Workplace Wellness Programs Don’t Have to be Pricey to be Effective

By Jessica Higgins

Nov. 1, 2017

It used to be that the harder and longer you worked, the more respect you earned from your peers. Those long nights and bleary eyes were the sign of a very dedicated employee.

But thanks to our digital-first world today, we’re now on 24-7 whether we like it or not. We tried to maintain that good old approach of long hours means dedication, but we began experiencing burnout. With the advent of working on our phones and iPads we are driving ourselves mad.

The first to really expose this phenomenon was Arianna Huffington. In 2016 she became even more vocal about the importance of sleep, a fairly radical departure from priding ourselves on our service to our company by sacrificing our bodies to the grind.

Just a year later, every major corporation I consult with is rolling out some version of a wellness initiative. Having run the gamut from onsite health coaches to installing sleep rooms, here are the essentials you need to know in order to have an effective wellness program for your organization without it costing a lot of money or productivity.

  1. Begin with purpose-setting. A Wall Street finance firm probably doesn’t want to play table tennis. So often, a well-meaning executive will retrofit best practices they read in articles like this one, costing money and increasing distractions at work. Or worse, having no effect at all. Begin by asking your employees what attracts them to work with your organization day in and day out and what could make that process better. Design your wellness program from the ground up to boost productivity. Otherwise, a nap room could just get in the way of work.

Your true goal here is to make everyone more effective, not less.

Sound, well-planned wellness programs don’t have to cost an organization a lot of money.

You will find one or two areas where everyone really struggles, and whether your solution for that is work from home days, silent work days, limits on nighttime emails, healthy food options, or even brief at-your-desk online fitness coaching, there is an internet innovation to solve nearly every health issue today.

This is where a wellness program becomes a productivity program — when it serves your people better and serves your business purpose as well.

  1. Really commit. Don’t let wellness become corporate rhetoric. The great business leaders are those who see that we must treat each other as whole persons. Life and work have intersected; we have no choice. Companies that commit to caring for their people will always outperform those who don’t. The numbers may not be ideal in the short term, but retaining your best employees and cultivating them saves huge over the long term. The more you truly commit to caring for every side of your employees, the sooner you will overcome the disengagement virus corporate America faces today.
  2. What if you just can’t get buy-in? Most every business has a wellness program already, whether you like it or not. If hunching over a desk for hours at a time is your status quo, well, that’s your current wellness program. My point is, you don’t have to gain widespread buy-in and launch an overt initiative to have wellness at your workplace. Making small changes over time can provide a positive net effect on your employee wellness and engagement.

Take after Steve Jobs and start encouraging your employees to take walking meetings outdoors. Set a five-minute calendar invite to remind people to get up and stretch.

Whatever you do, no matter how small, you will help yourself and others extend your happiness. And isn’t that what work and life should be?

Jessica Higgins is the chief operating officer for Miami Beach-based Gapingvoid Culture Design Group. Comment below or email

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