What Do Corporate Wellness Programs Need to Work?

I have a friend who works for an insurance company that offers midday yoga classes. This friend and I, along with another friend, used to take yoga together after work. I’ve long since given it up, so I’m impressed by her dedication. Strangely, the yoga made me more, rather than less, anxious. It made me anxious to pay attention to how I was breathing. I already pay attention to so much that the idea of also having to pay attention to my breathing was more than I could bear.

It just goes to show you that workplace wellness means different things to different people. Yoga is a challenging, but relaxing, break from work for some, and a chore for others.

Looking for something to write about this week, I came across a list of five workplace wellness trends to watch for in 2018. A big one was personalization, which resonated with me. I’m (at least for now) not overweight and I don’t smoke or drink heavily, or have substance abuse problems, but I’m an innately anxious person with poor eating habits. Is there a wellness program for employees like me? Keep in mind, I already walk about five miles every weekday as a New Yorker with no car, and I hate gyms.

Do you think an art class during the day at lunch, or after work in the office, or subsidized by the company and held someplace nearby, would count as wellness? I love art. I’ve noticed that (abstract) drawing relaxes me, so I figured it was good for me and would count as wellness. Are there benefits to offering activities that relieve stress, but that would not fit into the traditional perception of “wellness”?

How about a benefit that gives employees a stipend of money to spend quarterly on any activity that either helps them feel physically better or reduces stress? It purposely would be flexible, so the money could be spent on anything from attending a rock concert to spending a few hours at a spa or helping pay for a gym membership. Stress reduction comes in so many different forms that it would be counterproductive, and ironic, to make employees meet stringent requirements to take advantage of such a stipend.

My sister’s company, a liquor distributor, offers a quarterly stipend to buy alcohol, so that’s what leads me to believe it’s not so outrageous that a company could provide employees with a quarterly wellness stipend. In the case of my sister’s company, the reason for the stipend ostensibly is to facilitate “consumer research,” but the benefits of company-subsidized liquor purchases go beyond that in enjoyment, obviously.

If you want to offer a quarterly wellness stipend, and you want to get more out of it than grateful, more-relaxed employees, you could ask employees to log something about their experience doing the wellness activities into your intranet, or internal social network, including lessons learned that could help them serve your customers better. For instance, they would jot down notes about the service they experience at the spa, restaurant, or gym, and what your company could do that’s similar.

In addition to personalization, another trend to keep an eye on is napping. Much has been written about Arianna Huffington’s passion for napping following an incident in which she injured herself collapsing face-first onto her desk at the office due to exhaustion. There are times when I’ve longed to lie down in the afternoon, so I can relate, and I admire that she used her own experience to install napping rooms in the office of her publication.

But what I really miss these days are vending machines and a snack bar inside my office building. The ideal is to have a café or snack bar in your office, where you can buy (or be given complimentarily) coffee, along with desserts and snacks. But at the very least, a vending machine is helpful. Like clockwork, I have terrible cravings that begin around 2:30 p.m. And my office now has no vending machines, and no snack bar in the lobby. I have to leave the building to get a snack if I’m craving something beyond the pretzels and granola bars I keep in my drawer. Some say vending machines contribute to poor eating habits because the machines typically are stocked with sugary, salty, processed food. But in moderation, I find that food gratifying, and just what I most want in the late afternoon. I’m guessing I’m not alone. A little of what you love goes a long way—even if it isn’t, technically speaking, anything you would connect to “wellness.”

There are catchphrases and mass images connected to wellness—the vegetable- and fruit-eating, gym-going person who bikes to work and does yoga. But you know what’s funny? Many of those people I’ve known in my own life aren’t especially healthy. Some are overweight, despite all these efforts, and many seem stressed out. After all, you have to admit, it can be pretty stressful getting up at the crack of dawn to get to the gym or forcing yourself to constantly eat food you don’t love.

Maybe the best corporate wellness program is flexible enough to accommodate every person’s own idea of what wellness is, and what he or she needs to feel energetic and at peace enough to serve your customers well.

Do you have a corporate wellness program? How does it work? Are there stipends for employees to choose how want to spend the money? What kinds of wellness-related office accommodations do you offer?

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