With employee wellness high on employers’ to-do lists as the look to not only cut health care expenses but improve productivity and recruit and retain top talent. And as with the rest of their benefits portfolio, employers are looking for ideas that will not only set themselves apart from the competition, but also actually drive excitement and interest among employees.
Some places are getting truly creative in the ways they’re working to engage employees in their own wellness, with ideas unique to them—while others are picking up on what others are doing and then tweaking those ideas to suit their own employee populations.
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Some, too, are really taking on the challenge and reflecting it in the very design of the workplace. Whatever strategies they’re trying, companies are finally recognizing that, when it comes to wellness, it’s not enough to talk the talk. They have to walk the walk and incorporate ideas into the mission and values of the company.
Here are some of the ways that companies are really digging into the whole employee wellness issue, using creativity or real effort to provide activities or actions that can perhaps reach even the most cynical or disengaged employees.
1. Just say "woof."
Making the workplace dog-friendly can pay benefits far beyond what an employer might expect. According to The Economist, not only do people feel better when they’re around dogs in the workplace, but they also become better workers. Research conducted at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant sought to build on studies that have already found "that dogs act as social catalysts, helping their owners forge intimate, long-term relationships with other people," by studying instead "if the mere presence of a canine in the office might make people collaborate more effectively." After the exercise in collaboration, which used dogs for some teams and none for control teams, volunteers were asked "how they felt about working with the other—human—members of the team." Teams with dogs "ranked their teammates more highly on measures of trust, team cohesion and intimacy than those [without dogs]."
2. Take a hands-on approach.
Employee wellness solutions company WellSteps suggests, among wellness activities any worksite can do, that onsite chair massages will help to soothe sore muscles for employees whether they sit "at a desk for 8 hours a day or [work] in construction for 8 hours a day." Either way, it points out, "Both types of employees are still working and the human body takes a lot of punishment from that work, whether they’re sitting or moving. A chair massage will provide employees with the relief they need to continue working and not go home early. Overall, chair massages will improve the long-term physical health of the employees as well."
3. Make an event out of it.
The Wellness Collective points out that holding a wellness event that’s open to family and friends, as well as employees, will have a greater impact than something that’s restricted to employees only. Whether sponsoring a local organization, participating with a team or even hosting an event, such as a 5K run, a health fair with exhibitors or even a fundraiser for an employee-chosen charity, a company that involves itself in the local community while including its employees in the effort can deliver a strong boost to morale.
4. Let there be light.
We’ve already been told that the blue light from smartphones and bedroom gadgets is bad for promoting sleep—which in turn affects wellness in a multitude of ways. But there’s also the question of what so many hours spent in artificial light during the workday can do to mental well-being and morale. And according to the Harvard Business Review, the number-one thing employees crave is—natural daylight. HR advisory firm Future Workplace found in a survey that "access to natural light and views of the outdoors are the number one attribute of the workplace environment, outranking stalwarts like onsite cafeterias, fitness centers, and premium perks including on-site childcare."
5. Be virtual with therapy.
Tech is moving in the direction of mental health, with The Guardian highlighting Psious, a VR and augmented reality technology company that’s helping businesses in Spain assist employees in working on "mental health and behavioral issues from phobias to anxiety disorders." Adds The Guardian, "VR technology previously only used by psychotherapists to treat clients is now being sold to corporate human resources departments." In addition, there are now apps based on cognitive behavioral therapy that can help employees with mood, goals, and work-life balance.
6. Be mindful of employees—and help them be mindful, too.
Mindfulness training might not seem like an obvious choice in boosting employee wellness, but according to Workforce.com, it can make a major difference in reducing stress—which, as research has shown, can be a major factor not just in eroding employee wellness but also a cause of stress-induced illnesses. The report tells of Team Horner Group, a pool-supply manufacturing and wholesale distribution company that has already been the recipient of the 2014 American Psychological Association’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace award for providing "yoga, meditation, financial and life coaching, and personal training at its in-house gym and exercise room, as well as a discounted massage program." Now it’s added mindfulness training to the mix, which, according to a UnitedHealthcare survey, has been reported by almost 90 percent of employees to have a positive impact on their overall health and well-being, with 41 percent indicating a significant impact.
7. Support your employees AND local farmers.
Another wellness recommendation from Wellsteps: recognize the value of being the means of providing employees with fresh, locally grown produce is highlighted. Giving employees access to community-supported agriculture (CSA) groups or fresh produce from farmers’ markets—even bringing it in house—that workers might not otherwise have access to, and perhaps even negotiating discounts with such groups, can go a long way not just to improving workers’ physical health but their morale as well. Particularly in cities, it can be difficult for employees to access produce other than that trucked in over vast distances to major supermarket chains. Giving them the opportunity to support local enterprises while partaking of fresh produce produced nearby can provide a morale boost that, say, a discount membership in a local chain would not.
8. Redesign of the workspace.
According to European CEO, office design should be something bosses—and architects—should consider as important not just to workers’ productivity, but also to their well-being—especially considering that the average person spends 90 percent of her time indoors. But Space, a Mexico-based architecture firm, is doing just that—and they’re not the only ones. The Conversation highlights such office factors as air filtered by green walls and design that promotes exercise (i.e., centrally located stairs) rather than a sedentary day as just a couple of the ways that an office’s design can have an impact on wellness.