What Does Corporate “Wellness” Mean to You?

Every afternoon, at around 3 p.m., I start having terrible cravings for sweets. A few months ago, I began fantasizing about a self-serve frozen yogurt bar that could be added to my company’s kitchen. Considering that my company at that time was streamlining its coffee flavor options to save money, that vision likely will remain a fantasy.

But at some well-funded companies, snack bars, or even complimentary cafeterias, are available throughout the workday. As much as I crave a mid-afternoon sugar fix, I’m also glad the frozen yogurt bar isn’t available to me.

When a company with good intentions offers its employees elaborate, complimentary snacks and meals, is it a mistake? Some may say it’s a mistake because it presents another distraction from work, but I think the main downside is the impact on employee waistlines. If the complimentary goodies aren’t easily available, isn’t it more likely employees will abstain?

A study I saw last week says companies are conscious about health and wellness in meetings and business travel. According to the Incentive Research Foundation’s IRF Wellness in Meetings and Incentive Travel Study:

  • The majority of meeting planners agreed wellness is a critical focus for either their company (87 percent) or their client’s company (74 percent).
  • More than 90 percent of corporate and incentive house planners are personally enthusiastic about wellness.
  • 40 percent of meeting planners indicated meetings were “mostly healthy,” with 19 percent saying “very healthy.”
  • The top standard preferred food and beverage wellness inclusions for meetings and events were healthy snacks (83 percent); water and reduced calorie drinks (82 percent); and fish, chicken, and lean meats (80 percent).
  • Smoke-free facilities (90 percent) and free access to fitness facilities (80 percent) were the top-ranked standard, or preferred, meeting design elements supporting wellness.
  • Offering water and reduced calorie drinks as the default (77 percent) had the lowest expected impact on food and beverage budgets.
  • Emerging wellness practices include “mindfulness breaks or resources” and “guides to nearby health facilities.”

At your company, is there such an awareness of wellness that when you have meetings, you think about healthy options for food and beverages, and how to help employees stick to their diet and fitness regimen while traveling for business?

Just as a company doesn’t want to encourage non-stop snacking on any food—healthy or otherwise—it also should be aware of the impact of its location on wellness. My company used to be located in a charming area of NYC that begged to be explored on long walks. Now we’re located in a commercial district that’s not nearly so appealing. Our work neighborhood used to be filled with healthy-eating opportunities. I frequented a small, family-run gourmet shop that sold affordable “special salads” that were special enough to turn a person usually more drawn to cheeseburgers than asparagus into an every-day salad person. The neighborhood was so pleasant and interesting in the shops and artistic environment that I would walk every day over a half-hour at lunch for the joy of it.

In contrast, our new office is located in a healthy-food desert, and the neighborhood doesn’t invite long walks. I walk to the serviceable shop I discovered for lunch with no leisurely detours or indulgent lingering. The new office is located near two major New York City transportation hubs, the New York Port Authority and Penn Station, which is convenient for those commuting from outside the city, but doesn’t the proximity also represent a loss of exercise? Many of these commuters bring their lunch, rather than buy, so the lack of healthy-eating options in the neighborhood, they probably would say, doesn’t bother them. But I bet at least some of them would be more likely to take a mid-day walk if we were still in an inviting part of the city.

Do companies have a role to play in encouraging employees not to smoke? Other than obesity, I bet it’s the single worst thing your employees can do to their health. The complimentary smoothies and free or reduced-cost gym membership is of little use when the employee downs the smoothie or gets off the treadmill, walks outside, and lights a cigarette. Companies might consider allowing brief breaks (15 minutes or less) for any purpose other than smoking. They also could advertise in the break room, kitchen, and other communal places in the office programs in the community to help smokers quit. And they could chip in to finance employees’ completion of these programs.

On the exercise front, what if you put together a walking group, and offered an incentive, such as extra vacation days, to participate? So you don’t discriminate against employees who are not able to walk, you could have other exercise groups with the same reward offer.

“Healthy” sweets in the afternoon is a great indulgence, but the greatest indulgence is a company that cares enough to create an office environment that encourages fitness.

Does your company have a wellness culture in which you think about how to help your employees stay healthy? What wellness programs, or benefits, have been most effective?


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