Worksite wellness: why culture trumps weight-loss

Photo credit: flickr

Worksite wellness is a hot ticket item for organizations these days. As we take a bigger role in our personal health, it makes sense that we get support at the workplace: we spend most of our days there and work is becoming more demanding.

Companies have historically built wellness programs that double down on employee weight-loss to tackle increasing health insurance costs. Sadly, these weight-loss efforts have not been very successful. Why? Studies have shown over and over again that weight-loss and dieting is unsustainable beyond 1 year, let alone 5 years. Solely working on weight-loss means that companies have been focusing on a symptom, not the problem.

We should be asking our employees: what is the real issue?

Virgin Pulse surveyed over 1000 millennials to see what is most important to them. The result? Millennials value culture, which seems to be lacking at many organizations. 77% said that culture is more important to them than salary and benefits. Clearly, people want to work at a place that is awesome, a desire that isn’t exclusive to millennials. A great place to work energizes and motivates employees to be their best in terms of engagement and performance.

Leaders are listening. So, companies are building people-centric wellness programs that make employee health a priority and also create a culture that attracts and keeps the best talent. These go beyond the antiquated focus of weight-loss; wellness now incorporates nutritional, emotional, and mental health.

Here are the top 5 non-weight-loss wellness initiatives that help create a more exciting work environment:

#1.  Mindfulness Training

Stress is inevitable and unavoidable at work. That’s where mindfulness training comes in. It promotes awareness to help us pause and reflect instead of (over)reacting quickly. This is perhaps the most hippy-dippy area of wellness that is emerging, but it may be the most promising. In fact, Google has developed a free mindfulness training for all of their employees, punfully named “Search Inside Yourself.” Its goal is to help employees develop mental and emotional acuity through various practices like breathing, yoga, gratitude, and exercise. Stress management is essential in any work setting. I predict this is going to explode in popularity in the coming years.

#2.  Free Healthy Meals/Snacks

Free food at work is touted as one of the best perks at big tech companies, but many companies still do not have it. Is it worth it? 100%. Convenience is one of the hardest challenges of eating healthfully, so let’s make healthy food more readily available. Over the years, on-site dining has evolved from simply “free lunch” to gourmet meals and snacks focused on food that is healthy, organic, and local. Even vending companies are making supply changes to meet the demand for healthier snacks. If organizations can’t build an on-site cafeteria, they can start small with a vending machine make-over to provide increased access to healthier choices.

#3.  Fertility Benefits/Egg-Freezing

We are a generation that is work-centric. “Ambitious” may be an understated descriptor for millennials. Statistically, people are having children later in life (if any at all). Organizations like Apple and Facebook recognize this and offer egg-freezing as an employee benefit for women who want to continue working. This gives women a security blanket for the future. Think of it this way: “I get to work at an awesome company that also pays to help me have a baby later if/when I want one? Score!”

#4.  Extended (or Unlimited) Parental Leave/PTO

Many companies, most notably Netflix, provide employees with unlimited PTO/sick days. This doesn’t mean that people can take a year off and get paid to chill (please, no “Netflix and Chill” jokes). There are reasonable attachments to it. Simply put, you have to get your work done beforehand. New parents can generally get up to 4 months of paid time off after giving birth or adopting a new baby. Netflix has even extended it to an unlimited amount, although the parameters haven’t been fully disclosed. The message here is: “take time to recover and focus on yourself and your family when you need it. When you get back, you’ll feel rejuvenated and ready to kick butt.” Leaders know that time off is essential for employees to maintain their great performance.

#5.  Open Floor Plans

Ergonomically standing desks have already made their mark at work and in schools. But what’s healthy about open floor plans? Traditionally walled offices allow for privacy but sadly maximize isolation. Working with in open spaces allows for more non-virtue interaction to boost employee moods. While being happy may not clearly improve work effectiveness, it’s a step in the right direction. Happier employees bring more enthusiasm and passion into their work. Quality of work and workspace wins here.

With its ever growing applications, wellness programs are making a big impact on employee health and company culture–both of which are essential to productivity at work. It is a long term investment that is worth its weight in gold.

Thomas Ngo, Registered Dietitian


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