group of people doing yoga by the water wellness programs

How Employee Wellness Programs Boost Productivity

By Pamela DeLoatch

Wellness can be defined as the active process of becoming aware of and making choices towards a healthy and fulfilling life. It is more than being free from illness, it is a dynamic process of change and growth.

At 15Five, our focus is on people and how to improve the performance management process for both you and your employees. But for employees to perform well, they must be well. This means that everyone must practice living a healthy lifestyle by taking care of themselves physically, mentally, and socially. Keeping employees well means having a workplace environment that promotes the health and wellbeing of the whole individual.

Although many companies offer medical benefits, only a select few actually promote holistic wellness on a daily basis. Some companies may assume wellness programs are too expensive or too difficult to implement, but what these same companies may not realize is that there is a strong correlation between a person’s well-being and their performance.

The Wellness and Performance Connection

You’ve no doubt heard that employees who are engaged in their work perform better. But it is hard for them to be engaged when they’re sick. Even a mild illness like a cold can decrease an employee’s energy level and distract them from the current task. A longer term condition, like stress, can have the same effect. When you or your employees feel unwell, whether it is due to physical, mental, or social causes it impacts work and productivity.

The correlation between wellness and performance can easily be seen in almost any organization. For example, we know that today’s employees are more stressed than ever before. A recent survey from Cigna shares that four out of five people say they are stressed, with 15% of those same respondents claiming their level of stress is unmanageable. Not only can chronic stress lead to burnout and turnover, those who stay in these environments increase their risk of stress related illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, obesity, and mental illness.

Stressed employees are also expensive. The American Institute of Stress did the math and found that healthcare costs, accidents, absenteeism, employee turnover, decreased productivity, and worker’s comp from highly stressed employees tallies up to $300 billion for the U.S. each year.

While it is difficult for your employees to deliver peak performance when their under stress, have a physical ailment, or even feel isolated, the opposite is also true. Employees who are well and happy perform significantly better. Numerous studies, such as one from Psychologist Shawn Achor found that employees who are happy are 31% more productive than those who are not. Not convinced? The study also found that salespeople who are positive have 37% better sales, and positive physicians are 19% better at diagnosing illnesses. Happy employees could mean the difference between life or death in some cases.

To be clear, organizations can’t “make” an employee happy, however, they can develop a collaborative culture of health and promote wellness initiatives empowering employees to feel their best-selves.

It’s no surprise that engaged employees perform significantly better than those who are unhappy. Try 15Five to get more out of your 1-on-1s.

Getting On Board with Wellness

As companies realize the impact of wellness on their employees, leaders are increasingly developing and promoting various programs that encourage employees to be more active and to pay more attention to their health. Nearly half (46%) of companies surveyed by the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) offer various health and wellness programs. Some large corporations may have epic offerings for physical wellness, such as onsite gyms and napping pods. Other activities can be incorporated to focus on social wellness, with table tennis, Friday happy hours, co-ed softball leagues, or team challenges that build community.

Not every company can launch a spectrum of programs, but the companies that do find that implementing alternative culture boosts create a good start to wellness.

For example, marketing technology consultancy, GeekHive began offering employee yoga classes led by Shannon Brennan-Cressey, their director of digital marketing and a certified yoga instructor. Because prolonged sitting and inactivity can lead to health problems, and GeekHive’s employees typically sit at a desk and work on computers all day, Brennan-Cressey decided to introduce the Hatha Yoga approach, focusing on stretching the hips, hamstrings, shoulders, and wrists.

Workplace yoga is known for its relaxing benefits, but it also increases focus and confidence. Breathing techniques used in yoga bring oxygen to the brain, increasing relaxation or energy as needed. Breathing is also key for meditating, which increases mental clarity. Not only do these yoga classes help GeekHive employees physically, the social aspects of trying something new together and the mental benefits of yoga contribute to employee well-being.

Encouraging Physical Movement with Fun Activities

Physical movement doesn’t just burn calories, it causes your cardiovascular system to perform better, and even helps you to think more clearly. Simply walking more can boost creativity by 60%. Walking increases blood flow to the brain, particularly the areas of learning and memory, increasing attentiveness.

Not everyone wants to sweat it out at the gym, but companies can incorporate movement into the workday. Next time you have a meeting, instead of booking that conference room, try taking a walking meeting and get some fresh air while you’re at it.

Another great example of a creative employee wellness program comes from Zappos, the online shoe retailer and cultural innovator. The company is known for its phenomenal customer service, and one way it keeps employees prepared for the marathon of phone calls is through Recess Tuesdays. Just as it sounds, every Tuesday, wellness coordinator Kelly Maher puts playground equipment on the plaza so employees can feel welcome to come outside and play. It organically draws people in without forcing them—and who doesn’t want some adult recess time?

Companies can also rally the troops with gentle competition from a step or weight loss challenge, using a common exercise app. This can help employees meet coworkers outside of their usual social circles, have fun, and create a sense of accomplishment. If participation is voluntary and senior leaders are all in, this enthusiasm can introduce a new sense of motivation.

Creating Relationships for Social Wellness

Ensuring employees feel like they belong is an important part of wellness. Studies show that employees who have besties at work are more engaged and less likely to leave. On the flip side, employees who are lonely (and most are) are less productive, less healthy, and even more likely to quit. The effect of lonely employees costs U.S. employers $3.5 billion per year.

Companies can help employees cultivate relationships by creating social wellness programs that bring people together. Celebrations and other social activities show employees they are seen and valued. Departmental retreats, virtual coffee dates with people on remote teams, taking a non-work related class, hosting a lunchtime potluck meal, or learning how to form a flash mob are fun ways your company can bring people together.

Within the walls of the office building, provide a breakroom and the opportunity to use it in order to foster interaction throughout the day. Include all employees (yes, remote workers, too) in activities by establishing an online Slack channel for informal team conversations. This helps employees feel connected wherever they are, especially when the GIFs start flying.

It’s easy for remote employees to be unintentionally overlooked—out of sight, out of mind. Spend a few moments at the beginning of meetings to check in with one another as employees might naturally do outside of work. Since clues about a remote employee’s personal life aren’t usually visible, be sure to ask and show interest in what motivates them outside of the office. Questions about their plans for the weekend or their tennis league final shows you’re paying attention to them as individuals.  

When you set out to build a healthy workplace culture, remember that this change is not a one-and-done process. Use a wellness survey to find out what areas concern your employees the most (i.e. what is their greatest pain point) and start with activities to improve that area.

Even if you start with a simple activity such as a step challenge, your overall message authentically conveys that the organization cares about the employees and recognizes the importance of holistic wellness long-term.

Build a healthy organizational culture where people have a prevalent sense of well-being. Not only will they be more engaged at work, they will begin to thrive in all aspects of their lives.

career development

Pamela DeLoatch is a B2B technology writer specializing in creating marketing content for the HR industry. With a background as an HR generalist and specialist, she writes about the employee experience, engagement, diversity, HR leadership, culture and technology. Follow Pamela on Twitter @pameladel.

Photo By: Cole Allen on Unsplash


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