Creating a Culture Of Wellness Can Supercharge Productivity and Performance

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By Olivia Napoli, Corporate Wellness Facilitator

Lets face it. The average employee is stressed. And chronic stress can lead to decline in cognitive function, creativity, productivity, and other serious health concerns. Chronic stress, if not dealt with effectively can also lead to long term burnout and absenteeism, where employees aren’t performing at their peak potential, and missing work as a result. Data show that 36 percent of workers suffer from work-related stress that costs U.S. businesses $30 billion a year in lost workdays (Source: Over time, this translates to big business.

According to a new survey from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “Nearly half (44 percent) of working adults say that their current job affects their overall health, but only 28 percent of those believe that effect is a good one.  People say their job has a negative impact on their stress levels (43 percent), eating habits (28 percent), sleeping patterns (27 percent) and weight (22 percent).

 One of the most important investments companies can make in the next decade is in workplace wellness and stress management.  In the last few decades, corporate wellness started off with providing employees with a discounted gym membership, or healthy snacks in the kitchen area. But now, Workplace Wellness is much larger than that. Research has shown that the most successful Wellness programs help their employees thrive from a physical, emotional, mental and financial standpoint.  It’s about educating your workforce on healthy diet and lifestyle habits, so that they not only thrive in their work environment, but also in their personal lives.  Workplace wellness is about providing your employees with a menu of wellness options to help them reach their highest health potential -- across nutrition, stress, sleeping habits, relationships, weight loss, and more. As a result, this will improve the well-being of their workforce, improve business results and build a great company culture.

Here are my top five ways organizations can create a culture of wellness:

1.   Set Wellness Vision and Goals – Where does every employee want to be from a career and wellness perspective? What does the ideal “them” look and feel like?  Empower supervisors or a Wellness expert to walk through this exercise, and help employees articulate their “wellness vision” on paper. 

In addition, another really powerful exercise is creating a 2017 Mind Map. which is an exercise former Google career coach Jenny Blake advocates. This is a powerful visualization tool, and helps employees set clear career and wellness intentions, priorities and focus for the upcoming year, 5 years, even 10 years.  An organization can even scale this exercise company wide as an interactive performance kickoff for the year. 

2.   Fuel Employees with Nutrient-Dense Foods  - Stress and nutrition go hand in hand. The average employee is sitting at their desk downing cups of coffee, sugar laden snacks, energy drinks, and empty calories. This is fueling insulin spikes, crashes and poor metabolic function.  This is bad news for energy levels, performance and overall happiness in the workplace.

Additionally, when our bodies endure times of stress – three primary stress hormones are released, adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine.  These are our “fight our flight” hormones causing our bodies to increase levels of blood sugar (glucose) to feed our heart, muscles, and brain to handle the stress successfully. After that initial burst of energy, we typically crash and need nutritious foods to replenish.  Provide healthy nutrient-dense whole food snacks, filtered water, and teas available to your workforce to promote optimal health and lower stress levels. Explore partnering with a healthy food vendor or company to deliver healthy lunch or breakfast once a week to promote experimentation and adoption. In addition, partner with a Nutrition expert to provide healthy recipes, cooking and meal preparation demonstrations to empower employees to eat healthy at home and with their families. Remember, educating employees on how to make healthy food choices is far more valuable and sustainable than just providing healthy food options.

3.   Make Time for Stress Relief, Balance and Relaxation– Americans don’t take vacations – on average they work 60+ hours a week and there is very little down time. They are hunched over their computer screens, phones, and tablets responding to emails most of the day and into the night. As a result, this increases our stress responses and decreases our relaxation responses. This takes a tremendous toll on someone’s mind and body health. Remember, no amount of kale will counter repetitive chronic stress responses in the body. Because of that, employees finding time to unplug and unwind is critical.  Every person needs to find respite, whether it’s mindfulness, meditation, a brief walk in nature, deep rhythmic breathing, a massage, taking a vacation, or stowing electronic devices every night when you get home. These are all exercises that help employees defrag from the 24/7 bombardment of emails, meetings, obligations and stress.  Encourage employees to find this balance in the office and home environments.

4.   Designing an Environment for Wellness  - A relatively new trend is emerging in wellness architecture and design. In Boston, there was a recent UNITE Live Well/Work Well panel sponsored by the Design Museum Foundation, that explored how smart workplace design is positively affecting the wellness  and performance of several high profile companies. Factors like natural light, air purification, acoustics, the interaction ecosystem, open workspace, giving people space to gather, and space to retreat, all factor in the health and happiness of your workforce. A Workplace Futures Team of Steelcase study of 10,500 workers in Europe, North America and Asia released in November 2014 found that employees surveyed said they got interrupted every 11 minutes. And then an additional 20+ minutes to refocus and realign.  Smart workplace design can minimize these types of interruptions, ensuring employees are in an environment and ecosystem that maximizes performance, productivity and focus.

5.   Create a Culture of Wellness –  If wellness is a one-off event or initiative, research has shown that it is not sustainable. Wellness needs to be engrained in the companies’ DNA with top-down leadership adoption. Yes healthy snacks and a gym membership are great starters, but organizations should take it a step further to empower employees to make sustainable nutrition and lifestyle changes that will lead to lifetime health transformations in and outside of the office.  Educating and equipping your workforce with valuable tools and strategies will lead to lasting sustainable wellness change within your organization, and empower them to make the changes in their life beyond the 9-5.  Provide wellness workshops and seminars, employee newsletters, posters to reinforce healthy lifestyles, an organic garden that everyone an help nurture and harvest from, stress management tools, individual nutrition coaching, healthy cooking demonstrations, weight management classes and more. Encourage employees to participate and keep the dialogue open on what wellness programs are most effective in achieving their wellness goals.

 Lastly, get creative on how you can include employees families as well, whether it’s hosting a company wide fitness day, or wellness materials or information they can bring home and help their family adopt. Try to make wellness programs scalable beyond the workplace, so that employees share with all the important people in their life, and create a wellness ripple effect in their local communities, and beyond.