A few months back, I was invited to attend a wellness workshop at a friend’s workplace. She would often brag about having ongoing wellness-related activities at work, so when she asked if I’d like to join, I was happy to see what the buzz was about. On the way there, we met up with some of her co-workers. They shared that the prior events were fun and interesting, and It soon became clear that they weren’t alone. The room for the wellness workshop was packed wall to wall. Which made me wonder: how do you promote wellness in the workplace?
After spending the next couple of hours with them, I learned a lot about the company's wellness program, and I surmised that promoting wellness at work is about communication, participation, and incentives. I’ll explain about each one below.
The company introduced the wellness program through online communication and in-person conversation, conveying that it’s an important factor in the company culture. Wellness is a big consideration, and it was apparent in the intentions, actions, and discussions of people at all company levels. People were encouraged to participate, and were open and transparent about what would keep them from going. It reminded me how important this kind of transparency is from my own experience with a different company a year ago.
I had a meeting with the higher ups at the HQ of a large shared work space company to talk about introducing wellness initiatives. Their new offices had a dedicated meditation room that was both beautiful and functional. The discussion went well, a program was set, and everything was seemingly off to a great start. On my way down in the elevator, I spoke to a manager from the sales team, and he shared that— off the record—there was no way he was going to let anyone on his team take time off for wellness if that was going to affect his sales teams numbers. I could tell by some of the things he said that he wasn’t the only one who felt that way, and that this came from above. When this happens, it’s a surefire way to make sure your initiatives fail. When they inevitably do, someone always says: “Oh we tried, but no one came to the meditations, so we figured no one was interested after all”. You’d be surprised how often this happens.
If you want to succeed, everyone needs to get on board. They have to truly understand and believe that practicing mindfulness for a couple of hours a week instead of working benefits everyone, including the company.
Everyone needs to take part of the wellness program, from the mailroom to the CEO. This needs to be explicitly explained and practiced, because more often than not it’ll end up that the less busy employees attend the wellness activities, which makes them stand out negatively. If the CEO’s time is too important for this, ths managers will feel the same way as well, and it quickly turns into questioning why are you meditating instead of working? Everyone needs to show up as part of a broader message saying that while we’re doing this, we’re doing it together. And when everyone participates, you get a rare opportunity for face time that otherwise would be difficult to get.
Reward programs for participation have been shown to be successful and are perceived by employees as a win/win; they can enjoy both the benefits and the rewards. By actively and positively supporting participants, the company communicates that they are invested in people and are an active advocate for employees happiness. Rewards can be in the form of a gift card, a credit for the company rewards program, or even small bonuses. Also, participating in these programs outside of work can be time-consuming and costly, another reason why employees appreciate when activities take place on company time. For example, I always wanted to try yoga. But scheduling it before or after work was often tricky, and I couldn’t reliably know when I would go. So when my workplace offered lunchtime yoga, it checked off two boxes for me: convenience and cost, one less thing to calculate into my budget.
And here’s another real-life use example; a friend of mine always found meditation to be challenging, until he started taking meditation at work. What he was missing was context. When Meditation became an effective way to reduce unnecessary thinking and gain perspective, he understood that having the option to step away for a short time and meditate allowed him to cultivate this ability. Scheduling a session in the middle of the day gives employees an opportunity to learn how to use meditation to deal with stress and tension in a constructive way at the appropriate time.
Wellness programs are an incredible opportunity for both companies and employees to grow together. Companies need to work smarter and more effectively to compete, and wellness programs allow people to feel empowered and optimized so that they can deliver the performance needed, and feel appreciated along the way.
That doesn’t mean you will get everyone to participate. Some people won’t be interested, some people will have different reasons why they can’t or don’t want to participate, but the best proof and motivator is seeing people around you change as they take part in programs, and that might encourage them to participate as well. From what I've learned, people enjoy taking part in wellness programs, and look forward to them every week.