Training Wellness

In a couple weeks, my company will be offering a free flu vaccine to employees. As always, I’m planning to pass on the opportunity. I have scientifically unproven concerns about the vaccine—that it will lead to sickness instead of preventing it—so I always give in to my neurosis and decide to let others have the shot on my behalf.

We’re lucky at my company that we can have the flu shot without anything more being asked of us. At the company that used to own Training, flu shots one year came with mandatory cholesterol, blood pressure, and possible weight checks. I definitely had no interest in signing up for any of that!

A piece in Forbes by Meghan M. Biro, “7 Steps to Tie Wellness Programs Into Your Workplace Culture,” says that to make wellness opportunities work, you need to engage employees and show that the wellness resources the company offers are connected to the caring the employer has for you as an employee, and to the larger goal the company has of creating a healthy, thriving workplace.

The way I feel about it is flu shots, weight loss programs, and screenings, in which employees are encouraged to find out about their health metrics, are the least important pieces of the wellness puzzle.

To me, the greatest piece is: encouraging a workplace in which employees can focus on what is most important (completing high-quality work on time and meeting other obligations), rather than worrying about keeping up appearances by doing silly things like rushing to the office at the crack of dawn and staying until nightfall, just because they know it will look good, is expected of them, and is what they need to do to compete with their peers—even if it’s not what they need to do to complete their work on time and in a way that satisfies customers.

A wellness company culture begins with teaching employees, and having leaders show by example, what the priorities are. It helps to have a manager who says to a clearly exhausted employee at 3 p.m.: “Well, Gladys, I’ll be heading out now. I just finished that big report I was working on for the finance team, and I want to get home early enough to play tennis with my husband. Why don’t you leave, too? You look exhausted, and you have a week before that marketing piece is due. I can carve some time out to help you with that tomorrow, if you like.”

Hearing a boss speak that way may seem idealistic, but I’m not sure why. If she’s just met her deadline, and has done so in a way that fulfills her responsibilities, why shouldn’t she go home early and do something that makes her happy? Is it so important to force herself to sit at her desk for an additional two to three hours, for showmanship’s sake, knowing she’s completed what needs to be done, and she’s tapped out? And why shouldn’t she encourage a seemingly brain-dead employee with time to spare on her project to also go home? And why at the same time wouldn’t she offer to help the employee out the next day when they both are refreshed?

The only reason none of that would occur is if the corporate culture stresses stress rather than productivity as the most prized value. Many companies in the U.S. value the look of productivity, rather than actual productivity. It’s taught to us that it’s not OK to just focus on finishing work and doing a good job, but that there’s a show to put on for management. It’s that show that causes exhaustion and physical rundown. Even a heavy workload becomes manageable when the employee is able to decide on her own how she will complete it—whether she wants to come in early and stay late one day, and then take a couple of days off, or whether she wants to devote several highly focused hours to the project per day, and then give her brain a refresher and focus on generating new ideas and being creative.

From the perspective of limiting stress, is a nap room, or at least a few cots someplace in the office or in a lounge area of the bathrooms, a good idea? I’ve heard that the founder of the Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington, believes so strongly in the importance of sleep that she not only advocates space in offices for employees to nap, but believes napping rooms will eventually become the norm.

In addition to a culture that emphasizes open-mindedness about how people get their work done, and gives no credit to those who make a spectacle of “productivity” by putting in long hours behind the desk at the office (and not necessarily accomplishing anything), and providing areas for employees to relax and nap, some companies are finding ways to make the environment more peaceful—even when it’s not.

On the elevator up to my office, I recently heard an employee from another company say that his company is giving out Bose noise-cancelling headphones to reduce, or eliminate, the sound of nearby construction. Many companies on a tight budget would look askance at spending more than $100 per employee for fancy noise-cancelling headphones, but think about what the company gains in productivity and employee engagement. If my company did something like that, I would remember it, and it might help convince me to stay if another job offer came along. I would want to work for a company that understands the connection between my comfort and happiness—my wellness—and the products I am able to produce for its customers.

What does your company teach executives and managers about facilitating employee wellness? What aspects of your corporate culture make wellness more, rather than less, likely?

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