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Make Your Employee Wellness Program Effective

How can you make your employee wellness program effective?

Last week we talked about ways to measure the effectiveness, but we need to know the components of effectiveness as well.

Understanding Employee Needs & Goals

First and foremost, you must understand your employees’ needs and goals in order to create a program that caters to them. Regardless of whether your goals are to reduce healthcare costs, decrease absenteeism, or something else, the program must result in changes in employee behaviors and health to achieve those other goals. Understanding employee needs provides direction for your program design. What health issues do your employees struggle with? What obstacles prevent them from reaching their health goals? Where is there room for improvement in daily habits? Gather this information and build your program around it.

Participation

If your employees can’t or don’t want to participate in your wellness program, it can’t be effective. You can’t reap the benefits without participating.

You’ve taken care of step 1 if you’ve designed a program around employee needs because Step 1 is to get employees to want to participate. The programming must appeal to them.

But wanting to participate is very different from being able to participate. If workloads are out of control, employees feel pressured to skip their breaks, or are generally overwhelmed and burned out, they will not participate. Part of planning your program is to make sure employees can actually participate in it.

Another component of the ability to participate is the inclusivity of the program. Not all employees may be able to participate or feel comfortable participating in certain activities. Take those needs into account so you can offer alternatives.

Follow Through

Just as you need to make participation in the program feasible, you need to make follow through on program action items as feasible as you can as well. This could mean the provision of tangibles, such a fitness trackers or food journals. It could also mean encouraging breaks or better managing workloads. Or it could mean new initiatives, like an employee walking group. Remember, because of the tremendous impact work has on our lives (we easily spend up to 30% of our time at work), the onus cannot fall solely on employees to make healthful changes.

Assess and Reassess Regularly to Make Your Employee Wellness Program Effective

Waiting until the conclusion of an employee wellness initiative to find out that it wasn’t helpful is useless. Instead, check in regularly on the effectiveness of your program so you can course correct before it’s too late.

There are many components that contribute to your ability to make your employee wellness program effective. But if you are organized, methodical, and take these factors into account, you will be able to create a more effective program.

women performing yoga on green grass near trees

Make an Effective Employee Wellness Program with Data

You can ensure you have an effective employee wellness program through careful planning and data tracking. As every manager knows (or should know) data collection is critical to gauging the success of an initiative.

When it comes to collecting and analyzing data on the success of your employee wellness program, however, things get tricky. Privacy and discrimination concerns make it challenging to collect certain information from employees. It can also create a very toxic and unhealthy workplace to collect certain information, such as employee weight for a weight loss challenge (which I never recommend doing to begin with).

So how can you measure the success of your program?

Determining What Metrics to Use

Before you start data collecting, you must get clear on the goals of your program and which metrics measure progress towards those goals. This means you need to have a good understanding of your workforce – their pain points, what they need support with. You also must understand your overall organizational goals – cost savings, employee retention, productivity, etc. To be effective, your program must be structured around those targets on both the employer and employee sides. From there the question is which data will indicate progress towards those targets.

As an example, say you want to implement an effective employee wellness program focused on stress management to decrease employee burnout. We know that symptoms of burnout include decreased productivity, increased interpersonal conflict, absenteeism, and presenteeism. Knowing that, after several months of the program, you could check your production numbers and check in with your HR department to see what their data looks like for absences, employee conflicts, etc.

Of note, when it comes to wellness programs, many of the measures are less tangible. For example, employee morale could be an indicator of the success of a program but it’s difficult to measure. I recommend taking these less tangible measures into account; but keep in mind that your perception of them may be influenced by outside factors.

It is always a good idea to consult with legal counsel whenever it’s possible that data collection could breach privacy.

Once you select your metrics, you must establish realistic goals and establish a schedule to assess those metrics.

From here, the question is, how to collect the data you need.

How to Collect Your Data

One way is to just allow your employees to track their own progress. This means they also have to set their own goals as well. It is great if the company offers a way for employees to track, but technological solutions often entail privacy concerns. In that case, offering something such as my Empowered Eating Journal to employees could be a simple solution. This journal allows users to set goals, track their daily habits and progress, and continually reassess and re-strategize. I would consider this a hands-off approach.

Another way to track is to look for trends in your company’s health insurance costs. I would consider this a lagging indicator, however, so you will want to review it over the course of a longer span of time. It’s also not necessarily reflective of actual changes employees have made. But if one of the goals of your program is to decrease those costs, then this is definitely a metric to look at.

