Nearly a decade ago, I had an “ah-hah” moment when it came to my health. In my 20s, when I should have been at my peak wellness and at the top of my fitness game, I was overweight, exhausted and totally unmotivated to make a change.
Then I took a new job where every day I was hearing, documenting and sharing the stories of men and women who proved it was never too late to make positive changes, and showed that small steps could add up to big change. If they weren’t inspiration enough, the man I called boss – and more importantly, friend – led by example as he competed in masters athletics events including swimming and track and field, and encouraged everyone on our team to pursue their own passions.
More and more, executives and human resource professionals are understanding that healthy employees are efficient employees. They are happier in the office and outside of it, more motivated to reach new goals in their profession, and, from a sheer financial standpoint, can actually save companies money.
But the change has to come from the top. Wellness programs only work when they’re easy to take part in (and fun, too!). So, how can you get started?
Provide healthier snacks
This may seem so simple, but it can have an immediate impact. We are creatures of habit, and even though we know that fresh fruit is a better choice than candy, it can be very hard to say no when the unhealthier option is right in front of us.
So take away the temptation! Stock the vending machines or kitchen pantry with protein-packed snack bars or popcorn (high in fiber and really filling for fairly low calories). Remove the soda and make water easy to grab. If you have a standing pizza order every Friday, or buy birthday cakes once a month, why not see if employees are open to switching it out for something a little healthier?
In my experience, restricting or banning foods at home or in the office backfires. But remember: people are free to bring whatever they want from home, so you’re not stopping them from eating or drinking their favorite snacks and treats. You’re just not going out of your way to provide unhealthy snacks.
Encourage break-time activity
When it comes to fitness, the reality is that time is not always our friend. If you work a 9-5 day, for example, you probably have to leave your house around 8:30, which means you are getting ready at 7:30. Then in the evening, you’re getting home at 5:30 to the long list of extracurricular activities on your plate (taking kids to their own activities, doing housework, socializing with friends, and so on). In these circumstances, it can be hard to get (and stay) motivated to for morning or evening workouts on a consistent basis.
So if you’re a boss who wants to inspire the whole team to commit to wellness, make it clear that employees are allowed – encouraged even – to get creative with their breaks. These 5 workouts can all be done right in the office in a very short window of time. Even better: send them outside for some fresh air, a long walk, or even some yoga or meditation.
And if you’re able, try to let your team out early once a week or once a month, with the understanding that you want them to do something active. You can’t require it, but I find that when people are given high expectations, they generally rise to meet them.
Sponsor races, gym memberships and sports leagues
One of the main reasons people neglect to work out is because it costs money. That’s a very real and very fair piece of feedback. So, if you can, ease that burden by paying for race entries (some local events are as low as $10 for a 5K run/walk), offset some or all of the costs of joining a local gym or fitness studio, or perhaps consider forming and sponsoring a sports league for employees to join.
And if that’s not in the budget, get creative. This 12-pack of pedometers is inexpensive and if you buy one for each employee, you can even run your own inter-office competition to see who can get the most steps per week. The winner gets a gift card, or maybe everyone pitches in a few dollars to join in and the winner takes the pot!
I will never, ever win my age group at a half-marathon, lift the most weight for my weight class or get any kind of special recognition for my fitness achievements. I don’t do what I do for the glory.
But can I tell you a secret? I cry every time I finish a race. When the crowd – strangers, all of them – cheers for me, and when the volunteers drape a medal around my neck, it is an exhilarating feeling. That small acknowledgement of my efforts is such a huge motivation, and immediately has me setting new and bigger goals.
You can do the same thing by celebrating employees in your corporate newsletter, on social media, or even just by stopping by their offices and telling them that you’re proud.
Lead by example
Nothing is as effective or motivating as a boss who walks the walk. So make sure that you’re not just handing out decrees, but actually participating and visibly showing your employees that you really are all in on this workplace wellness commitment.
Don’t forget the environment you provide, either. Hang motivational artwork in the break rooms or hallways (I don’t care how silly some of them may be – they work!). If you’re able, offer sit-stand desks or other furniture that allows people to be more active even when they’re at the computer or on phone calls.
Need a bigger bottom-line reason to help your employees get and stay healthy? Consider that this type of program can be a huge differentiator when you’re recruiting new employees or filling open spots. What you do now will not only help your current employees, but also set the stage for those who are considering your company and weighing their options. So give them another reason to join your company instead of the competitor.
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