Career Corner: Workplace wellness
In a nutshell, workplace wellness refers to the programmes, policies and benefits that are designed for employees to facilitate healthy behaviour in the workplace. Despite its importance, organizational wellness is sometimes an overlooked part of the HR function. When managed effectively however, it can contribute to factors like minimizing employee burnout, reducing absenteeism, lowering medical expenses and facilitating increased productivity.
A few years ago, I was charged with spearheading my organizations wellness initiative. In addition to managing the gym membership benefit, I also hosted a “Wellness Week” for employees. As part of the activities, the HR team contracted different providers to offer services like:
- Massages for employees… in doing so, meeting rooms were converted to “mini-spas” and employees booked sessions to receive a massage on site.
- Yoga classes…for this activity, a section of the workplace was transformed to a “yoga studio” and an instructor carried employees through the rudiments of different yoga practices and techniques.
- On site cooking classes… for this activity, a chef prepared meals and taught employees about healthy meal options.
At the time the initiative was well received and “wellness week” was a success. Workplace wellness is not just a week-long activity however, but instead must be an ongoing exercise. If your organization does not yet have a wellness programme in place or would like to boost its existing programme- here are some things to consider, in addition to the activities mentioned above:
- Adjustable desks. Employees should be provided with height adjustable desks so they may move between sit and stand positions during the work day, as sitting for long periods can impact one’s health.
- Walking Meetings. Consider implementing walking meetings. If you have one-on-one meetings with a colleague, instead of sitting indoors to have your meeting, consider talking while walking. Employees will benefit from being outdoors, getting light exercise while walking and enjoying mental clarity which is an accompanying benefit to walking.
- Personalize the wellness benefit. Typically, organizations provide gym membership for employees as part of the wellness benefit, but not all employees want to go the gym. Organizations should therefore adjust the benefit to meet different employee interests- for some employees, that may be taking a dance class, joining a karate club, cycling on weekends or playing tennis. Gym membership is good (see below)- but the benefit to employees should be flexible enough to accommodate any kind of physical activity.
- Discounted gym membership should be provided for employees who wish to utilize this option. Alternatively, onsite exercise classes should be provided. On site classes (during the lunch hour, or after work) can be particularly beneficial as it allows employees to engage in exercise and then return to their office to complete tasks if they need to (instead of going off site and being caught in traffic trying to return to work).
- Fruit instead of cake. It is often customary to celebrate achievements and milestones in the office, instead of celebrating with cake and sweets is customary, treat employees to fruits and healthy snacks- at the very least provide both.
- Lactation Rooms. Some aspects of the organization’s wellness initiative should facilitate working mothers, and accommodation should be made to provide a private area for women to pump/ express milk at work when they need to.
It must be noted that along with physical wellness- emotional, mental and environmental wellness are also important components of workplace wellness programmes. Organizations must also take into account factors such as air temperature in the office and ensuring their buildings have good air quality. Natural lighting and light at work stations is also a significant part of employee wellness, along with noise control. When properly addressed, all these factors combined can contribute to healthy workplaces and productive employees.
Malaika T. Edwards, PhD is a Human Resources consultant and provides advisory services to individuals and business clients. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/malaika-edwards