10 experts: small changes for improved employee wellness

May 28, 2013

in behavior change,change,culture,design,exercise/movement,wellness,work-life flexibility

with june right around the corner, it’s a good time to check the status of our new year’s resolutions. by now, half of us have given up. it’s not impossible to re-engage those lost and help those still on track. this post offers employers tips from 10 health experts. it was originally published in context’s newsletter (subscribe here). 

Make them, don’t make them—either way, resolutions command our attention from December through at least January. Roughly half of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and health resolutions always top the list, whether they are to lose weight, stay fit, quit smoking, be with our family, or spend less and save more.

The sad fact is, most of us fail at our resolutions. Only 8% of us achieve them. The rest of us start to trail off as early as the first week in January. But, right now, 64% of us are fighting the good fight.

Make this the year you get in there and help your employees stick to their resolutions. I sought out 10 health and wellness experts’ thoughts on how. I asked for one small change. We want the small, doable step, just as we’d advise our employees. The ideas vary, from at-work to at-home, physical to spiritual, but I found connecting themes.

Support Health Beyond the Office Door

Health happens beyond the office door. Two of our experts focused on how “where we live, work, play and pray” dramatically affect our health. That’s true in micro and macro terms. While it’s harder for companies to impact macro issues like how zip code affects health, these two experts share small ways companies can make a difference.

Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, Health Economist and Management Consultant, THINK-Health
“Employers should adopt the philosophy of Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin that health is where we ‘live, work, play and pray.’ This would expand the business’s concept of health beyond the doctor’s office to where people ‘are’ in their lives. Small programs that represent big thinking in health include companies hosting farmer’s markets in their parking lots once a week, switching cafeteria vendors to more healthful options, and sponsoring Biggest Loser contests between departments.”

Cali Yost, CEO and Founder, Flex+Strategy Group; author of Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day
“More and more people have to get to the gym, go to the grocery store, meet a friend for coffee. Over time, these small actions and priorities build our own foundation of well-being and order. Help your employees understand the TWEAK It practice and add tweaks to their work-life fit.”

Create Opportunities to Move

This is really the year for recognizing that our bodies need to move. We need it for our energy level and creaking bones. We also need it to decrease our risk of serious disease: cancer, kidney disease, heart disease, diabetes. Combating this risk is Hotseat’s raison d’être. Other experts share my passion for freeing employees from their seats.

BJ Fogg, Innovator, Social Scientist and Teacher, Stanford University
“Dance every day, even if only for a minute.”

Laurie Whitsel, Director of Policy Research, American Heart Association
“Provide walking treadmill desks for communal use in your offices. I use one myself and try to get in at least an hour or more of walking a day at different intervals. Sure beats sitting all day!”

Henry Albrecht, CEO, Limeade
“Help people fit fitness into their work day. Encourage people to meditate for five minutes, take a 10-minute walking break, or take the stairs. Employees will improve their health and feel like their employer cares about their well-being.”

Show Appreciation for Employees and Our World

We know that giving has a positive effect on our individual health. Companies that take care of their communities and our world experience a similar positive effect from stakeholders. Three experts share how employers can express thankfulness and facilitate their employees’ expression of gratitude, stewardship and giving back.

Ted Eytan, Family Physician Director, Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health, The Permanente Federation, LLC
“We believe that health care must operate without harm to the environment. Our environmental stewardship program, Tread Lightly, is where all of our employees can take small steps to make a huge impact on the things around us that determine our health.”

Rajiv Kumar, CEO and Co-Founder, ShapeUp
“A spate of recent national tragedies have many Americans doing some soul-searching about the future of our country and what role they want to play in shaping it. Many of us are seeking ways to add more meaning to our lives, to give back to society, to make a difference in the lives of others. Your company’s wellness program can play a part by incorporating charitable giving, such as pledging to make a charitable contribution if employees reach a certain threshold of cumulative physical activity or by offering employees the opportunity to donate their earned incentives to a charity of their choice. Maybe your organization can offer a ‘volunteer day’ incentive that gives employees a day off from work to volunteer for a charity if they meet certain program milestones. In most cases, employers are surprised at just how motivational and inspirational this type of approach can be.”

Kelley Butler, Editor-in-Chief, Employee Benefit News*
“Say thank you. And not via a gift card, or certificate of achievement, or bronze statue, or companywide email announcing the latest sales figures. Literally, say it—out loud, in person, eye to eye. Genuinely, sincerely let people know that you appreciate what they do and how they specifically make it possible for the company to be successful. Your people like their work. They’re proud of it. They want to know that you feel the same. So, tell them. It’s simple, it’s free but I promise the ROI is as high, if not higher, than any monetary investment you make. But if you follow it up with a gift card, too, bonus points.”

Program Design

Environment and culture deliver cues about desirable behaviors. There’s still a place for programs and resources, however. Our final two experts focused on the best way to deliver these.

Lindsey Irvine, Vice President, Keas
“Make getting healthy FUN! And grow participation virally—bottom up, not top down.”

Andrew Rosa, Senior Director, Health & Welfare Benefits, Comcast
“It’s important that employees know about the tools that we offer and that we bring those tools to them where they work. A good product and idea isn’t enough. It needs to be easy to consume, and it needs to be available and supported when the employee’s ready to act. You don’t have to have a big budget. What you will need is buy-in from business partners who need to provide time for employees to engage.”

Let’s make this the year for small, steady steps toward better health.

Happy new year.


* Kelley Butler is now editorial director with Benz Communications.

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