Corporate wellness program ideas to improve employee health

    Corporate wellness program ideas to improve employee health
    This page includes a number of ideas for wellness programs for organisations who are keen to keep their employees happy, healthy and productive.

    What is a wellness program for employees?

    A workplace wellness program or plan is provided by employers and designed to promote, support and improve employee health and wellness. Wellness program ideas can include physical health initiatives to mental health support and healthy eating initiatives.

    Due to the impact of COVID-19 on the corporate landscape and the effect it has had on employee health and wellness, it is more important now than ever that organisations implement effective wellness programs for their employees. In fact, according to our recent study, Polarised perceptions of corporate health and wellness, 74% of employees said that poor mental health had affected their productivity since the COVID-19 outbreak began. This highlights the need for effective health and wellness activities in the workplace.

    Why wellness programs are important

    More and more organisations understand health is more than just physical. This is part of the growing understanding of the ‘social determinants of health’ — the factors that impact our health and well-being:
    • Economic stability
    • Physical environment
    • Education
    • Food
    • Community
    • Health care system

    As such, more and more organisations are getting involved in an expanding variety of workplace well-being programs, from physical activities to mental health support and healthy eating initiatives. These companies know that, by supporting employee health and wellness, they will reap the benefits of improved productivity and reduced absenteeism and presenteeism.

    Our two recent studies, Tackling Polarised Perceptions in corporate health and wellness and Employee Health Inertia revealed two things:
    • Companies think they’re offering great wellness support, but it’s not meeting employee needs and expectations
    • People want to be healthy, but don’t do what they know they need to do.

    This data gives shows companies have the opportunity to create cultures dedicated to wellness and well-being programs that genuinely help their employees achieve their health goals, making them happier, healthier and more productive.

    How to implement a wellness program in the workplace

    So, you’ve decided you want your organisation to bake wellness into its business strategy, increase its focus on wellness or create a well-being program to help your employees become healthier?

    The WHO Healthy Workplaces global model for action provides a great framework to help organisations get started. The key to any successful wellness is to develop an approach and select a suite of programs that supports the holistic needs of employees in the specific context of your business and your industry. Every approach should comprise a needs assessment and prioritisation, an action plan, and implementation, a metrics assessment and review, and feedback.

    Easier said than done. Here are some steps to take before you start:

    Appoint a Well-being Champion or a well-being culture team to lead your health and well-being initiatives and offer them the support of senior management.
    1) Appoint a Well-being Champion or a well-being culture team to lead your health and well-being initiatives and offer them the support of senior management. This will give them a sense of ownership and empower them to deliver results. Ensure that you set clear and measurable objectives and support them with a budget.

    2) The latter point will support any incentives you wish to offer such as employee offers, rewards and subsidies.

    3) Do an internal survey to find out what kinds of things your employees want and would value.

    Our study, Tackling Polarised Perceptions in Corporate Health and Wellness, revealed that while employers think they’re doing a good job of supporting people’s physical and mental health, employees don’t agree. In fact, 70% of employers believed they provide good access to health and wellness benefits and support, but only 23% of employees agreed. This is why it is essential for employers to find out what employees require to form an effective wellness program.

    You might use free solutions like Survey Monkey or Google Forms to ask questions such as:

    a. What are your personal health goals?

    b. Do you feel that we [the company] could do more to support you with your physical and mental health? If so, how?

    c. What areas of your health would you like to work on?
         i. Weight management
         ii. Fitness
         iii. Sleep
         iv. Stress and mental health
         v. Smoking cessation and addiction management
         vi. Condition management. If so, which?

    d. Would you be interested in participating in or using any of the following:
         i. In-office massage, guided meditation or breathwork
         ii. Charity run, family fun days, community initiatives
         iii. Fruit for the office, subsidised healthy foods
         iv. On-site health checks, doctors appointments and assessments
         v. Standing workstations, under desk pedals
         vi. On-site health and wellness coaching
         vii. Health assistance help line or apps

    4) Get your Well-being Champion or well-being team to research how Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) can support your wellness initiatives. Read more about EAP, here.

    Wellness program ideas to improve employee health

    The following is broken into three sections:
    • Physical health program ideas
    • Mental health program ideas
    • Broad ideas.

