Wellness Programs

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Practical ways to increase productivity, boost morale and reduce stress at your small business

When employees at Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center need a break, they can take a few moments to
breathe deeply and calm their mind in their office meditation room.

“We do try to make sure our own staff have access to wellness opportunities,” says Terri Speirs, the director of development and marketing at the counseling center, who also uses the meditation room to help clear her mind. “We are committed to building a positive staff environment because we believe it’s critical to keep ourselves refreshed and alive to provide the best services for our clients.”

Human resources experts agree: Companies need to encourage healthy living for their employees and take responsibility for supporting them in efforts to do so. Healthy employees have fewer days away from work, work harder and more efficiently, are happier at the office, and have fewer doctors’ appointments and insurance claims.

Ninety-three percent of small-business owners from a National Small Business Association survey say their employees’ physical and mental health is important to their bottom line, but only one-third felt they could manage their employees’ needs because of a lack of information given to employees and lack of employee interest in well being initiatives, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

A wellness program doesn’t have to be something that’s set in stone, but it does need to be goal-oriented, interest employees, and be consistent and measurable, according to PeopleKeep, a Salt Lake City company that
specializes in creating benefit packages for companies.

It can be as simple as providing occasional healthy snacks for the office to conducting an ergonomic assessment to make sure desks and chairs are set up correctly to starting a challenge to see who can walk the most steps or drink the most water.

Here are five ideas for supporting wellness in the workplace.

1. Remember to put employees first

Diane McClanahan, left, and Kay Riley relax in the meditation room at Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center.

The bottom line is important, but no companycan reach its goals without healthy and productive employees.

Any wellness program should be created with the employee in mind. Even with that mindset, the company will still benefit and likely see an increase in productivity, better retention and less turnover, more interest from highly qualified candidates and fewer insurance costs, according to PeopleKeep.

In the National Small Business Association survey, business owners said they were most concerned with the high level of stress they felt their employees had, as well as employees working when they are sick instead of taking a
sick day.

Many of the wellness aspects at the Pastoral Counseling Center are geared toward helping employees deal with the stress of their jobs. Many of the counselors and employees at the center are exposed to the trauma, the
pain, fear or terror that their clients share with them. This can turn into vicarious trauma for the counselor as he or she begins to emphasize with the client, says Jim Hayes, the center’s executive and spiritual director.

“Several of the staff people said, ‘I need this room. I need this room for meditation space,’ ” says Kay Riley, who, along with her husband, Bob, is a longtime supporter of the counseling center and created the meditation room when the building was constructed.

The room lost its purpose and became a storage room for a while before the Rileys brought it back to its original intent and made it a place for rest and stillness.

Counseling center employees can meditate independently or take part in the group morning meditation.

“In addition to people sitting down to meditate, it’s also a place to go if something intense happens (during a session), and you’re not quite ready to face the world yet,” Hayes says.

Most employees will spend hours sitting at their desks. Employers need to ensure they have the proper desk and chair for their bodies, which can be done through an ergonomic assessment. Failure to do so can lead to strains and sprains, which sometimes need to be treated with soft tissue care, says Kensie Haden, who oversees marketing and the wellness-at-work program for Active Wellness Chiropractic and Rehab in Johnston.

2. Take practical first steps

Business owners can start by looking around their office to see what employees have access to for food and physical activities. Those that offer vending machines can easily manage the items offered by eliminating cookies and candy bars, and replacing them with granola bars and other lower-calorie snacks.

If physical activity is an issue, provide employees with longer lunches, according to Inc., a publication that focuses on small businesses and startups. A longer lunch period gives employees time to go to the gym or for a
walk rather than only eating.

Also reconsider the hours employees are considered on the clock, Inc. suggests. Keep work emails to work hours, and give employees their evenings and weekends to relax and focus on personal activities.

PeopleKeep says some small businesses give an “always on” vibe that can cause stress and burn-out, which deteriorates employees’ health. Encouraging employees to disconnect from work during off hours, to leave at a
reasonable time, or even to browse the Internet can provide necessary breaks from workplace stresses.

Education also is key, according to the Wall Street Journal. Provide employees with calorie information for fast-food restaurants as well as other snack foods. In addition, have employees complete confidential health-risk
assessments to learn about potential risk factors to their health. A business’ insurance company can often provide a questionnaire or access to assessment information. A gift card will entice employees to participate.

In addition to the assessments, business owners should evaluate their insurance claim data to determine if employees have any health issues that can be collectively addressed. A dietician or health-care professional can
be brought in to share information with employees about issues such as high blood pressure or cholesterol. For example, Active Wellness has lifestyle and nutrition coaching that helps individuals learn healthy nutrition
habits and how to develop an exercise program, Haden says.

3. Create a plan that’s sustainable

Kensie Haden shows some of the healthy snacks provided to employees at Active Wellness Chiropractic and Rehab in Johnston.

Business owners should ask employees for their ideas about how to improve health and then utilize those ideas to create an overall wellness plan or program.

