This is well-known about tech companies like Google, Airbnb, Facebook, and LinkedIn. But it’s also increasingly true of more conventional employers like Target, General Mills, and Aetna.
What all of these companies understand is that beyond simply being the right thing to do, investing in employee wellbeing results in a wide array of benefits.
In my work with major law firms and consulting firms, for example, I have seen changes such as the following take place in as little as four months:
The ROI of employee wellness programs has also been demonstrated through a number of larger-scale studies. In a 2010 Harvard study on 36 workplace wellness programs, researchers found that for every $1 spent on wellness programs, employers saved $3.27 on healthcare and $2.73 on costs related to lost productivity and absenteeism.
So the question is no longer whether your company should invest in these programs, but how. In particular, how can you create an employee wellness program that takes full advantage of these benefits?
While each industry has a unique set of needs, there are seven core principles we at Life Cross Training have identified for how to maximize the effectiveness of your corporate wellness program.
This one sounds obvious, but it’s the reason many well-intentioned programs fail. Design an internal marketing campaign to give your employees information on the logistics of the program. Clear communication about the benefits of the program (see below) can go a long way toward ensuring that you achieve high turnout and enthusiasm.
Rather than pitching your program in terms of practices — learning to meditate, do yoga, or cultivate mindfulness — lead with the benefits: increasing productivity, becoming more resilient to stress, or achieving peak performance. The fact is that most people aren’t all that interested in sitting on a chair with a straight spine and following their breath for 10 minutes. But almost everyone is interested in achieving greater levels of focus, productivity, and resiliency. So it’s important to highlight the benefits of engaging in these programs at every step of the way.
Designate a room in your office for wellbeing. This could be a yoga, meditation, or wellness room, for example. By creating a physical space for wellbeing, you give employees a place — free from the distractions of their desk — where they can take a short break from work to move, breathe, or meditate. This separate space can serve a number of different functions. If you hold regular meditation or yoga classes, it can serve as a meeting place for the group. But it’s also the ideal place for your employees to go to experience just a few moments of rest and relaxation in the midst of their day, which will in turn allow them to come back to work feeling more focused, engaged, and energized.
The implicit norms of most organizations preclude taking time out of the workday for individual wellbeing. We live and work in a culture where constant “doing” is rewarded by approval and status and where taking a moment to simply “be” feels like slacking or being lazy. Because these norms are strong, it’s important for leaders and managers to affirm their own willingness to invest in wellbeing, model that behavior by taking time themselves, and offer explicit permission to their employees to take this time. If this kind of formal and informal permission is not clearly communicated, you will likely find that employees feel reluctant to take advantage of wellbeing programs or even feel timid about using a meditation or yoga room.
We have found that the most powerful way to promote wellbeing across an organization is to create daily habits that offer all employees a chance to experience these benefits. For example, you might share things you’re grateful for at the end of company meetings or institute a five-minute daily pause or some other habit. Creating these kinds of company-wide rituals serves two purposes. First, it gives employees permission and encouragement to focus on training the skill of wellbeing. Second, it gives everyone in the organization a reminder to turn these practices into regular habits. After all, if the goal is lasting change, it’s essential that the practices of wellbeing aren’t just experienced during a one-day offsite event or a workshop. To really offer lasting impact, they need to become daily habits.
Find the people in your organization who are most excited about setting up a program like this and ask them to lead the work of spreading the word about the program and promoting its benefits. These evangelists can help with marketing efforts and even with facilitating events and workshops. They will also create an internal “buzz” about the program that can go a long way toward motivating others to participate.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do in setting up a wellness program is give your employees a choice. Forcing wellbeing on your organization is a recipe for disaster. If your employees feel that they have to do this, they will likely begin to feel resentful and will become disengaged in the program. The fact is that creating new, more productive habits requires that employees enter the program with an intrinsic desire to change. We have found that giving them the power to choose is the best way to spark this kind of inner motivation.
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