A third way to assess the success of your wellness program is to poll your employees. I strongly recommend keeping responses anonymous and avoid asking for specifics. (Again, consult with the proper counsel for privacy concerns). This could look like polls conducted at the close of each session to gauge interest, usefulness, etc. This could also be a quarterly poll assessing whether the program has been impactful thus far. Or it could be just a once a year assessment.

Ideally, you can work collaboratively with your provider to determine program goals, metrics, data collection, and assessment strategies.

Is this approach for everyone?

Creating a structured program around your goals which allows employees to set their own goals can be more effective than piecemeal style programs. However, that is not to say that there is no benefit to be derived from these more freestyle programs – they absolutely can offer some benefits to employees. In fact, if you have a wide range of employee needs, a more varied program may offer benefits to more employees than a narrowly targeted and structured program. However, if you have specific organizational goals for your program, then it’s worth dedicating the time for structuring and assessing.

women having exercise using dumbbells

Add virtual fitness classes to your employee wellness program

Virtual fitness classes are a winning addition to any employee wellness program for a number of reasons. In fact, it’s predicted that employers will be adding more virtual fitness classes to their programs this year. Read on for some reasons you should consider incorporating these classes into your programs.

Virtual Fitness Classes are Convenient

Who wants to get sweaty right in the middle of their workday and then go back to their desk? Most people probably don’t. Providing a workout opportunity to folks while they’re working remotely is much more convenient as they don’t have to worry about being in the office and they are able to hop in the shower afterwards.

They Make Movement Easier

We all know that we shouldn’t sit for too long and should take breaks to move around. However, this can be very challenging when we are left to our own devices. Offering a structured opportunity for movement makes it more likely that employees will take a break from sitting.

Virtual Classes Take the Pressure Off

The thought of participating in structured physical activity with co-workers can intimidate a lot of folks. And doing that activity in fitness clothes makes it that much more daunting. Participating from a location away from co-workers and also being able to turn off the camera may make folks more likely to participate. This also puts folks at ease in terms of going at their own pace and choosing different variations for each exercise based on their level.

They’re Adaptable for Hybrid Teams

If you have a hybrid team, you can provide a fitness class for folks on and off site very simply thanks to technology. This could look like gathering on-site employees into a common space to participate in a virtual class with the remote team or it could be on-site folks taking a live class that is streamed to the remote team.

Affordability

Virtual fitness classes often cost less than other on-site activities.

I’ve had a lot of fun teaching virtual fitness classes to employees over the last several years. I’ve taught teams who all have their cameras off and I’ve also had teams that chit chat the whole time and sing along with the playlist. Either way, I love doing it and it’s been a fantastic benefit to the teams I’ve worked with.

View my virtual fitness class offerings here

women performing yoga on green grass near trees

Engage remote workers with wellness programs

As the pandemic shifted our workplace paradigm to include working from home, many managers have been left asking how to engage remote workers.

Indeed, many employers are struggling with employee engagement in a remote world. Solutions to this issue require some creativity and commitment but it can be done. Incorporating an employee wellness program can be a great way to kill two birds with one stone: offer a new enticing benefit and use it as a way to engage remote workers.

Here are some ways you can use your employee wellness programs as a tool to engage or re-engage your remote team.

Engage remote workers by making your wellness programming a group activity.

For example, hold a virtual healthy cooking class where employees can prep the food along with the host and include time for socializing while folks enjoy their final products.

Theme your virtual fitness classes.

Encourage participants to turn on their cameras, dress to the theme, and have fun with it. Maybe the soundtrack could be all contributions from the team.

Involve your workforce in the planning process.

Engage remote workers by asking them what types of programs would meet their needs. Then use those suggestions in planning your programs. Alternatively, create an employee wellness committee that meets regularly to plan out programming.

Keep programs as interactive as possible.

No one wants to sit and listen to someone talk on Zoom for 50 minutes or even 30 minutes for that matter! Work with your wellness program provider to make sure that there are interactive components like break out rooms, polls, games, and group activities included in their sessions. The more opportunities to hear from and interact with their colleagues the better!

Add a special touch.

Provide yoga mats, wooden utensils with your company logo, or another small gift as a reminder of the community you and your employees belong to. Check out my friend Gail Zona for some great, handmade, personalized corporate gifts.

Solicit feedback from employees after each session.

This can reassure employees that you want to make sure the programs are supportive to them. It follows, then, that their feedback should then be taken into account in the future.

Make participation feasible and desirable.

Low turnout is a very common issue reported by employers regarding their wellness programs. And an empty wellness program doesn’t help engagement very much. It’s important that employees understand the value of the program and are actually able to participate in it. So clearly communicate how the wellness programs will support your remote workers’ specific needs and ensure they have the time and opportunity to join in.

