Rise and Shine: Promoting Wellness in the Workplace
09.29.08 · Deanna Harms
Every employer knows about the skyrocketing costs of health care. Employees nationwide do, too. In the past six years, they’ve seen their health insurance premiums rise four times faster than their wages. So anything that can help push down costs while also increasing employees’ health and wellness is worth investigating and implementing.
At Greteman Group, we apply our cut-to-the-chase creative philosophy to our approach on wellness. Rather than treat the symptoms, we go to the cause. That may be smoking, lack of exercise, high stress, unwanted pounds, unhealthy eating habits, you name it.
Like any creative challenge, we began with our discovery process. Talking to team members and other business owners. Researching industry best practices. Defining our resources. We created an online survey to give team members a platform for providing confidential input. After all, no program would work if it not designed to meet real needs and if they didn’t feel a sense of buy-in.
What we learned was that team members want support – but they don’t want to be pushed. No surprise there. Artistic, free-spirited rebels aren’t likely to love anything shoved down their throats. And, naturally, that’s not our culture anyway. We welcome individual thought and expression, so there’s no groupthink to our wellness program, launched October 2007. (We ought to point out, too, that this approach falls in line with the law, which says you can reward positive behavior but can’t punish negative behavior.)
We launched the program with a sure-to-please activity: free, 10-minute onsite shoulder massages. That really got team members’ attention – and made them eager to see what was coming next. Participation continues to grow. You might say it’s contagious. Currently 35 percent of employees participate in after-hours yoga, 50 percent participate in lunchtime aerobics and more than half participated in our recent step challenge. We offer all at no cost.
In addition to our twice-weekly noon aerobics and Wednesday-evening yoga classes, we provide an exercise area that can be used anytime. Feel stressed or just need a break? Jump on the elliptical machine or balance ball. Play with the hula-hoop. Use some free weights or yoga accessories. Release frustration by throwing some darts.
It helps that CEO Sonia Greteman leads by example. She walks our talk, living a well-balanced and healthy lifestyle. She financially supports the wellness programs, considering it just another part of company overhead. Office manager Carol Farrow runs the program and serves as a cheerleader, encouraging members when they don’t hit their goals or fall off the fitness wagon. She leads by example, too. She was one of the first to sign up for our stop-smoking program.
Our smoking-cessation incentive helped two (out of five) heavy smokers quit. They’ve been smoke free for more than six months. The agency reimbursed team members for the cost of the program if they stuck with it. We’ve offered annual onsite flu clinics for several years and will continue. We coordinate everything for the convenience of our staff. Each team member covers the costs of the actual shot. Concerning fitness results, we don’t do weigh-ins or measure muscle mass. But we do have eyes. And people look like they’re feeling good. Smiles are up and sniffles down.
Creating a Culture of Wellness
For birthdays and holidays, we discourage bringing in bags of donuts and other tasty but high-calorie, low-nutrition foods. Instead, we encourage treats that are wholesome and not so processed. That doesn’t mean boring. We lay out lavish, beautiful spreads. The company covers the cost.
We removed our vending machine and replaced it with our GG Snack Attack bar. Our office manager purchases fruit, veggies, yogurt, energy bars and other healthy snacks and passes them on at cost. Team members buy items on the honor system. You just toss your money into a pot. Prices are better than what you would pay for something in a vending machine. And the snacks are certainly better for your waistline and blood-sugar levels.
We offer monthly challenges to keep mixing things up. To date we’ve encouraged staff to take 10,000 Steps a Day, Eat 5 A Day of Fruit & Veggies and increase daily exercise with our Cardio Chaos challenge. We even won the YMCA’s “Eight A Day Water Challenge” for the month of August. Our well-hydrated selves have the added benefit of viewing our traveling trophy throughout September. During a recent noon hour, we held a Healthy Brown Bag on the benefits of whole and raw foods. From the number of questions asked, it’s apparent some learning took place.
Head and Heart
Of course, good physical health also means good mental health. We encourage team members to work reasonable hours (i.e. to not lash themselves to their computers for 10 hours a day), but to get out and live a well-balanced life outside of work. We also encourage giving back to the community and working for good. As an agency, we’ve planted vegetable gardens for inner-city kids, read to shut-ins and distributed coats to the needy. When we feel we’re contributing, we’re happier – and healthier.
Thinking about ramping up your own wellness program? Here are some links that might spur your thinking. Go forth and be well.