tried to implement group workout sessions instead of a simple stretch break. This can be a fun team-bonding, relaxation and fitness activity but it can also be problematic for employees who are not as physically capable as you may have believed. There are many medical conditions and disabilities that are not apparent or relevant to desk work so you may not be aware that some employees can not or should not participate in strenuous activities. While hosting games of catch or calisthenics might be a good idea, make it clear that they are not mandatory and there is no stigma for not participating. From pregnant women to employees with muscular disorders, do not pressure or ostracize.

Employee wellness has become an important responsibility of the HR department in the last decade and with the right approach, you will be able to promote health for every employee no matter what their current health or physical capabilities are.

Over the last few years, employers have tried everything from “Sushi Friday” to departmental marathon training. Some tactics worked, and some fell flat, but workplace wellness is still relevant.

Do: Use Living Plants as Office Decor Your building  HVAC does its best to keep the air clean, comfortable and circulating but there is only so much a machine in the basement can do to oxygenate your work environment. Natural green leafy plants are the best way to not only infuse your office with fresh oxygen the built-up carbon dioxide, they also make people happy. It has been found that simply seeing living greenery can brighten your mood and encourage relaxation.

Do Not: Choose Plants That Will Trigger Allergies  However, it is a bad idea to simply choose plants that look nice and grow well indoors. There are a number of possible office plants that can do a lot more harm than good by causing sneezing, itching and the necessity of taking drowsy allergy medications. Be very careful to fill the office only with hypoallergenic plants.

Do: Form an Office Sports Team  Office sports teams are a long-standing business tradition even before the workplace wellness trend. They provide a fantastic source of team bonding, outside work activity and promote physical fitness. While not every employee will want to form a sports team, many will be more than interested and happy to spend one night a week or month getting together and kicking a ball around. Simply by encouraging this you can increase the general health of your staff and support exercise as recreation.

Do Not: Limit the Team to a Single Sport  There are some who might say to avoid the sports team entirely for the same reason mandatory calisthenics are a bad idea. However, you do not have to sacrifice the idea of a team altogether. Simply mimic gym teachers encourage a cycle of different activities.

Put swimming in the mix for those who can stay active but have foot, knee or hip problems. On soccer days, encourage non-runners to hang out with the goalie. For softball, encourage an employee who cannot stand long to pitch the slow balls to employees who do not bat well. Keep the channels of communication open so no one feels left out.

Do: Promote Health and Fitness in Your Company Culture  Remember that it is not just about what you do, but your company culture responds to each employee wellness program. If it is considered ‘uncool’, no one will participate which is why so many employers see their programs falling flat. Instead, put some effort into changing the company culture. Approach fitness as something positive with an understanding that might be different for each person.

If an employee who has trouble with fitness shares that they went for a walk over the weekend, the response from their coworkers should be just as encouraging as it would be for a fit employee who went on a three-mile run. When all fitness is considered good, many will get involved.

Do Not: Allow Shaming or Biggest Loser Challenges  However, there are definitely ways to shift your company culture toward fitness the ‘wrong’ way. What you do not want to see is the ‘fit vs unfit’ mentality in which employees who participate enthusiastically target those who are shy, overweight or have trouble participating. One version of this is an unfortunate trend: biggest loser challenges.

After years of watching employee fitness programs that do and do not work: weight should not be involved. Do not ask about it, focus on it, measure it or do before/after pictures. Not everyone has control over their weight and metabolisms vary wildly.

Is your company looking for employee and workplace fitness programs that actually work for everyone? By following these five ‘Do’ and ‘Do not’ guidelines, you should be able to get started with some friendly health-promoting policies that can work for every single member of your staff.

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