You Survived the Pandemic, But Are You Well?

With vaccines making the pandemic’s end more likely, some companies now are thinking about corporate wellness programs that focus on weight management, cardiovascular, and overall health.

Surviving through the COVID-19 pandemic may seem like a feat, but the fact is, there are many other health conditions more likely to kill us. One of those is obesity. With vaccines making the pandemic’s end more likely, is it time to think about a corporate wellness program that focuses on weight management, cardiovascular, and overall health?

A recent article in Forbes by Peter Ubel details the success of a program at the University of California San Francisco in which in-office sales of sugary drinks were banned. People could still bring the drinks from home or buy them from outside the office to take back to their desks. Yet, even with ways of working around the ban, consumption of sugary drinks at work was reduced, along with employees’ waistlines. “Their employees got thinner; specifically, their waists became trimmer. Daily consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages dropped significantly, to about a can-and-a-half less of Coke/Pepsi per day,” Ubel writes.

Deciding to eliminate sugary soft drinks and artificial fruit drinks from office vending machines and cafeterias is not as big a deal as you think it is. It’s an opportunity to introduce employees to a great, all-natural alternative to sugar: stevia. As I write, I am drinking a strawberry lemonade VitaminWater with zero sugar that was sweetened with stevia. The ideal would be for employees to stop craving the taste of sweetness, but since that isn’t likely, dropping sugary drinks gives you a chance to educate them about alternatives that make the loss of their favorite drinks tolerable. It also could be a chance to set up a juice bar with the proceeds going to a local charity. If you can’t afford a full juice bar, you could sell just fresh-squeezed orange juice with the proceeds going to charity. Or you could simply charge enough to cover your company’s expenses.

Along with giving employees alternatives to sugary drinks, you could give them alternatives to what many may perceive as undoable fitness routines. I have always loathed working out in gyms, so I walk at least an hour every day. It’s easy for me to do this, as I live in New York City, which has sidewalks along nearly every street. But even if your company is based in the suburbs, it is possible to set time aside to walk every day. The company could give work groups added privileges if they hold at least one meeting a week in which they talk while walking. Or work groups could be given added privileges based on how high their total pedometer readings are—how much everyone in the work group, put together, walked each month. At the end of each month, the winning work group would be given money that could be used any way the group likes, whether that be gift cards for each employee or a way to enjoy the winnings together, such as lunch together at a local restaurant.

There also could be a push to encourage employees to quit smoking. You could set up a page on your intranet or internal social media page in which employees document their journey quitting, including treatment they receive, such as getting prescription pills, a patch, or shots to stem cravings, or counseling. They could share their challenges and milestones. Colleagues then post could encouragement, and share their own memories of quitting smoking. Some soon-to-be former smokers might even find sponsors who stick by their side during the process, helping them avoid backsliding. High-level executives who quit smoking could share their stories of why they decided to quit and how they did it. In addition, information could be offered on the health benefits of quitting, along with community resources for those facing the challenge of quitting smoking.

If your office is based in the suburbs, or in a rural area, you have the advantage of easily being able to arrange wellness-like retreats for employees. If your company can’t afford to fully sponsor these retreats, you could charge a small fee (just enough to cover your expenses) for employees to participate. These retreats could include day-long or weekend trips to go hiking, biking, swimming, or even skiing—anything that gets employees off the couch where they spent an inordinate amount of time during the pandemic.

When employees are more active and don’t smoke, they are healthier—and more likely to make it successfully through sickness, whether it’s COVID-19 or the seasonal flu.

Are you thinking about what “wellness” means in the post-pandemic world? Is it enough just to have survived the pandemic, or should there be long-term wellness goals for your workforce?