Corporate Wellness

Looking at the increasing obesity and sedentary lifestyle of  today’s population, the amount of time spent at work and taking into account the current lifestyle and workout hype, I think it is fair to say that physical activity and being healthy is crucial, not only for our physical health but also for our mental health. I personally believe that being active should be part of every day (working) life, and even though numerous big companies have already implemented corporate health programs such as yoga classes, massages or even indoor fitness centers, I sometimes get the impression that employees still somewhat feel guilty for going to the gym over lunch or leaving work on time to fit exercise in their busy schedules. I also feel like companies are often times making half-hearted attempts that in the end are more like an obligation rather than an integrated part of the company culture and are hence destined to fail or just fade out after a while. The most commonly used wellness benefit is a company paid gym membership, which to be honest, is often underused or not used at all.

Additionally, lot of discussion has been going on about millennials and how the perception of work/life balance has changed in the recent years. Generally speaking, gone are the days where people live to work and sacrifice their health as well as social life. New generations may put less emphasis on money and titles but value purpose and quality of life (I could be wrong…but this is what it seems like to me….and this is how I feel).

Now you may wonder what a company will win get out of all of this. You may also be afraid that employees will “waste” precious working hours at the gym or in the parc….and at the end of the day…you pay him/her to get work done and not to entertain them, right?

Looking at the current most serious health problems of today’s population may give you an idea of medical costs employers are facing:

  • high blood pressure
  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • tobacco consumption
  • stress
  • burn out or depression

Well let me show you only some of the benefits and why every company should have some sort of corporate wellness program:

What’s in it for your company?

  • healthier employees → less sick leave days → less medical expenditures
  • higher productivity
  • higher employee satisfaction
  • less turnover and more employee engagement/identification with the company
  • positive company image → attractive workplace

Now let me share some guidelines that a corporate wellness programs should follow because simply paying a gym membership or putting some apples in the kitchen will not do the job. Don’t get me wrong here, I am not telling you to spoil your employees with spa weekends or pay them a weekend getaway every month or have them spent half the day at the gym, I am talking about efficient, long term programs that result in a win win situation and actually motivate your employees to work hard, feel respected and appreciated and hence stay loyal to the company.

1.Practical, accessible and flexible

Due to a limited time frame, any activity offered by the employer needs to be practical and accessible for everyone. People want easily accessible and time saving options. So ideally activities should take place during lunch, right before or after work or be doable from home or simply be integrate in the daily working routine (such as walking meetings or standing desks). They moreover should be accessible to people of all ages, sizes and physical condition. Not everyone wants to be seen by their boss sweating in lycra leggings. There may be people that prefer doing their workout alone or away from the office, others might prefer to ride their bike to work or go swimming over lunch. Personal preferences should be taken into consideration.

2. Varied

When talking about corporate wellness we often automatically think about sports or a gym membership. Well think again! Corporate wellness is a very wide field with many different aspects. Sports and workout is clearly one of them, but the list is so much longer than that. While some love a classic workout, others may prefer going for a walk, playing an instrument, meditating, the list is endless. Programs and measures should hence imperatively vary and provide choices. Healthy meals or snacks (we all know about the mental effects of “bad” food), weekly massages or a casual dress code are other possibilities to improve your employees work life quality. Now let’s not forget mental health here. Coaching sessions and career consultations should be as much part of the program as physical activities.

3. Voluntary

Everything needs to be voluntary. Shockingly, I have come across companies that oblige their employees to part take in workout sessions. NO! Not only do I strongly believe in free choices over your body (and your life in general), I also believe that forcing something on someone is counter productive. Any measures, classes, programs and so on need to be taken up voluntarily. Remember how you felt when you were little and your parents obliged you to clean your room or do your homework? The moment things become obligatory, you just don’t want to do it. And at the end of the day, corporate wellness should be something everyone is looking forward to.

4. Integrative

Now this for me is probably the most important aspect: make your wellness program integrative, authentic and set an example!

It’s all nice and pretty to implement measures, pay your employees yearly gym membership at the most luxurious gym in town and so on. Some companies have incentives with prices such as spa weekends, or weekend getaways. This certainly is great, however, these are one shot measures and will most likely make your employee very happy, but will not do much in the long term for their overall health. It may create jealousy between colleagues, that is for sure. Personally and speaking from experience, if your wellness program is not part of the company culture…it is destined to fail and you might as well throw your money out the window. A wellness program needs to be AUTHENTIC and apply to all levels, ignoring hierarchy, starting with the CEO, who needs to set an example. When your employees see the CEO him/herself take the time to work out or go for a walk, they will feel less inhibited to do the same. From own experience I can tell you that employees feel guilty for taking the time for themselves or even to avoid  scheduling meetings over lunch (Which reminds me: avoid putting meetings over lunch at least on two days during the week, so your employees actually have the possibility to be active). Taking at least 30 minutes a days should be encouraged from the top level down and become a part of daily work, the norm and not the exception. From my own experience in the corporate world, I remember people (including myself) trying to sneak out over lunch, hoping no one would see you leave with your gym bag as everyone stayed glued over their laptops during lunch. I was even once told that not having a lunch break simply was a reality. Well, I don’t agree! You are in charge of how you organise your work and more importantly your health. Why should employees feel guilty for taking care of their health, improving their productivity and reducing potential sick leave days, being more productive after some fresh air and exercise?

Besides setting an example, the entire workplace should be health conscious and provide ergonomic chairs, fitness balls to sit, healthy snacks and encourage taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Some companies even created so called wellness or happiness managers. One such example is Draper Inc in Indianapolis. Pfizer (depending on the country) and ING, just to name a few, are also doing very well in that respect.

5. Technology

The market is currently booming with fitness and health apps. Use them, keep up with the times and make new technologies your asset. Most of them are free, easy to use and everyone can use them. It doesn’t come as a surprise that Richard Branson’s Virgin has created a very interesting app called Virgin Pulse.  This is a great app that provides competitions with colleagues and family and motivates users to be active. Check it out here.

I could go on and write about this topic for probably another ten pages. So much research has been done, so many great examples have been set and so many things can be done with generally little effort.

  • home working and flexible working hours
  • additional vacation days
  • an in-house personal trainer
  • standing desks or treadmill desks (find reviews of standing desks here)
  • in-house group classes such as stretching or posture correction
  • paid visits to a physiotherapist or chiropractor, etc.
  • healthy snacks
  • relax zones
  • green office spaces/plants
  • massages
  • group insurance
  • casual dress code
  • coaching workshops (smoking cessation, personal development, anxiety, time management, healthy cooking, etc.) → some of these can even be done as a team building activity
  • walking meetings / starting a meeting with some stretches



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