5 Simple Ways to Promote Wellness at Work

July 12, 2017

As an employer, you have a vested interest in your employees’ health. Not just because you work with them every day and care about them as people, but because healthy employees come to work more often, are more productive, and less stressed. Highly stressed employees, on the other hand, take almost twice as many sick days per year.

Many people want to make healthier lifestyle decisions, but don’t have time to do the research to separate fact from fad. It’s especially tricky now that we have information coming to us in all formats—TV shows, websites, and blogs, to name just a few.

No shortcuts to healthy living

Health recommendations must be properly studied, vetted, and proven through peer-reviewed research. If an information outlet is trying to churn out content like crazy, it’s a safe bet that there probably isn’t a lot of care for the consumers behind it. What’s more, there aren’t any easy shortcuts to health. Healthy minds and bodies require dedication, patience, and hard work—not to mention good nutrition, stress relief, and, yes, a little bit of exercise.

Combating bad advice with high-quality workplace wellness

Because employees are bombarded by bad advice outside the office, it’s essential to deliver evidence-based, peer-reviewed advice—as well as support—in workplace wellness programs. The secret to healthy living isn’t in extreme new trends, but in mastering the tried-and-true basics of physical and mental health—and by creating healthy habits that become daily routines.

Here are five science-backed health practices that are proven to improve health along with a few suggestions of how to promote them around your office.

Wellness habit 1: Eat whole foods.

Why it’s important:

When researchers at the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center compared the most popular diets today (e.g., vegan, Paleo, low-carb, etc.), they found that the most beneficial diets are simply those that emphasize eating whole grains, healthy proteins, and fats, and lots and lots of—you guessed it—fresh veggies. The consensus is that processed foods—from white bread to fast food to TV dinners—should be avoided.

What you can do:

The most obvious option here is to choose workplace snacks thoughtfully. Swap out chips and candy for fruits, veggies, and nuts. But if you’re afraid that eliminating unhealthy snacks altogether will inspire revolt amongst your employees, there are other options! Make sure healthy items are placed in prominent locations at eye level so they become the easier choice for employees to make without thinking about it. And whenever possible, swap out self-service options for pre-packaged portions. When Google did this they reduced the average employee’s single serving size of M&Ms by 58%!

Wellness habit 2: Drink water.

Why it’s important:

Hydration is very important for the body: It gives you energy, supports your joints, aids in digestion, and helps prevent overeating, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because soda and energy drinks are extremely unhealthy, switching to water is a key step in improving physical health.

What you can do:

Make sure you have plenty of hydration stations where employees can fill up. You can make it a little more enticing by offering cucumber, lemon, strawberries, and mint (and whatever else sounds good) so employees can make their own “spa water.” Another approach is to create high-quality company-branded water bottles and distribute them to all employees. Never underestimate the power of free swag!

Wellness habit 3: Get plenty of rest.

Why it’s important:

Lack of sleep isn’t doing the body any favors, and it can actually sabotage diet and exercise routines. A recent Harvard University study found that chronic sleep loss can actually contribute to weight gain, increased blood pressure, and a weakened immune system—all of which can translate to more sick days and stressed employees.

What you can do:

This one’s a little tricky since it takes place outside of work hours, but there are a few approaches. You could take inspiration from France and ban work-related emails after 6pm. Or at least set the expectation that employees only need to respond to work emails during regular working hours. Another option is to create—and adhere to—a time-off policy that doesn’t penalize employees for taking time off when they need it, no questions asked. This will help ensure your employees aren’t losing sleep (literally) if they need to take a day or two to tend to their physical or mental health.

Wellness habit 4: Balance diet with exercise.

Why it’s important:

When it comes to losing weight, Americans tend to overestimate the value of exercise and underestimate the value of healthy eating. But a healthy lifestyle begins in the kitchen. A 2014 study by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that exercise alone wasn’t enough to lose weight and keep it off. For best results, diet and exercise must work together.

And don’t assume you have to run a marathon or join a sexy gym to get some physical activity in. Basic movement is the best medicine—simply taking short walks five times a week can lower your risk of stroke and heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.

What you can do:

It’s probably a good idea to check in with your employees first to see which type of exercise they’re most interested in, but here are a few ideas to get you going. Invite an instructor to your office for onsite yoga or tai chi classes. Start a walking or running club. Or begin a tradition like “two fit-teen” where employees take a short break to do a quick dance or stretching routine. Have fun with it!

Wellness habit 5: Don’t neglect mental health.

Why it’s important:

Mental health is just as important as physical health. Unfortunately, a stigma still surrounds mental health issues, according to the World Psychiatric Association. Stress, obesity, and poor habits can exacerbate problems with mental health.

What you can do:

Give your employees access to resources and support so they can seek the help they might need to address their mental health issues. Make sure that everyone knows about the resources you have available.

Final thoughts

As an employer, you have to fight the tide of bad advice by providing employees with science-backed information. A group of happy, healthy employees will create a better work environment for you—and a better life for them beyond work. If you’re already using a wellness program or considering one, look at how success is defined in the program. Make sure that they’re taking a scientific approach to their offering and not just following the latest fads.

Have any tips on promoting wellness at work? Leave us a note in the comments section to let us know!

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