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Surprising ways to inspire workplace wellness

Jennifer Kurth

If you’ve researched wellness programs, you’ve likely encountered much of the same advice. Employees are looking for a program that is easy to participate in – simple, flexible and convenient.

In my 13 years of human resources/training experience, I’ve uncovered some surprising additional ways to foster wellness in the workplace – some tied to a formal wellness program, and some less so. Nonetheless, these all contribute to your employees’ wellbeing and engagement.

What’s in the cafeteria

We take it for granted that vending machines will feature the usual assortment of snacks and candies. But have you taken stock of any healthier options that your employees might want? Work with your supplier to increase the number of healthy options in your vending areas, have it clearly labeled, and at eye level.

When you provide snacks that boost brainpower you not only help employees keep focus during the workday, but also encourage better eating outside of business hours.

If you serve food in meetings, or during lunch or after-hours work events, you might also switch up from the usual pizza option to something less heavy. Don’t forget about other healthy food opportunities in seasonal potlucks and celebrations. Encourage employees to bring healthy food to share with co-workers.

Your work environment

An employee’s workspace itself can be an enhancement to the employee’s day, or a distraction. Be mindful of workplace noise and encourage regular and appropriate breaks. Here are a few ways to foster an environment focused on wellness:

Offer a walking path or internal walking zone

At one of our offices, we have an established indoor walking path that many employees take advantage of each day. It is an easy and convenient way for our employees to get up and move during the day, or even to hold a “walking meeting” for a change of pace. If an indoor walking path is not feasible, outdoor areas can be used no matter where your employees may be located. Encourage employees to get out and move around during the day, even if it is only for a few minutes.

Offer a wellness room or sanity escape

Wellness rooms can be easy to incorporate when you have the space. Simply find a small space away from the hustle and bustle of the workday, then add warm lighting and a comfortable chair. Employees can use the space to relax for a bit and recharge. Employees who use such sanity escapes are often far more productive than employees who “get through” the workday with limited breaks.

Offer opportunities to stand during the day

Encouraging employees to be mindful of their sedentary time can be quite impactful. Sitting too much is associated with a variety of health problems and can be improved by simply taking time to stand throughout the day.

Stand-up desks are a great way to get employees up and out of their seat. If stand-up desks are not in the budget, try creating welcoming spaces in your office that employees can use while standing, such as a counter-height space with a docking station and monitor(s) to dock and work easily.

Create a workplace culture that is warm and welcoming

Employees want to work in a positive and rewarding atmosphere. Consider your workplace dress code, flexibility, work-life balance, activities and even recognition opportunities. Wellness accompanies all areas of workplace culture, which plays a big role.

Did you know that employees who are recognized in a variety of ways are more likely to stay engaged, motivated and more productive than employees who do not? How powerful is something so simple! Some examples that are easy to incorporate – write a handwritten thank you, say thank you by giving a small treat, sharing successes/accomplishments in meetings or have a wall of praise where peers can recognize peers. The opportunities are endless and do not have to cost much to show you care.

Creating a culture is something that doesn’t happen overnight, but with small changes is one that can make a big impact on your employees’ wellness and even something your customers will be able to notice or feel.

Mindfulness and mental health

Major companies like Salesforce talk about “ohana” as a deep-rooted support system in the company, delivering work and wellness results. But you don’t have to be the size of Salesfroce to instill simple mental health benefits for your employees.

Offer assistance through an EAP

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP’s) are helpful resources for employees and their dependents. EAP’s provide many resources, from offering confidentiality to discuss sensitive information in confidence, immediate assistance with 24-hour hotlines, to options for employees to discuss personal issues that could impact work performance. EAP’s can also benefit the employer.

Since employees have access to resources that can help in all areas, such as dealing with stress, it is shown to reduce absenteeism, correcting future problems before they happen, and can even save a trip to the doctor which then helps minimize costs with health insurance plans. As a result, a much happier and more productive workplace.

Provide for time off

Another impactful mental health benefit for employees is Paid Time Off (PTO). A study from the U.S. Travel Association’s Project Time Off found that 52 percent of American’s did not use all their vacation days in 2017. The study found that those employees who did not take advantage of their allotted PTO days were tired, overworked and had lower overall productivity rates.

Workplaces that value the importance of paid time off for employees and encourage time away, will see lower rates of calling in unexpectedly, higher workplace morale, higher productivity, and increased employee retention.

When it comes down to it, employees really value the flexibility that PTO provides. Employees feel empowered when they get to choose when to take paid time off. Having the option to disconnect from work is a welcomed reprieve from the daily grind, allowing the chance to rest, relax and recharge. This is a huge piece of workplace culture and overall employee wellness.

Work with a purpose

Today’s employees are looking for a sense of purpose in their work, something that makes their time away from home “worthwhile.” Many companies are lacking something as simple as a defined purpose or employee value proposition. Ask your employees if they know your purpose, promise and values. Or do you have a long mission statement that nobody can recite? Look for ways to install your company’s purpose, promise and values into daily work.

Implementing your program

Many businesses have some sort of wellness program or initiative started and that is great! Some businesses don’t and that is ok! Every business needs to start somewhere. 

Remember no wellness program is the same and each should be customized to fit your culture and employee needs. Any focus devoted to employee wellness is powerful, so pick areas that make a positive change. See how it goes and slowly add in more as your culture changes.

Small changes will make a big impact later down the line. Let employees know you care about them, not only at work but throughout the day, every day and most importantly have fun during the process!

Jennifer Kurth

About Jennifer Kurth

Jennifer Kurth is a training specialist with the Human Resources team at Bremer Bank. In this role since 2015, she helps leaders across the organization develop training, onboarding and coaching programs to help employees reach their full potential. Prior to joining Bremer, Jennifer spent over 9 years as a training coordinator with the former Eastwood Bank, where she focused on specific curriculum for tellers and also oversaw the company's tuition reimbursement program.  Jennifer has always held a passion for learning and helping people grow. She is best known at Bremer for finding creative ways to engage employees in learning and development activities. This passion dates back to her undergraduate coursework when she earned a Bachelor of Education in Elementary Education and Teaching from St. Cloud State University.  Outside the office, Jennifer is an active volunteer with both United Way of Olmsted County and Channel One Regional Food Bank. She also thrives on both travel and photography, with Hawaii remaining a favorite destination for her and her husband. They also enjoy spending time together as a family, with a young daughter at home. Jennifer also enjoys baking, hiking, camping, fishing and spending time outdoors.)

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