I’m interviewing for full-time positions right now and one of the things I’ve consistently noticed in the interviews is a real show of how different workplaces support their employees on multiple levels. Coming from a grant-funded position where this wasn’t really the norm, I have been endlessly impressed with the on-site fitness centers, healthy vending machines, and morning running clubs at some of the companies I’ve applied to. Which of course got me to thinking: how many companies are investing in their employees’ wellness and why?

 

The research shows a lot of different things. One, that the corporate wellness industry is steadily growing both financially and in popularity. Companies eager to retain good employees are investing in their staff regularly and with great creativity. An employee for an online hiring site recently shared that her office had an “art room” filled with adult coloring books, walls made from white boards, musical instruments, zen gardens, and stress balls as both an inspirational space and relaxation room. Another friend of mine who works in online marketing told me that her employer has nutritionists come in a few times a year to present, answer questions, and then cater a healthy lunch for the entire staff. They also offer weekly workouts in their on-site gym that were free to employees. And yet another friend mentioned that after a particularly grueling week at work, her employer took them to a wellness clinic for an IV boost and a massage.

 

If this seems superfluous, you couldn’t be more wrong. Studies show that investments into staff health and well-being has a substantial return on investment. In fact, poor employee health and happiness can be seen in missed employee time, lost revenue, and strain from unhealthy conditions. Ever worked somewhere toxic only to leave for somewhere wonderful, look around and think, “why did I ever settle to begin with, I’m a whole other person here”? Productivity, social interactions, and drive can all be tied to employee well-being, so why wouldn’t employers looking to be at the top of their industry strive to cash in on that?

 

One of the most interesting things I came across in my research is that some companies have begun to include other wellness options in their programming. Things like counseling, financial planning, and even higher education benefits seem to be prevalent around the nation. Major universities offer education benefits for their employees, encouraging them to earn nearly free degrees while working their full-time job. At the University of Texas at Austin, staff even has the opportunity to take a 3-hour class during work hours in order to fulfill the requirements of their degree. As an educational hub, it seems only fitting that universities prioritize their staff by prioritizing their education. In addition, some university departments offer a standard salary increase to staff who complete a degree while employed.

 

Talk about educated incentives.

 

So what sorts of programs are out there and how much do they cost? The truth is, it varies and it can require a little creativity on your part. Smaller companies may not have the same accessible funds as larger ones but the impact can be just as palpable given the right combination of assessing your employees’ interests and relying on your own ability to be creative. A friend of mine mentioned that the directors at her job put together a surprise “hot cocoa bar” on a particularly cold day for the entire staff just before the holidays and it was a huge hit.

 

Inexpensive and thoughtful can have the same impact as something expensive and over-the-top.

 

My previous office would vote on an organization and then host a drive for whatever they were in need of from food for the local pound to women’s clothing for the local shelter to canned goods for the student pantry on campus. We would make it a competition between departments and then host a potluck to announce the winners at the end, something that served as both community service and team-building for all involved.

 

Inexpensive and thoughtful, y’all.

 

So, ready for the ideas portion of the blog? SO ARE WE!! Below is a list of our favorite corporate wellness ideas for your office to implement as we move into 2020, what is surely to be our best year yet.

 

  • Meeting Mix-ups

 

A friend of mine showed up to a meeting right before the holidays only to be surprised with a cookie decorating party, quite possibly one of my favorite ideas so far. Her coworkers spent the hour smearing frosting everywhere, chatting about the upcoming holiday, and taking a much-needed break from their workday. Scheduled downtime is probably one of the best perks you can offer your staff, something about a sanctioned break just makes the rest of the day all the easier. Similar ideas include offering “brain breaks” in the form of games or creative expression like painting or coloring (a staff painting class I hosted a few years back was the most successful event of the year eve with HR presenting new procedures during) in the midst of longer meetings. Ensuring that meetings are productive and positive will have a definite effect on your staff. Take time to “cheer a peer” or call out employees for jobs well done, not just discuss the lack of motivation close to the holidays or how half the eighth floor likes to skip out twenty minutes early on Fridays.

 

2) Celebrate your employees

 

Keeping track of birthdays and work anniversaries is a simple task that can then be used to remind your employees that you’re thinking of them. From sending a free e-card to organizing an actual luncheon, this sort of perk is thoughtful and can be adjusted based on your budget and the amount of employees you have. Don’t shy away from this one just because you have a lot of staff, this is one that is seemingly small but immensely impactful.  Something like a monthly celebration lunch/potluck/breakfast allows you to schedule a day that works for everyone but allows you to celebrate everyone in one spot to maximize time and funds. Just make sure that you announce them loud and proud!

 

3) Help them be healthy

 

This is a great one because it can be as easy as scheduling a morning running group, hiring a yoga instructor to come out twice a month, or even creating an on-site fitness center. Set an office wellness challenge (bonus points for letting your staff set the parameters) and reward successful participants with healthy goodies or time off. Put in water bottle stations to reduce plastic use and increase water consumption. Schedule quarterly/yearly retreats with wellness in mind like ropes courses or beach days or hike/bike trails. Just make sure they’re accessible to everyone and match the interests of your employees. Another great idea I read about was an office that set New Years resolutions as a group, posted them where everyone could see them, and then encouraged each other along the way! You can take this a step further by scheduling events/meetings/classes to help them reach their goal together. For example, if you have a group of staff looking to quit smoking (yay!) check out programs to help them do so and schedule them so they can all attend together.

 

4) Encourage growth

 

The worst thing to be is stagnant in a position and supervisors should be actively supporting their employees who go out of their way to improve themselves. Offer workshops on relaxation, education benefits, professional development classes, or counseling to provide a safe and healthy work environment for your crew. Incentives for attending these sessions is also a great way to encourage participation and destigmatize any preconceived notions about training and mental health.  Also, providing on-site trainings, group classes, or even scheduling time to attend conferences is a huge benefit to your staff and ultimately, your company. Encouraging staff to seek out professional development that they are interested in and then providing funding and time for them to complete it is a perk I ask about in all of my interviews. Most companies set budgets for this per employee as well as a max time allotment that can be written into employee contracts or advertised as a perk of the company. Worried about staff not using their conference days wisely? Add a stipulation that they present on their favorite sessions when they return as a sharable moment with those that weren’t able to attend. I almost always came back from conferences with hundreds of idea and I was eager to share with my coworkers.

 

What sorts of corporate perks does your job offer? Are there any that you would love to have access to? Tell us! We would love to hear all about how Austin companies are investing in their workers.

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