Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

Tips for Staying Hydrated

GettyImages-1372307016Do you drink enough water throughout the day? The body and all of the systems in it require a certain level of water to preform everyday activities. Staying hydrated can help move waste out, maintain a normal body temperature, and cushion your joints. Here are six tips to make sure you stay hydrated throughout the day.   

Carry a water bottle. A reusable water bottle is a fantastic way to increase fluid intake while reducing plastic waste. You are going to be more likely to drink water if you have it with you than you would if the water fountain was right down the hall. A water bottle makes water readily available to you whenever you feel thirsty. You could even personalize your water bottle to make it an accessory, like a purse or watch.  

Add flavor. I get it, water can be bland, flavorless, and not all water tastes the same. Give your water a touch of flavor by adding produce. There are water bottles that are made for fruit infusions! Citrus fruits, berries, cucumbers, mint, or rosemary added to your water can bring delicious flavors to your drink. Water flavoring packets like crystal light or electrolyte water additives can be a low-calorie way to add flavor to your water. You will be more likely to drink it if the water is not bland. 

Make it part of your routine. Become attached to your water bottle just like a cellphone. When you wake up in the morning, grab your water bottle and take a drink. You can add sips of water into your day after something you do often throughout your day. If you answer phones all day, take a sip of water after you hang up. This will become a habit if you stick to it. Soon you will catch yourself taking a drink of water because your desk neighbor’s phone rang. Just remember to refill the bottle when it is empty.

Alternate your drinks. You do not have to give up your juice, smoothie, coffee, or favorite tea. These drinks do have water in them although not enough to keep you hydrated. Try having a glass of water the next time you go to fill up you cup. A cup of water every other drink can help keep you hydrated without you craving tea or juice later. This method can also help you cut back on the caffeine and sugar intake. 

Eat your water. Hydration does not always come from drinking water. Certain fruits and vegetables contain high levels of water that can aid in hydration. Melons, cucumber, apples, lettuce, and others can help keep you hydrated if eaten throughout the day. When drinking water gets bland or you are in the mood for a healthy snack, give fruits and vegetables with high water contents a try.

Try sparkling water. If soda has become the first thing you reach for when you are thirsty, then flat water is not going to appeal to you. Switch out your soda for a can of sparkling water to quench your thirst. Sparkling water has less sugar and less calories than soda. Regular water does not contain the carbonation your body is so used to from drinking soda. Sparkling water contains that carbonation and comes in different flavors to satisfy your thirst while keeping your taste buds happy.

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Topics: hydration employee wellness healthy habits

Taking Time for Your Mental Health

GettyImages-1307095695Mental health has been a growing topic of conversation over the last few years, and for good reason. The first step of mental health awareness is being comfortable enough to talk about it. This topic is no longer taboo, and people are learning to prioritize their mental health. According to the CDC, “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act.” Mental illness effects millions of people in the U.S. each year. It’s important to measure how common mental illness is so that we can recognize that no one is alone in their battles.

  • 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year.
  • 1 in 20 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year.
  • 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year.
  • 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24.
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34.

 

Mental and physical heath are equal components of overall health, and they often go hand in hand. For example, chronic exposure to stress hormones can cause an increased risk for heart disease, heart attacks, high blood pressure, strokes as well as many other negative health effects.

It is important that we take time to focus on our own mental health, and here is a list of ways you can prioritize your mental well-being:

  1. Get Active - Exercise has been proven to boost your mood, improve self-esteem, improve sleep, reduce stress, and diminish feelings of anxiety and depression.
  2. Establish Boundaries - If you agree to everything, you won’t have time to relax and decompress. If you say yes to everything and are constantly on the go, you won’t have time to prioritize your mental health. You need to set boundaries.
  3. Avoid Negative Self-Talk – Negative self-talk will increase feelings of anxiety and depression. It can cause an increase in stress levels and lower self-esteem.
  4. Create Support System - Keeping your mental health struggles from loved ones doesn’t help anything. The sooner you open up about these struggles, the sooner you can receive treatment.
  5. Become Aware of your own feelings – Many people will ignore and avoid their feelings and go about their day like nothing is wrong. If you don’t address your feelings, it will build up until you reach a breaking point.
  6. Eat nutritious meals – A healthy, well-balanced diet can help us think clearly and feel more alert. It can also improve concentration and attention span. A poor diet can lead to fatigue, impaired decision-making and attention span. It can lead to an increase in stress and depression.
  7. Reach out to a professional – Therapy is a great way to help identify your stressors, learn about your emotions, and receive a plan to address those issues.

Getting stressed out at work if perfectly normal, but when stress and anxiety is persistent and overwhelming, it needs to be managed properly. It is important to seek help when these feelings are taking over your daily life.

