Walker Cole, MPH, NBC-HWC
Senior Health Advisor & Recruitment Manager
Time: 6 min
With the average full-time employee in America spending 47 hours per week at work, and the cost of healthcare ever increasing, it’s no surprise that 53% of organizations want to create a culture that promotes health and wellness. Additionally, 60% of organizations offer wellness programs for employees. 62% give wellness tips or information at least quarterly in the form of a newsletter, e-mail, column, or tweets (SHRM). Efficiency and productivity can be subjective, but one thing is for sure: a physically and mentally healthy employee is a productive, efficient, and lower cost employee. What is surprising is that with an average of $742 per employee per year invested in these efforts, chronic disease rates and healthcare costs continue to rise.
Working with Pack Health has provided me with first hand insight into an individual’s personal health journey, including how work plays a role in that journey. Today, I want to share a few of the lessons I’ve learned from working with members in a range of working environments. I’ll also be providing a few insights from HR coordinator Katie Vaughn on how to bring these strategies to life.
My aim is to break down some best practices for worker health and productivity in the same way we break down “tiny steps” for our members. I’ll be translating these practices into actionable recommendations employers can implement today for meaningful results down the line.
Prioritizing the Employee Voice
Employees are the most valuable asset – they’re your target audience and your ears on the ground. Employee wellness is similar to community health. It’s almost impossible to accurately capture the voice of the community and effectively gain support without getting their input.
One great way to do this is creating a small committee comprised of individuals from multiple departments. This group can serve as a focus group for brainstorming and even implementing your wellness program. This gives participants and departments a sense of ownership and representation in the process. Identifying and nurturing champions to mobilize on behalf of participants can be a huge asset when implementing new employee wellness programs.
At Pack Health, we call this group the “Culture-vators,” and they meet monthly to plan out mission-aligned company culture events. They also provide an outlet for their peers to voice their concerns to HR as needed. Katie says that meeting regularly and keeping the frequency of events consistent is key. “Making sure we always have a welcome breakfast for new employees, a monthly birthday celebration, and a monthly event is essential to foster and sustain our healthy and collaborative culture.”
Gaining Employee Insights
To complement the efforts of your wellness champions, Katie also recommends developing a survey to send to the entire company. While a committee can give you specific suggestions and allow various individuals to be heard, an anonymous survey has broader reach across your audience.
At Pack Health, we use a bot on the communication platform Slack to foster quick communication to and from employees. “Leo offers anonymity, lets employees answer on their own time, and helps us track eNPS, engagement, employee wellness, and other common stats HR leaders follow within an office,” explains Katie. “The HR team at Pack Health always has an open-door policy. However, Leo’s platform supplements that by allowing us to create a space for anonymous feedback on a consistent basis. Then, we can use targeted outreach to guide the development of every initiative we roll out.”
This type of strategy can also help employers explore what employees might specifically request in a wellness program. This includes which resources employees are finding useful or resources the company might acquire to help promote a healthier team.
Flexible Schedules, Fixed Goals
Working as a Health Advisor, I communicate with members on a daily basis. I have a strong basis for how working conditions can be barriers to health goals. One barrier I hear frequently from my members is strict schedule enforcement, such as limited breaks or short lunches. The goal of these policies, no doubt, is productivity. However, evidence suggests the frequent short breaks of a more flexible work environment lead to higher productivity and happier employees.
“Productivity is about how much impact you have, not how long your butt is in your seat,” notes Katie. “As a company, we understand each employee needs to work and sustain their personal life. So, we built our time off and work from home policies to reflect that.”
Not only does research support flex working as promoting productivity, but longer working hours has been linked to possibly increasing risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions. Flexible working also allows employees to practice self-care throughout the day without necessarily leaving the office. This can include walking, taking a short meditation, or even just chatting with their neighbor, while getting their work done. It may seem counterintuitive, but creating a more flexible environment could lead to better efficiency through collaborative office interaction and improved mental health.
Active Body, Active Mind
Americans spend approximately 90% of their time indoors, with approximately a third of their total day spent at work. Research has documented that spending time outside can restore focus and boost energy. Encouraging walking meetings or walking groups promotes activity and a sense of community, while still maximizing productivity. Physical activity during meetings also increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain, which has been shown to improve brain performance.
“This April, we organized a Wellness Challenge,” reflects Katie. “We mixed up employees from various departments into four teams. We then asked the teams to participate in a walking photo hunt, provide a collaborative healthy snack for the office, attend our monthly office yoga as a team, and participate in a ‘Field Day’. What we found was that it not only gave employees stress relief, but also fostered interdepartmental communication and collaboration.”
It’s worth noting that the social support and collaboration among employees fostered by these initiatives are beneficial not only to company culture, but to employees health. A 75 year study from Harvard assessing the physical and emotional wellbeing of over 700 participants found that having positive relationships keep individuals happier and healthier.
These are a just few strategies and examples to get your wheels turning. Intentional wellness programming and creating a healthy work culture is an ongoing effort. At Pack Health, we recommend taking it one step at a time. Just like personal health goals, those steps add up. Focus on the goal, and creating a place where employees take care of business while also taking care of themselves. That way, employees leave each day with the mentality that their company is working for them, not just making them work.