The challenges of the past two years have reinforced the notion that support for employee well-being is no longer just a “nice-to-have.” Instead, it’s become a major retention factor. So, in advance of August’s National Wellness Month, we’re devoting this blog to some timely tips and ideas for how you can help employees increase healthy habits, take time for themselves, and focus on the positive.
Creating a culture of well-being.
Companies with a robust culture of well-being know that it’s about more than offering a meditation app or an onsite fitness center. A true well-being culture includes support for multiple aspects of employees’ lives, including mental health, family and caregiving responsibilities, financial wellness, social connections, and managing chronic conditions, among others. As a recent Harvard Business Review article stated, “Organizations can’t function effectively — let alone, adapt, compete, and win — with struggling and suffering workers.”
Organizations that place a priority on employee well-being reap the benefits. Research shows that there’s a strong, positive correlation between well-being, productivity, and organizational performance.1 And, Gallup recently found that teams who feel their organization cares about their well-being achieve higher customer engagement, profitability and productivity, lower turnover, and fewer safety incidents.
So, what can we do to help employees with well-being?
First, it’s important to acknowledge that well-being is not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing practice of small, daily acts that allow people to manage stress, be more productive, and feel happier and healthier. And, most importantly, it’s about creating a corporate environment that openly supports employees taking time to look after their health and wellness.
Here are some ideas for how to infuse well-being into the workplace.
Embrace a self-care mindset.
At its core, self-care focuses on sleep, proper nutrition and exercise, and layers on care for our mental state, like actively managing stress, practicing self-compassion, and engaging in mindfulness or meditation. There is now widespread acceptance in the wellness community that practicing self-care is no longer a nice-to-have, selfish indulgence, but absolutely critical to our well-being. And it’s even more important for caregivers, who must take care of themselves in order to take care of others.
Let employees know that spending time focusing on their own well-being is something the organization supports. Perhaps most important, make sure managers and leaders visibly practice self-care themselves. That way, employees can see that the organization truly cares about well-being, and will take the time to focus on their own self-care, too.
Encourage employees to engage in physical activity during the workday.
Exercise has traditionally been something employers expected workers to do on their own time. Now, we realize that incorporating bursts of movement during the workday is essential. If possible, it’s even better for employees to step outside the office for the activity. Offer ways for employees to move more at work—including walking meetings, lunchtime strolls, steps challenges, rewards for not using the elevator, things like that. Remote workers should also be encouraged to take a break during the day for at least a 20-minute walk to refresh before jumping back into productivity mode.
Make sure the physical workplace reflects a commitment to wellness.
As many employees head back to the office, employers should ensure that the workspace has kept pace with what’s now important to people. For example, new spaces that make people feel welcome; places for collaboration as well as focused work; floor plans that can be manipulated for collaboration; creating a relaxing atmosphere with biophilia—plants, greenery, and fountains—and natural lighting will be key to supporting employees who are returning to the office after a long period away.
Offer more support for caregiving.
Increasingly, employees cite family and caregiving responsibilities as a significant contributor to stress in their lives. Evaluate your caregiving policies and determine whether you can provide additional support through onsite childcare, stipends, and/or leave.
Provide help for financial wellness.
Finances are also a significant source of stress. Consider ways to alleviate some of it by implementing programs that help with student loan debt repayment, monthly budgeting, or saving for a significant purchase. Alternative pay cycles—like those that allow people to be paid daily or weekly—can also help.
Encourage water consumption.
Water is essential for hydrating the body for optimal functioning, improving the look and quality of skin, energizing muscles, and controlling calories. Make it easy for employees to drink water throughout the day with conveniently-located water coolers. You could also host a wellness challenge around increasing water consumption and give a free water bottle away as an incentive. For employees who work remotely, consider subsidizing a monthly water service.
Lean into meditation.
Meditation trains the brain and body to relax and focus on the present instead of all the “chatter” in our heads. Even five minutes a day can be helpful. But meditation can be daunting for employees to start on their own. A discounted subscription to a meditation app can help. If space allows, transform a vacant office into a meditation space for employees to use throughout the day. If you have a dispersed workforce, consider sending calendar invites that allow people to participate in a virtual company-wide meditation together.
Make it easier to focus on nutrition.
Your employees likely have good intentions about eating better, but the busyness of life can interfere. Some suggestions for helping employees focus on nutrition include healthy, grab-and-go dinners from the cafeteria, a discount on a meal kit service, a lunch-and-learn about how to meal prep on the weekend, or even a voucher for a local fresh produce market or monthly Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share.
We all need to stretch to counteract the effects of the day, whether we’ve been sitting at a desk for hours, working on our feet, or simply trying to overcome all the stress we’ve taken in. It may feel silly at first but if you’re holding a long meeting, build in some group stretch breaks. Or, as part of a wellness update, suggest stretches and yoga poses employees can do on their own time. Better yet, offer a free yoga class virtually or in-person to reap the centuries-old benefits that yoga offers—calming the mind, lowering blood pressure, and slowing the heart rate.
Give permission to disconnect and set boundaries.
Technology makes it possible to work anywhere at any time, but the downside is that many employees don’t take the time to disconnect. Employers should encourage employees to set times when they shut down for the day and establish hours when they do not respond to emails. Similarly, make sure employees know it’s important and ok to use their paid time off. Even if they don’t have a vacation planned, time spent away from work is restorative.
Explore gratitude and positivity.
Psychologists have documented the positive effects of practicing gratitude on our emotional and physical health. Employers can support this practice by giving employees a small notebook to record the things they’re grateful for or providing a link to a gratitude meditation. You could also encourage employees to focus on one good thing that happens every day. Doing this daily can retrain the brain to switch directions, so that when setbacks do occur, we recover more quickly.
Surprise employees with a company-wide paid day off.
Employees report that they are burned out and need a break. In fact, in a Paychex/Future Workforce study, 35% of respondents cited additional time off as the number one action that would improve their well-being.2 If your organization and industry allow, try offering employees a surprise company-wide day off. Encourage people to put work away and resist the urge to check emails during the break.
Give a small token of appreciation.
Recognition and feeling appreciated are key employee engagement factors. Whether mailed to homes or desk-dropped, employees will appreciate a gift of self-care like candles, essential oils and diffusers, stress balls, healthy snacks, loose leaf tea, a gift card to a bookstore, a journal, chocolates—get creative!
We spend most of our waking hours on the job, so it makes sense that looking after our well-being is something that we can and should attend to throughout the workday. August’s Wellness Month is a great time to start sending that message. Employers who do so will reap the benefits of a healthier and more engaged workforce all year long.