Avoid activities that could be exclusionary.

For example, virtual wine pairings could leave some team members out but maybe a virtual mocktail/cocktail class could work. Exercise challenges also tend to be an exclusionary program. Aim for variety in your offerings so there is something for everyone. 

group of people watching on laptop

Fixing low turnout for your employee wellness program

One of the objections to employee wellness programs that I frequently hear is previously they experienced low turnout.

As a wellness program provider, I have heard this several times from businesses of different sizes and across different industries. Getting solid participation in employee wellness programs can be a challenge. And creating incentive to participate without crossing over into coercion can be equally challenging. 

So what is an employer to do to increase low turnout?

The first step is to really be in touch with your workforce.

  1. Survey your workforce to determine which wellness topics and program types appeal to them the most.
  2. Pay attention to workloads and deadlines. You can have the greatest program lined up, but if employees don’t feel they can attend because of deadlines or an overwhelming workload, they won’t make it. You need to be strategic about the timing of your programs and/or find ways to make it easier for staff to attend. 
  3. Don’t forget about the quiet ones. There tends to be a group of frequent flyers in every office – the outgoing, more gregarious employees who live to participate in group activities. How can you reach out to the quieter, less outgoing staff members to encourage them to join in? This could mean personal invitations, different types of events where the social pressure isn’t so high, or asking them specifically what they are looking for. 
  4. Aim for more variety in your offerings. There are many reasons why folks opt out of participating in wellness programs. For example, a healthy eating seminar could be triggering for a staff member who is in recovery from an eating disorder. A group fitness classes may be intimidating to staffers with diverse bodies or abilities. Offering variety ensures you’re not alienating subpopulations of staffers from an entire series. 

Offer incentives to participate

But be sure those incentives don’t turn into penalties for not participating.

  1. One type of incentive is to simply make it easy for staff to attend. This could be blocking off time on the calendar for everyone to avoid meeting conflicts, frequent reminders of the program, making a live and a virtual option available, to name a few.
  2. You could offer small prizes for participation, like entry into a raffle or small gifts like a yoga mat. Keeping it small is ket not just for your budget but for also ensuring participation is still optional.
  3. Avoid the participation challenge approach where the more events attended increases an employee’s odds of winning. This approach can expose disparities in the workplace, engendering resentment among staff (ex. Why is his workload so light?). It can also alienate certain staff members if not enough variety is offered.
  4. Do not make participation mandatory. Sure this is a great way to get your attendance numbers up, but folks may not get much out of the program and you also run the risk of unwittingly doing harm to staff members who would otherwise have not participated for personal reasons (see point 4 above). 

Keep in mind there are a number of reasons for historically low turnout and many have nothing to do with the program itself. Rather than giving up on offering something of value to employees, troubleshoot the situation and seek out creative solutions.

people raising their hands

How to make your employee wellness program more inclusive

How can you make your employee wellness program more inclusive?

Over the years, I’ve heard some upsetting stories about workplace wellness programs – from cultural foods being dismissed as unhealthy to stigmatizing weight loss challenges, from culturally insensitive remarks to employees being pushed, pulled, and prodded to explain why they don’t want to participate.

While there are plenty of good intentions out there, we can’t overlook the fact that the wellness industry has an exclusivity problem. And, if we’re being honest, the American workplace does, too. If employees feel uncomfortable, singled out, or stressed out by a company wellness program, then that program is harming their wellness rather than helping it.

Here are some tips to help make your employee wellness program more inclusive:

  • Consider your workforce’s cultural and ethnic composition. Many nutrition programs take a white-centric approach and mistakenly assume all cultural foods are unhealthy. Not only is this untrue, it is also stigmatizing to have a nutrition professional dismiss an entire culture’s foods. Employees should not feel self-conscious bringing their cultural foods into work for lunch.
  • Consider your workforce’s overall socioeconomic status. If a company’s wages are relatively low, advising its employees to “shop the perimeter” of the grocery store (ie. only buy fresh produce and meats) is not particularly helpful since it may be economically unfeasible. Your wellness program must propose accessible solutions to your employees to be helpful.
  • Avoid weight loss challenges. These challenges are incredibly stigmatizing to employees in larger bodies, making the workplace an uncomfortable and sometimes hostile place. These may also be triggering to employees with a history of eating disorders and disordered eating. Finally, the data shows these challenges are completely ineffective as employees don’t make lasting healthful changes. So why risk harming the well-being of some staffers?
  • Incentivizing participation is great, but keep in mind that employees may have their own personal reasons for not participating that they are not obligated to disclose to you. For example, an employee in eating disorder recovery may choose not to participate in a healthy cooking class that discusses calorie counting. An employee with a larger body may feel too self-conscious to participate in a fitness class. Participating in certain activities may be considered inappropriate in some employees’ culture. The workplace needs to be a safe space where employees feel free to choose whether to participate in activities based on the reasons important to them.