    Physical health and wellness initiatives

    Research shows that regular fitness activity improves both physical and mental health. A UK study reported results such as improved time-management and ability to cope with workload, so it’s beneficial for businesses to promote physical exercise, as well as the long-term benefits of exercise, such as improved sleep. As such it is a key social determinant.

    Exercise initiatives

    Start a work running group
    1) Start a work running group. Host a 30-40-minute run after work on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday evening. Try to stay away from busy roads and pavements. You may decide to have a women’s running group or groups for different levels.

    Do a charity run.
    2) Do a charity run. A charity event or community fundraising event interplays with idea number 1. You might decide to do a charity run and participants form a running group to train, or your running group might decide to tackle a local charity run — 10k or half-marathon.

    Your survey results may indicate if you have people who would like to get involved in a team sport
    3) Your survey results may indicate if you have people who would like to get involved in a team sport. If so, research local sports clubs and/or leagues for football/soccer (including indoor/five-a-side), netball, badminton or other sports. Check how many people you need to in a team and ask employees to create a team or just submit their names.

    Host a yoga group
    4) Host a yoga group for 30 minutes before everyone else gets in to work. Whether you book an instructor or just use a reputable video on YouTube, you can book a meeting room and invite people to do some guided yoga before work.

    Hold a fitness challenge.
    5) Hold a fitness challenge. Competition is a natural by-product of the work environment so why not put that competitive spirit to good use is to channel it into company competitions. Many of the wellness programme ideas on this page can be ‘gamified’ to promote engagement. For example, as well as subsidizing wearables such as Fitbits, you might encourage a steps challenge — who can do 10,000 steps every day for two weeks.

    Post a note near the elevator reminding people to take the stairs instead.
    6) Post a note near the elevator reminding people to take the stairs instead. This is simple, easy and reminds employees that not only should they consider the importance of regular exercise, but their employer is thinking about their health and well-being as well.

    Offer discounts to a local gym.
    7) Offer discounts to a local gym. Most gyms and sports facilities offer corporate discounts, and this is a great way to attract talent as well as promote good health in the workplace.

    Posture and movement

    Ergonomics is the science of people's efficiency in their working environment
    8) Ergonomics is the science of people's efficiency in their working environment — related to the social determinant of physical location. The aim is to inform, design and create workplaces that limit stress on the human body to reduce everything from repetitive strain injury (RSI) and general discomfort to permanent eye strain and other ailments. For office workers, this can include keyboards designed to minimise repetitive motion injuries such as carpal tunnel and chairs that minimise back pain. It also includes creating workstations that bring together best practise in various areas such as those mention above, as well as desk set up — making sure screens, desks and chairs are set to the right height and angle in relation to reach other. Many businesses benefit from inviting in ergonomic specialists who can work with individuals to set up their workspaces for optimum performance and mitigate physical damage. Specialists can offer guidance, not only on how to set up a workstation, but how each aspect impacts the body. One study found that improved ergonomics in the workplace increased productivity by as much as 25%. Find a reputable local specialist to help your teams optimise their workstations for better physical health. As part of this you may decide to offer retractable standing desks that allow people to stand or sit at various points in the day.

    On-site chair massage
    9) On-site chair massage. Many companies offer ‘corporate massage’ for their employees, a physical benefit that many people wouldn’t seek for themselves. Data shows the impact of at-work massage with an impressive 85% reduction in stress, 26% reduction in anxiety and 28% improvement in sleep. Invite a masseur or masseuse into the office and offer 10-20-minute chair massage in an unused meeting room and watch the stress disappear and productivity go up!

    Screen breaks. A very simple wellness initiative involves encouraging chair breaks: getting up from one’s desk to rest eyes and stretch legs
    10) Screen breaks. A very simple wellness initiative involves encouraging chair breaks: getting up from one’s desk to rest eyes and stretch legs. Research has also found that the most productive people work for 52 minutes and then take breaks for up to 17 minutes, and that short breaks throughout the day can result in people being more alert. You could ask your employees to set reminders in their phones or work calendars to remind them to take a short break.

    Nutrition and healthy eating

    Food is an important social determinant — from hunger to access to healthy options.

