10 ways to do employee wellness right

American companies often struggle to get their employees fired up about wellness programs at work. Their engagement “incentive” often consists of giving participants a coffee mug and then listing their names in a quarterly newsletter. 

Really? Really?

Managers want all the benefits of wellness programs — lower healthcare costs, higher productivity, improved recruiting — but too often they motivate employees with nothing more than a tote bag that’s probably left over from some trade show two years ago.

Successful wellness programs take a page from recess at elementary school — they’re social and they’re fun. Nobody has to tell kids to run and play with their friends. The best wellness programs tap into our inner school kid.

Here are 10 ideas from eight energetic companies that are doing wellness right.

1. Make wellness part of your brand.

Karl Strauss Brewing Company in San Diego, for instance, ties its wellness program to the company’s core tenets — “learn, improve, grow.” It uses vocabulary from its company culture to describe behaviors such as “brewing it forward” that it wants to encourage.

2. Make it a game.

Motley Fool, a multimedia financial-services company that provides financial solutions for investors, sponsored a company-wide push-up challenge with prizes that included Fitbits and a custom pair of Nike running shoes. 

SnackNation, a Los Angeles company that delivers healthy snacks to workplaces, sponsors steps challenges among its employees, using Jawbone Up fitness trackers. Hack Reactor, a coding boot camp in San Francisco, hosts weekly wellness competitions among its staff and awards prizes. One recent contest: Counting the number of times staff members conducted meetings while taking a walk rather than sitting in a conference room.

3. Wellness shouldn’t be a chore.

Harmless Harvest, a maker of raw and organic coconut water based in New York City, hosts healthy field days at a nearby park, complete with tennis, soccer or a game of catch, followed by a healthy picnic dinner. Find out what activities your team members enjoy in their free time and incorporate them into your next wellness initiative. 

4. Tailor wellness rewards to what your employees really want.

Karl Strauss Brewing offers one-on-one sessions with executives for workers who want to learn leadership skills. Generic gift cards may not motivate some, so offer personalized rewards unique to your wellness themes, company culture or employee interests.

5. Model good eating habits.

Instead of ordering pizza for your next company get-together, provide healthier options. SnackNation sponsors healthy potlucks a couple of times a year. Harmless Harvest orders in from purveyors of healthy meals.

6. Talk about what works.

Smith Brothers, an advertising agency in Pittsburgh, encourages people to share their big wins with the team. Coworkers’ success stories encourage more people to hop on the healthy bandwagon. Smith Brothers shares health tips and best practices through its weekly newsletter and on the dashboard in its break room.

7. Focus on more than physical health.

Motley Fool hosted a “Financial Wellness Day” for its employees with classes on subjects such as buying a home or living cheaply. SnackNation hosts an employee book club. YouEarnedIt, an Austin-based company that creates employee recognition and rewards software, offers learning sessions on a wide variety of subjects to support mental wellness among members of its team. Bazaarvoice — a company that developed a network for brands, retailers and shoppers to communicate — strongly supports employee volunteer activity as a step toward mental wellness. It ties volunteer efforts into its employee recognition and rewards program to encourage larger groups to participate.

8. Create designated “areas of health.”

San Francisco-based startup Hack Reactor has a strict rule that forbids work-related talk in its break room. Instead, employees can listen to guided meditations, play board games or do yoga.

9. Encourage group activities.

Bazaarvoice supports and publicly recognizes team efforts such as recreational sports leagues that bring together groups of employees. The company provides company-branded uniforms or money towards shoes and equipment.

10. Don’t ignore traditional benefits, but don't rely entirely on them.

Find any helpful-but-forgotten wellness benefits your company offers, such as gym discounts and health risk assessments, and tie them into the wellness program. YouEarnedIt quickly found that tying incentives to a gym membership doesn’t work for everyone. Instead, it created an incentive bonus that covers anyone’s activity preference. The company recognizes small decisions, such as the choice of employees to walk to lunch rather than drive. SnackNation and Motley Fool, meanwhile, are among the growing number of companies that provide workplace yoga sessions. Namaste.

Wellness isn’t drudgery. Done right, it’s the best part of the week in every workplace.

Autumn ManningComment