Your HR department should be heavily involved in planning your wellness programs to help ensure company demographics are considered. Be sure to share a company profile with your prospective wellness program providers including that workforce composition information and ask them what they propose in light of that information. You could also request to see examples of their previous programming for other companies to get an idea of whether they are appropriate for your workforce.

group of people wearing blue and red shirts
Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com
woman sitting in front of macbook

Employee Stress: How You Can Help During the Holidays

Discussions about employee stress often focus on what the individual can do to help themself, but have you thought about how you can help your employees manage their holiday stress?

Chronically high stress is a key ingredient in the recipe for burnout. As such, it’s important for managers to recognize the signs and the areas where there is the possibility for them to contribute to or subtract from that stress. 

Here are some simple, yet powerful ways you can start doing that.

Assisting with Employee Stress Management

  • Check in with employees regularly. You should have a good idea of their workload and their stress levels. Check in with them to see how they’re doing and look for nonverbal cues.
  • Redistribute tasks as necessary. Following from tip # 1, if workloads are too heavy for some, redistribute as is appropriate and doable. Also, help employees prioritize. Some things may need to be back-burned for the time-being and you need to communicate that it is OK when that happens.
  • Infuse some fun into the season. I don’t mean the obligatory office “fun” folks roll their eyes at. Seek out the activities and events employees actually enjoy and host those, whether it’s a Secret Snowflake gift exchange, a surprise lunch on the company dime, or in-office chair massage. 
  • Foster an environment that prioritizes mental health. Encourage employees to take their lunch break. Don’t “ding” employees for using PTO. Ask them about how they’re doing and show genuine interest in their responses. Remind them of the resources they have available to support them, such as EAPs. And model work-life balance to them through your own actions and choices.
  • Give staff some liberty in how they work. Gone are the days when seats had to be kept warm until 5 pm. Employees want flexibility and trust and they aren’t tolerating micromanaging. It’s important for management to be open to different ways of achieving the same goals and tasks. Being able to work from home and get the work done when it works best for them can go a really long way towards keeping stress at bay.

As I’ve said before, employee burnout doesn’t happen in a vacuum and it’s critical for management to step in to avoid it as well.

woman seated at computer

About Your Work From Home Space…

What does your work from home space look like? One of the most common issues that I hear from employees now working from home is that they very often feel like they’re living at work rather than working from home. This can significantly impact their stress levels in negative ways, leading to burnout and even physical ailments. Luckily, there is something you can do today to start to improve this situation.

Work Space vs Living Space

I’m sure you are familiar with the saying “your home is your castle.” Home is supposed to be your safe space, the place where you relax, recover, unwind. But when we are working in those living spaces, they lose that relaxing feel.

Ideally, you should have a workspace that is separate from your living space and the two do not cross. However, this is not possible for many of us, in which case, we need to get a little creative to separate the two.

The Bedroom is not a Work from Home Space

First and foremost, your workspace should not be your bedroom. If your home is your castle, then your bedroom is the keep – the strongest most protected part. This is your most important rest space. When you start working in your bedroom, or worse, in your bed, you stop associating that space with rest and start associating it with work and all of the stress and anxiety that may go with it. This translates into poor sleep, low energy, higher stress levels, and more. Once that association is created, it’s difficult to change it back.

Working in Your Living Space

Crossing the bedroom off your list may leave you with your kitchen, dining room, or living room as your shared work and living space. In this situation, you can set the scene for your work day versus your non-work hours in order to create some separation.

Setting Up Your Work from Home Space

When it is time for you to work, set that space up to resemble work. Set all your work materials up nearby. If you have some things from your desk in the office, like a certain mug full of pens, setting those out is helpful. Next, remove as many distractions unique to your home as you can (by turning off the TV, for example). Finally, try to create a work routine. This could mean getting up at the same time every day, actually preparing a lunch for yourself for later, or setting a schedule for checking email, etc. Taking these steps will help mimic a routine workday at the office and put you in a work mindset, making you more focused and productive.