    But healthy eating can be a challenge for anyone who doesn’t work from home. Even so, there are ways that organisations can encourage and support healthy eating to help employees stay healthy.

    Here are some corporate wellness initiatives that help tackle the issue of workplace nutrition.

    Healthy office snacks.
    11) Healthy office snacks. This may seem simplistic, but it’s a quick, easy and relatively inexpensive way to promote healthy eating — and the results are impressive: one article explains that fresh fruit provided by an employer can increase productivity, help maintain energy levels and improve mood as well as help build a good corporate culture that values staff health and well-being. One report even found that 66% of employees who enjoyed free snacks at work reported being either extremely happy or very happy with their current job, so it can aid retention as well. As part of this, you may choose to stop unhealthy snacks and treats that often become a frequent workplace fixture.

    Meat-free Monday.
    12) Meat-free Monday. The Western diet relies heavily on meat, some research suggests, too much. While vegetarianism will be a stretch too far for many, lots of people are trying to reduce the amount of meat they eat, so why not start a meat-free Monday initiative. Click here for information on how to set up a meat-free Monday club at work.

    If you start a healthy eating group, you could invite a chef into the office to teach healthy cooking and batch-cooking for work.
    13) If you start a healthy eating group, you could invite a chef into the office to teach healthy cooking and batch-cooking for work. Your group might run the meat-free Monday or even create a recipe Wiki or other online repository to share people’s healthy recipes.

    It is recommended that we drink two litres of water every day and you can promote hydration
    14) It is recommended that we drink two litres of water every day and you can promote hydration by installing a watercooler and/or provide carafes or desk jugs so people have a reminder to drink water on their desks.

    ordering in a healthy team lunch
    15) If certain parts of the business are very busy or under a lot of pressure, you might consider ordering in a healthy team lunch to prevent panic-buying bad foods and the resulting reduction in productivity.

    Invest in an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).
    16) Invest in an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). Providers of EAP can help you implement and even run or support wellness and well-being initiatives, for example offering specific counselling to help employees build healthier diets.

    stop smoking
    17) Smoking is in decline in the West, but continues to grow in many other countries and remains high in regions such as the Middle East, Russia, Greece and Indonesia. This can make it hard for those in countries where it is prevalent to quit. One study found that employees who were financially incentivized to stop smoking were three times more successful at quitting than non-incentivised employees. As lifestyle choices such as smoking are a powerful social determinant of health, why not sponsor your employees to raise money for themselves or a charity of their choice? Many EAPs also include support for addiction, including smoking.

    Obesity continues to impact health in a growing number of nations
    18) Obesity continues to impact health in a growing number of nations, from the USA to the Middle East — with Saudi Arabi, Kuwait and Qatar all ranking among the most obese nations. Sedentary, office-based work lives pose a challenge for individuals. Companies can help overweight employees by organising and sponsoring a 12-week ‘Biggest Loser Challenge’ — just like the TV show. Include regular weigh-ins and offer team and individual prizes — as well as smaller prizes for individual weigh-ins to encourage employees along the way.   

    Mental health and wellness initiatives

    For many years, the impact of mental health on the workplace was unknown, unexplored and, at worst, ignored. But in recent decades awareness, knowledge and stigma have improved, with organisations seeing the value in supporting good mental health by implementing initiatives that help support good mental health. Mental health can impact a number of the social determinants of health, for example isolation and discrimination impacting stress, depression and anxiety.

    Here are some great examples of employee well-being programs that support employee mental health and allow businesses to enjoy the subsequent benefits — from reduced absenteeism and presenteeism to improved productivity and retention.

    Start a stress group
    19) Start a stress group. The benefits of vocalising challenges and receiving peer support for those looking to manage stress has been supported by the American Psychological Association. Choose a mediator/host (or you could appoint and use your mental health first aider) as it’s important to create a structure so meetings remain solution-focused and don’t become a ‘moan fest’ that brings people down. You may even be able to invite a professional therapist or counsellor to guide and even offer elements of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help employees manage stress. Set safe-zone rules so everyone can feel comfortable talking about issues without facing judgment or appearing incompetent. Mutual support and mutual advice as well as formal evidence-based therapy with observable, measurable results and even life-coaching can be invaluable to individuals and organisations alike. Feedback from sessions may even inform specific aspects of support including:

    a. Communication and assertiveness training
    b. Improving soft skills and social skills
    c. How to handle feedback and criticism
    d. Emotional intelligence.