FitSmallBusiness, an online source that provides information to small business owners, recommends employees
be involved and assigned to research ideas and draft a plan. After business owners talk to employees, all of the ideas can be incorporated into a yearly calendar, so health initiatives can be planned for and scheduled
throughout the year. Business owners should post the calendar in a breakroom or public workspace area and give a copy to each employee. If employees know of activities in advance, they are more likely to participate or
attend.

The U.S. Small Business Administration suggests employers reach out to the Centers for Disease Control for online resources to learn about worksite obesity controls and prevention and how much obesity is costing the company. The company’s health insurance provider and other small-business assistance groups such as the local Small Business Development Center also may have advice or suggestions about wellness programs.

Gallup reports in its 2015 study that 80 percent of all employers offered wellness resources and information to employees, but most of those programs floundered because managers did not take a strong enough role in well-being initiatives.

The program should be built into the company’s culture and should be followed by the upper levels of  management with a “lead by example” mentality. This means any decisions that management makes about
topics such as employee schedules or changes to the physical workspace should take employees’ health into consideration. The work environment should reflect the desire to promote a healthy lifestyle by making it easy for employees to be physically active in ergonomically safe spaces and offering and supporting healthy initiatives, PeopleKeep suggests.

As with any plan or program, management will want to review its success periodically, monthly or quarterly, and make changes based on feedback and results, according to FitSmallBusiness.

Plans or programs that tend to focus on a single approach to improve employee health and don’t modify or become part of the overall company culture will more than likely fail, according to a report by the Harvard
Business Review.

4. Use a combination approach

Many businesses offer ways to improve an employee’s physical health, but there are ways to help with mental and emotional stress as well.

Overall well-being is key to employee performance, and those who thrive in the areas of purpose, social, financial, community and physical well-being miss less work, have greater customer satisfaction, create solutions
and adapt to change more quickly, according to Gallup.

The companies that employ these individuals also save money in healthcare costs and turnover, with 81 percent of them less likely to seek new employment compared to those who only thrive in their physical wellbeing, Gallup reports.

The Pastoral Counseling Center, which employs about 37 people at its Urbandale office, tries to care for all aspects of its employees’ well-being — mind, body and spirit — through a holistic approach, says Diane McClanahan, the counseling center’s  director of leadership and spiritual life.

Active Wellness allows its seven employees to use the client gym, which has a squat rack, kettle bells, treadmill, stationary bicycle and other small pieces of equipment. Employees also have access to healthy snacks such as
fruit, granola bars, vegetables, protein boxes, tea and more. The clinic provides employees one healthy lunch each week.

Employees also have conversations about health and wellness, as well as challenges that include water intake or tracking.

Any competition or challenge usually makes it more likely employees will participate, according to Inc. The longer the challenge, such as training to run or walk a race, the more likely employees will be to stick with their newfound exercise and wellness plan. Entice employees to participate by creating an incentives or rewards program to recognize and celebrate health success, according to PeopleKeep.

“We all find it an important part of our everyday lives and find it easier when you have support from those around you,” Haden says.

5. Think outside the box

The Counseling Center also offers its employees spiritual enrichment classes, where they learn about ways to reduce stress and create mindfulness. Employees have access to trauma sensitive yoga classes, as well as art therapy classes.

The center hosts monthly staff potluck lunches to build community; has an outdoor space for basketball, picnic lunches and walks; and provides weekly professional development opportunities about a mental health topic.

Employees also are building a butterfly garden this spring after one employee set up a monarch butterfly hatching station in the lobby for everyone to enjoy.

“We are a workplace, but we try to make it a place where people feel like they’re cared for as an individual as well as an employee,” Speirs says.

Hyperion Field Club in Johnston recently signed up its employees for a free month of classes through Power Life, a yoga and fitness studio also in Johnston, says Megan Martens, an assistant general manager and member relations director for the club.

Gabe Patten, who oversees the corporate program at Power Life, says it is available to any local business with an office that is interested in offering the program to its employees. A Power Life instructor also will come to the business, as part of the program, and share information about yoga through a lunch-and-learn or a demonstration and provide tips about stretches employees can do at their desk.

Hyperion also allows its department directors to use the club’s fitness center as part of their employment package. Employees can use the tennis courts, golf courses and swimming pool on certain days.

All employees — between 30 and 40 full-time and 130 during the summer season — receive two meals each day depending on work schedule, says Evan Summa, an assistant general manager. There’s always a healthy option that includes a salad, as well as fruit. ♦

Other ideas include:
• Walking lunch hours
• Providing employees with extra days off for reaching activity goals
• Organizing a healthy recipe swap
• Using a local gym or fitness facility’s promotional free week
• Asking other businesses to donate a service or gift card to use as an incentive prize
• Creating a wellness email newsletter with events and recipes to send to employees
• Conducting team lunches to promote socialization and encourage employees to take a break from work
• Sharing information about free pedometer and exercise applications and recipe applications or websites
• Inquiring with local fitness facilities about reduced membership rates or hosting a private class for employees
• Hiring a massage therapist to conduct chair massages for employees
• Ensuring nursing mothers have a lactation lounge
• Providing appointment-scheduling services such as laundry or dry-cleaning drop off and pick-up or oil changes

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