No Better Time for a Workplace Wellness Program

With so many employees still telecommuting, it may seem like an odd time to launch a workplace wellness program, but in some ways, there is no better time.

When Americans were told to “lock down” and to “stay home, stay safe,” many took it to mean cook and eat all day—while stretched out on the couch watching television because, as they interpreted the lockdown order, they were not allowed to go outside at all, even to exercise. Sitting on the couch eating all day sounds heavenly to me, but my vanity prevailed and I continued, even in the depths of the quarantine here in New York City, to walk 3.5 miles every day (outdoors while keeping my distance from others). Chances are, many of your employees interpreted “quarantine” to mean “I can’t leave the house at all, even to exercise.” If that is the case (and they are not wealthy enough to have a home gym), many are heavier and in worse physical (and maybe mental) shape than they were a year ago.

Ironically (for a quarantine intended to protect health), many, if not most, of those who gained weight during the quarantine will never lose it, leading to higher incidences of heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and many other life-threatening health problems. Weight gain comes with health risk that a well-executed wellness program can offset.

Fortunately, a wellness program during a pandemic is not too difficult—healthy activities can be done remotely and on an individual basis. I found this article from ThinkAdvisor on executing wellness programs, and the ideas it provides can work regardless of the setting.

And I have come up with a few of my own ideas for wellness programs. If your whole work group, or those participating in a call, are able to walk, you could schedule a Walk-Talk Meeting in which all participants agree to take at least a 20-minue walk while talking about business.

Another idea: Have employees share from their phones (with screenshots to keep them honest) the number of steps walked each day. At the end of every month, a gift card goes to the employee with the highest number of steps. The competitive spirit combined with the incentive of the gift card will spur people to take walks or go for jogs when they might not otherwise have done so.

Many employees put off, or avoided altogether, taking vacation days this year. I usually reserve my vacation days for trips related to travel writing for a trade publication for travel agents. With international tourism bureaus not keen for now about inviting outsiders into their countries, and the enormous amount of work I have to do ahead of time to take vacation days, I have not taken any vacation time yet this year. Some, or even many, of your employees may be in the same position. What if you give employees the option of trading in some of their vacation days for other perks, such as gift cards to wellness-related activities, including spas that help with relaxation and weight loss? Or exercise classes that are being held online or outside? You also could offer a stipend to be spent on anything the employee likes in exchange for turning in unused vacation days. The understanding would be that the stipend would be used for wellness-related activities. You could ask employees to keep a photo journal of activities they use the money for. They might choose to use the money to purchase a treadmill or other exercise equipment for their home.

Employees model the behavior of company leaders. With that in mind, ask several of your top executives if they would participate in a publicly documented journey to get in better shape and establish healthier habits. A blog, accessed through the company intranet, could be set up for these executives to share the improvements they are making, such as walking or jogging once a day, eating more fruits and vegetables, cutting back on alcohol, and quitting smoking.

Smoking may lead to more serious cases of COVID-19, and other respiratory illnesses, as smoking reduces lung capacity. So educating employees about the greater importance than ever of quitting smoking is the right thing to do.

Helping employees keep their weight in check, while stopping unhealthy habits such as smoking, is a key to enabling them to “say safe.”

Does your company have a wellness program? If so, how has the pandemic forced it to adapt? If not, would you consider launching one now to optimize the current focus on health and well-being?

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