    Some Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) can provide this support.

    Flexible work hours
    20) Flexible work hours. Flexible working is on the rise as more employees demand it and more businesses see its benefits — despite initial nervousness. Consider having ‘core hours’ (for example: ‘please work 7.5 hours between 8am and 6pm) or offer work-from-home days. Reluctant employers might note the findings of a 2018 survey that found remote workers end up being more productive because of increased focus amongst other factors.

    Working from home or remote working has become even more prevalent since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has enhanced the need for flexible working hours among employees, which is why it is important for employers to meet the needs of their staff and adapt to more flexible ways of working.

    Host guided meditations.
    21) Host guided meditations. Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness for at least 20 minutes a day can counteract the stress response, which can help employees in demanding roles. As with yoga, group activities are often a great way to encourage people to get involved and learn new skills, so hosting a guided meditation in the morning or at lunch is a good way to help people manage stress.

    Alcohol and substance abuse support.
    22) Alcohol and substance abuse support. You may not know whether any of your employees are struggling with addiction. By offering an external programme, for example that included with our EAP you can guarantee confidentiality on this sensitive and private subject while also helping individuals on their path to better health.

    Other ideas

    Subsidise ongoing education. Continued learning, personal development and having a sense of purpose is an increasingly important social determinant of health for employees. The employee feels valuable, supported and invested in, and the employer benefits from a loyal, engaged individual who brings more skills and knowledge to their role. Depending on your industry and budget, you might offer time and funds to attend conferences or seminars — based on your market or their skill set (for example, marketing, sales, management) — invite external trainers in for group sessions, or even encourage internal learning across teams and disciplines. You might a subsidy for personal development books.

    Host lunch and learns. This is a good way to support ongoing learning and personal development.
    23) Host lunch and learns. This is a good way to support ongoing learning and personal development. Appoint (or ask) individuals to present on a topic they’re interested in (work or non-work) while providing a healthy lunch for attendees. As well as learning, it’s a great way to build cross-disciplinary understanding and team building.

    Organise a book club.
    24) Organise a book club. Reading is a solitary pursuit, but people often want to share in the experience and explore other people’s thoughts on books, so why not host a book club. Choose an initial book (everyone gets to pick a book in turn), set a time period for reading, and host a book club discussion at the end of the period. Reading can enrich and even educate, while social discussions can help team bonding and corporate culture.

    Offer DNA health tests
    25) Offer DNA health tests. Bring in a specialist who offers biometric screenings and health assessments, and more importantly, can give people a roadmap to improved health. Read more about DNA health tests and how they can help your employees build a health regimen based on their results.

    Send a monthly wellness email.
    26) Send a monthly wellness email. Ask your Well-being Champion to gather health advice, news and even recipes into an email and send to everyone in the company. As well as links to articles from around the web, you should include news about your own initiatives to encourage uptake. Content could include everything from myth busting articles and advice on staying active in the office to reminders to get a flu jab.

    Subsidise wearables.
    27) Subsidise wearables. Wearables such as Fitbits can helps employees track their activity. The key is to use the technology to change behaviours, so set up regular or ongoing challenges within your organisation, for example a steps challenge (who can achieve 10k step per day for the most days every month?) or a sleep challenge (Who can sleep for seven hours or more every night?). Incentivise challenges with regular prizes to increase involvement and engagement.

    Play music in the office
    28) Play music in the office. Studies show that music improves mood, which can help boost productivity and creativity. But be careful what music you choose or allow: the human voice can be very distracting to other humans, so select music without lyrics and keep it at an ambient noise level. Sites such as Mixcloud offer ad-free music mixes and you can search by genre to find something that might suit your office, with categories including ‘chillout’ and ‘office beats’.

    Sponsor a company retreat or offsite.
    29) Sponsor a company retreat or offsite. There are dozens of companies that can tailor retreats and teambuilding exercises to suit, or you might ask one of your team to come up with a plan.

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