Setting Up Your Living Space

Once your work day is up, it’s time to convert that work space back to a living space. Put away everything that you used to create your working space in the morning. As long as those items are in view, you will find it more difficult to “switch off.” Plus, if your laptop is away, it will be a lot harder to answer emails at 8 pm! If possible, replace some of those work items with “homie” items – whether they be scented candles, family pictures, etc. Creating a routine can play an important role here as well. Set a hard stop time at the end of the day and create a ritual to mark the transition from work time to home time. For example, take a walk around the block every day at the end of the day to mimic your old home commute. Taking each of these steps will help transition you back into your home mindset so you will be better able to relax, switch off, and unwind.

Many of us have found working from home far more stressful and challenging then we could have imagined. While this may be our reality for a while, there are, fortunately, little tricks we can use to help mitigate that stress.

Since work from home is our new normal, many employers have started offering wellness webinars to support their employees from home. Be sure to check out Well & Simple’s employee wellness offerings to help support your workforce!

The Case against Employee “Wellness” Challenges

Employee wellness challenges are very popular corporate programs – from walking challenges to weight loss challenges. But these challenges actually come with a number of issues which can make them more of a problem than a solution.

1. Change is temporary

One of the big drawbacks of these challenges is that they are not effective in creating any lasting changes in employee behaviors. Typically, employees will engage in a given healthy behavior for the duration of the challenge but fall off as soon as it’s over (if they make it that far). This is because the challenge prize is an extrinsic motivator rather than an intrinsic motivator. Extrinsic motivators are simply not as potent as internally-driven motivators. If one of the goals of your wellness program is to change employee behaviors in the long-term in meaningful ways that will improve their health, challenges will not achieve that.

2. Workplace wellness challenges don’t teach skills and strategies

Another reason why change does not last following these challenges is that they don’t provide employees with the skills and tools they need to implement the challenge objectives in a meaningful way. Instead, left to their own devices, employees will find a strategy that works for the time being, typically forcing the habit. Strategies are hodge-podge and not sustainable rather than accounting their day-to-day reality in the long-term. A more effective way to impact employee health is to focus on habit-building programs.

3. Challenges can be triggering and stigmatizing

For someone struggling with or in recovery from an eating disorder or disordered eating, weight loss and fitness challenges can be triggering for them. This puts their recovery in jeopardy and can result in their sliding back into disordered behaviors. These challenges are also inherently fatphobic, equating weight with health and overlooking the fact that there is more to someone’s weight than eating and exercise habits. Employees in larger bodies may feel singled out or unduly pressured in the course of these challenges. Indeed, according to Aubrey Gordon, weight-focused programs in particular may compound inequities amongst employees. If you want to foster a safe, inclusive work environment, then it is best to avoid these wellness challenges.

4. Success tactics may not be healthy

When there is the promise of a prize and the challenge is short-term, some employees may resort to tactics that are not healthful for the sake of winning. Obviously, employing unhealthy tactics undermines the intent of the challenge and can create other issues for employee health. So is it worth the risk? (The answer is “no).

So what should you offer if employee wellness programs aren’t effective?

An effective employee wellness program must take into account the unique needs of your staff. When is your most difficult season? What are their major stressors? What are their biggest health concerns (if you know of any)? It must be educational as well as practical and motivational. It should teach appropriate skills and strategies and leave employees with doable action items. There should also be some variety in the program to appeal to different learning styles: some webinars, some demonstrations, some interactive and hands-on options. Above all, your employees need to feel that it is a program that truly has their best interests at heart.

Be sure to check out Well & Simple’s comprehensive employee wellness offerings

Deskercise!

This week, I’m happy to bring you a guest post from Concept Seating. We are a very sedentary society and that lifestyle takes its toll on our bodies and our health. Health risks of sitting too much include neck and spinal issues, muscle tightness, obesity, and metabolic syndrome, which includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol levels, and excess body fat around the waist. These translate into conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Many of us think that our half hour on the treadmill in the morning means that sitting at work for the rest of the day doesn’t matter, but that simply isn’t enough.

For many of us, the modern work environment leaves us little option than to sit most of the day, so it’s important to try to counteract those effects as much as possible throughout the day. How? Well, getting up and taking regular walking breaks is one way – try setting a reminder to get up and walk around your floor or the building every half hour or hour (some fitness trackers do this for you by buzzing every so often). As an added bonus, taking these breaks can improve your focus and thinking when you get back to your desk. Stretching is also critical to counteracting the muscle contractions that happens from hunching in front of a computer screen for hours on end.  The following exercises from Concept Seating give you a great combination of stretching and strengthening that you can do at your desk at any time of the day.  They help improve your posture, loosen up those shrunken muscles from hunching, and get you moving. Give them a try and let us know what you think!

Deskercise

Infographic courtesy of Concept Seating

 

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