Are your C-suite and high-level managers lacking something, but you can't put your finger on it? Their plans for the company sound reasonable, but when they talk about the strategy in meetings, there's a lack of vitality to the delivery. "They're just not into meetings and public speaking engagements," you tell yourself. Unfortunately, the problem may be graver than that. They may be suffering from ill health ranging from undetected heart disease to a general malaise from overwork. The solution? A wellness program targeted to their needs.
At The Dannon Company & Danone Waters of America, employee and leadership wellness is taken seriously enough to warrant a formal strategy. " As a business focused on bringing health through food to as many people as possible, the health and well-being of our employees is a top concern and priority," says Senior Director of Public Relations Michael J. Neuwirth. "In addition to offering comprehensive health insurance options, in 2009 we initiated new supplemental health and wellness programs to educate and encourage employees to take ownership of their individual health." For example, at its headquarters in White Plains, NY, Dannon piloted an in-house personal training program that includes Pilates, cardio, and aerobic fitness regimen Zumba. Neuwirth says employees have taken so well to this program it's frequency was increased from two times per week to three.
WELLNESS FAR AND AWAY
Offering yogurt bars in your vending machine, in addition to Snickers and Kit Kats, is a start. But some companies opt to go further-all the way to an off-site location for the sake of their employees' health.
"The pressure and demands of today's fast-paced work environments can leave employees with little time to devote to their health and well-being," says Skye Baird, founder of Skye LifeStyle, a wellness company based in Sydney, Australia. "Companies need to source new and innovative ways to boost morale and performance, and show workers how important they are. A few days away from the workplace, with rejuvenating Hatha yoga classes, meditations, and fresh air, provide an amazing break from a corporate executive routine."
Baird recommends making the most of the city you're in, or, if your budget permits, traveling to another city, or a retreat in the country. Companies based in Sydney, for instance, might try taking the yoga class they provide for employees to the city's Bondi Beach, or maybe in a grassy area overlooking Sydney Harbor. A company in New York City might try exercising along the Hudson River, or, if based in San Francisco, in Golden Gate Park.
In addition to the change in scenery, yoga can sharpen your employees' minds so they're better able to focus on your company goals. "These classes are designed to invigorate tired minds and bodies and inspire motivation and creative thinking," says Baird. "The result is a relaxed, more productive workforce better equipped to look to a healthier lifestyle upon their return."
The company also started a quarterly publication, "My Health & Wellness," focused on health and fitness topics, and created a "Healthy Day" event in its headquarters and three plant locations to coincide with the start of open benefits enrollment, says Neuwirth. These health fairs feature private health screenings for all employees, including blood pressure and cholesterol checks and thyroid screening.
To ensure a return on investment both for its employees, as well as its business, the company conducts formal assessments of employee wellness needs, explains Neuwirth, who says Dannon wanted "to gain as much knowledge as possible on what [employees] felt are the major health topics they wantto address. Not surprisingly, stress management, blood pressure, and cholesterol were among the top requests."
But formal programming isn't the whole secret to a healthy workforce, according to Dannon. The company has made wellness an omnipresent part of its culture. Says Neuwirth: "We work 'health and wellness' into our group meetings, such as sales or marketing meetings, by offering morning fitness programs such as a group run or yoga class, as well as 'healthy' menu offerings when our teams are off-site."
EMPLOYEES HEALTHY, COMPANY WEALTHY
Carmax, Inc.'s wellness program started in 2006 as the car retailer evaluated its benefit plan offering from two perspectives: first, a desire to educate employees about its plans and promote the perceived value of the plans, and second, understanding the issues driving its health-care costs. "Initially, we focused our wellness efforts on building awareness about the key health issues relevant to our associate population and educating associates about the tools and resources available to help make better lifestyle choices," says Jillian Zemp, benefits analyst, Carmax, Inc. "As the program has expanded and evolved, we believe wellness can play an important role in our culture and in our efforts to manage our health-care costs."
The company's current wellness program consists of on-site health coaches at select locations, health fairs with biometric screenings at various stores every year, a partnership with Weight Watchers, Free and Clear smoking cessation, and a comprehensive disease management program, says Zemp. "The goal of the program is to provide associates with an array of wellness information focusing on the four primary wellness issues for our associates: nutrition, fitness, and financial and mental wellness," she says. "We have specific materials that address each of these messages from vendors and providers, and we have created a blended message focusing on multiple aspects of wellness, which is discussed and handed out at the bimonthly store meetings." For the last three years, Zemp says the company has provided all employees with an annual "wellness" calendar that includes health tips and messages reinforcing the company's commitment to a wellness culture.
CarMax has held Health Fairs at 36 stores since 2007 and will hold fairs in 18 more locations this year, Zemp says. Health fairs are half-day events open to all associates at the store to complete biometric screenings (blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol, height/weight, BMI, and body composition) and a Health Risk Assessment. "We also are piloting off-site biometric screening events at three remote or very small stores this summer and early fall," Zemp says. "These will be month-long events where associates go off-site for these screenings. We are continually looking for ways to provide wellness opportunities to as many associates as possible."
Days pent up in an office (often with no window in sight) and rushed lunches eaten desk-side don't sound healthy because they aren't. It isn't your imagination-your employees really aren't leading as healthy work lives as they could. Here's how to help them put more distance between themselves and high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and other ailments:
"Meet regularly (weekly) as a group to discuss stressors in the workplace and come up with solutions to help mitigate the stress rather than sweep problems under the rug," says John M. Kennedy, M.D., author of "The 15-Minute Heart Cure: The Natural Way to Release Stress and Heal Your Heart in Just Minutes a Day." "Even if the stressful problem is unavoidable, regular meetings will foster feelings of trust and improve teambuilding."
"Encourage employees to take short time-outs. Rather than ruminate and stew over your workload," Kennedy says, "sometimes just taking a short walk down the hallway can help us rejuvenate and refocus."
Don't just target executives in your wellness efforts. "Studies have shown that heart disease, hypertension, and stress are more common in people who have low control over their job," says Nieca Goldberg, M.D., cardiologist and author of "Dr. Nieca Goldberg's Complete Guide to Women's Health."
It's not enough to roll out an exercise regimen, says Goldberg. "Your company also should include nutritional evaluations with the option of spending time with a licensed nutritionist. Your company also should be able to provide employees with information and referrals for smoking cessation and stress management programs. Lectures in your workplace on healthy living also are worth trying."
The success of your wellness program may depend on your executives' ability to set a good example, says Jenny Evans, founder of PowerHouse Performance Coaching. "It needs to have support from upper management because even if a statement is made by a corporation that 'We are a wellnessfocused company,' if your boss, or your boss' boss, doesn't take advantage of those things, they are sending a message to their employees that 'Well, no, this really isn't important.'"
Opportunities for off-site wellness adventures are great, but it also is essential to provide ways to get in shape every week, without employees going out of their way. "It has to be quick, easy, and convenient for employees, and it can't take away from what is perceived as productive employee time," says Evans.
To get managers excited about participating, explain to them how the company benefits when employees are healthy. "There has to be an understanding of the financial benefits of a corporate wellness program," says Evans. "Healthy employees are more productive employees, and they're also happier employees, so you'll see a decrease in employee turnover, too."