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Business Development

How to Start a Wellness Program at Your Firm

How to Start a Wellness Program at Your Firm - Isaac O'Bannon

As many businesses head back to the office, there’s no better time to implement a health and wellness program for your employees. Many of us, including the author of this article, packed on a few extra “pandemic pounds” during the past year, as exercise regimens and good eating habits fell to the wayside.

There are many reasons firms may want to engage staff in a wellness program. From a purely business perspective, healthier employees perform better and miss less work. And according to the CDC, they are also more productive. Employees who engage in more exercise and healthier eating share these habits with family members and dependents as well, which results in less time lost caring for them. Additional information on the benefits of healthy workers can be found here.

If your firm is considering ways to help support staff by promoting wellness, or is perhaps restarting an existing program, here are some general tips to get you started:

  1. Start with a wellness survey and gauge your staff’s interest in a variety of options (such as the ones listed below). Keep in mind that activities should be broad enough to cater to all ages and capabilities.

  2. Promote a smoke-free policy. While most states don’t allow indoor smoking in work environments, it’s helpful to provide support for workers who want to quit. Your workplace group health insurance may cover some costs, but you may also want consider adding additional support.

  3. Get a business discount for the local gym, especially if that gym is one of your clients. Some staff members may also want to form workout groups, which will make it less intimidating to new gym members.

  4. Offer incentives for those who choose to walk, bike or commute to the office. While this may not be an option for those with a long commute, city-dwelling employees who work in urban offices will appreciate bike racks and maybe lockers for gear, so that it doesn’t clutter the workspace.

  5. Provide healthier on-site meals. If you occasionally have working lunches that include catered meals, consider including healthier options. While you may not want to make every entrée vegan or vegetarian, having healthy options will go a long ways. The same goes for hosting office parties.

  6. Make snacking healthier. If there are vending machines in the office, ensure that half of the items are healthier options. Likewise, provide fruits and vegetables in the break room. How about a healthy snack of the month? If you have a food grower client, consider partnering with them.

  7. Promote eating healthy when away from work. Keep a bulletin board list (or include it on your tech messaging) of healthy dining options near the office for workers who might want to grab a quick bite.

  8. Have you heard of Walking Meetings? This is not a new concept, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: a meeting that takes place while taking a nice walk. It is best suited to only a handful of people, since larger groups can make it difficult to navigate sidewalks. Here’s a great article on walking meetings.

  9. Plan adventure outings. Consider hosting events that include a moderate amount of exercise. This can be as simple as a casual or league sport - basketball, softball, or hiking - clubs of runners or swimmers, or more adventurous outings, such as skiing, mountain biking, zip lining, or sailing. Keep in mind that employees who are a little further from ideal shape should have some options, too. If your firm is larger, consider putting one person in charge of such events. You could also display brochures or share links to local adventure options that staff members may want to try themselves.

  10. How about a pre-work stretch? If someone on your staff is a yoga fan, would they be willing to help organize a once-a-week (or more often) short routine? If not, do you have a yoga or fitness client who might be interested in providing the service?

  11. Make it competitive, but be cautious. Gamification of wellness is a great way to make getting in better shape, or healthier, a bit more fun. But be wary of over-promoting in ways that can lead to rivalries. Although this is not listed as one of the above options, a weight loss competition can be fun, but can also easily go astray. Those leading it should be careful not to discuss actual weight numbers, since it could prove to both embarrassing and stressful. Such programs generally go on an honor system of reporting percentages lost.

  12. Promote naps. Some may scoff at the idea of taking a nap during working hours, but a 15–20-minute nap has been proven to provide benefits to worker productivity. If an employee chooses to do so at the end of their lunch, or you decide to allow for short naps during other times of the day, make it convenient with a private room that’s furnished with a comfortable chair or couch. Learn more about the business benefits of letting employees catch a few ZZZs at

There are countless other items that could be added to this list, especially based on employee interests and the location of your firm. The best way to find out what your staff is interested in is simply to ask them. Perhaps even consider setting up an anonymous suggestion drop box (the old-fashioned paper kind, so they know it’s anonymous). Just don’t try to do too much too fast, and always ensure that your staff’s work and life schedules can accommodate these items.

Also keep in mind that a health and wellness program should not be mandatory, nor should it expose people’s insecurities. Instead, it should reward and inspire staff to get into better habits, and decrease the not-so-healthy ones.

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