Culture of wellness: Small steps offer big gains

Veronica Daehn Harvey
Veronica Daehn Harvey

As an employer, should you you try to make a difference in the lives of your employees? Do you want to? Should you have to?

The answer is yes to all of the above. Healthier employees are happier employees. They’re more productive and take fewer sick days. Employees in good health contribute to the overall workplace atmosphere — morale tends to be higher in offices where people feel good. Moreover, at offices where people feel good, employees enjoy being at work, miss fewer days, work harder and accomplish more. That’s a win for their bottom lines, but also yours.

So how do you get there? How do contribute to your employees’ health and well-being? It’s called creating a culture of wellness. While that might sound like one more thing to add to your to-do list, it’s not rocket science. It’s not impossible. It doesn’t even have to be difficult.

A culture of wellness in a workplace is just that, the entire culture of a work environment. Does your business have doughnuts in the break room each morning? What about pizza ordered in for working lunches? Do you ever see your manager step away from his or her desk to take a 30-minute walk? Do you offer discounted gym memberships or a time during the workday specifically set aside for fitness? How many of your employees ride their bikes to work? What are they drinking at their desks — soda or water? Do you see power bar wrappers in cubicle trash cans or empty bags of chips?

All these questions get at where a company’s at in terms of a culture of wellness and can help point you toward where you need to go, where there’s room to grow.

Start small. It’s OK. Baby steps lead to big gains if you keep taking them. Instead of doughnuts at morning meetings, try fruit salad. If that’s too big of a jump, try bagels and low-fat cream cheese. For a catered working lunch, how about sandwiches and salads instead of pizza?

Choosing healthier foods in the workplace sends a message to employees. It could even help lead them down a path of choosing healthier foods at home. Misery really does love company. It’s so much easier to sit on the couch and eat ice cream in front of the TV at night when your spouse is doing it, too. If your colleagues are all eating doughnuts at a 9 a.m. meeting, the chances of you enjoying one are higher, too. Think about what might happen if everyone ate apples like they do fried bread and sugar?

It’s not just about treats or lunches at work, however. It’s also about physical activity and movement.

The desk culture is a tricky beast. Many Americans with office jobs sit at their desks, essentially idle, for most of their work days. This is a huge change in how our society used to live. Before many of us worked in offices, we worked in the fields on our farms or in factories or in other professions that didn’t tie us to our computers and chairs. Granted, not everyone has a desk job now. But for those who do, staying active throughout the day is critical.

Consider scheduling 20-minute group walks a couple times a day. Have employees meet to walk together outside. When they return from a walk, they’ll be refreshed, energized and better able to mentally focus on their work. Plus, they’ll have strengthened relationships while on their walks. That’s good for a healthy workplace, too.

Some companies offer fitness centers on site. This, of course, is ideal, but isn’t a reality for many. Offering fitness classes over the lunch hour is a huge perk to employees. Yoga, Zumba, aerobics and other fitness classes that don’t require much equipment offer great choices for worksite fitness classes. Offering employees a chance to exercise during their work day increases their chances of doing it and ultimately could increase a company’s bottom line.

For more information on worksite wellness and creating a culture of wellness, visit the Wellness Council of America website at