Topics: employee wellness mental health selfcare

Be Aware of Your Air – 4 Basics of Understanding Air Quality

GettyImages-1291085789Taking advantage of the benefits nature has to offer, I step outside and take a deep breath of fresh air to begin my walk. Big inhale… slow exhale, “ahhhhh…so relax…” sudden coughing interrupts… “hmm the air seems a little thick today. Not quite the relaxing deep breath I was hoping for,” I shrug it off and continue on my way. But should I simply just dismiss it? The answer is, I don’t know until I check the condition of the air quality.

Recently, here at the senior living community, we’ve started weekly walks through the beautiful campus while the weather is nice. A recent warning about air quality had me questioning why I wasn’t monitoring this regularly. If I’ve been shrugging this off, how many others are doing the same and endangering their health? So, I decided I wanted to feature the air quality condition for the community walks, but a little digging was required to get caught up to speed on the subject. Here are 4 basics to help us understand air quality.

Where can the current air quality level be found? Most weather apps will provide air quality status, including warnings. Alerts include a brief description of the condition, as well as populations who should be cautious and activities to be reconsidered. More in-depth information can be found on resources such as AirNow.gov and epa.gov. Here you can learn about everything from air quality basics to trends to global readings to activity guides.

What exactly does the Air Quality Index measure? The AQI measures 5 major air pollutants: ground level ozone, particle pollution (including PM10 and PM2.5), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. Healthy levels have been determined by US Environmental Protection Agency.

What is PM? PM stands for particulate matter in both solid and liquid forms. Some PM can be seen with the naked eye, like smoke, dust, and smog, while others require a microscope. Both forms are dangerous when inhaled. PM10 substances are 10 micrometers or smaller in diameter. PM2.5 are 2.5 micrometers and smaller. EPA puts it into perspective by comparing a human hair at 70 micrometers - that’s 30 times larger! When inhaled, these particles can stick deep into the lungs or even enter the blood stream, causing serious health concerns. PM originates from things like construction sites, fires, fields, power plants, and automobiles.

What AQI level is considered safe for outdoor activity? AQI rates air pollution levels on a scale from 0 – 500, associated with different colors to reflect if the conditions of the air are safe for everyone, some or no one. The basic AQI from Air Now defines the ratings as shown below:

  • Green (0-50) means the air quality is good and pollution levels are not threatening.
  • Yellow (51-100) means the condition of the air is moderate, but those who are unusually sensitive to air pollution could be at risk.
  • Orange (101 – 150) means the air quality is unhealthy for sensitive groups, including those with heart disease and lung conditions. Activity should me limited for sensitive groups.
  • Red (151 – 200) means the air quality is unhealthy, causing possible health effects for some of the general public and more serious effects to sensitive groups.
  • Purple (201 – 300) means the air quality is very unhealthy and poses a health alert for everyone.
  • Maroon (301 – 150) means the air quality is hazardous and initiates a health warning of emergency conditions in which everyone is more likely to be affected.

Next Step: minimizing air pollution! How are you intentional in improving the air quality?

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Topics: senior wellness employee wellness air quality

Corporate Fitness: Welcoming Employees Back to the Fitness Center

GettyImages-1267511601As organizations are planning to reopen their offices in the weeks and months ahead, many questions are swirling around what the new office landscape will look like for both employers and employees. Some organizations are telling their employees if they can work from home full-time, they’d like for them to continue doing so permanently. Others can’t wait to return to normal office operations while also recognizing a hybrid telecommuting model will likely be the outcome.

Whatever that landscape looks like for employers upon reopening, one certainty that is clear is the need to provide flexible wellness program options to accommodate employees wherever they might be working. Last month, I shared some considerations on safety policies when reopening your fitness center. Now, check out these program and service considerations as you welcome back your employees with flexible options!

For your employees returning onsite:

  • Membership Drives & Orientations: if you froze memberships to your onsite corporate fitness center over the past year, hosting a membership drive and general orientation appointments to tour the facility, receive instruction on the different makes/models of equipment, etc., can be a great starting point to help employees take that first step in getting acclimated. If you include payroll deductions for employees to use your space, consider a discount or waiving that fee for an introductory period to encourage as many people as possible to rejoin or join for the first time.
  • Refresher Fitness Classes: you may have some employees who did not exercise as readily over the past year without access to the onsite amenities you provide. Consider offering low intensity “refresh” classes for employees who may feel like they can’t return to the more intense classes they once attended in fear of it being too difficult. For some individuals, the motto of “we are all in this together” also translates to getting back in shape together!

For your employees continuing to work remotely:

  • Provide a Virtual Wellness Platform – much like your onsite fitness center is a hub for programs and services when employees are on campus, provide a web platform your employees can access when working from home or when traveling on business for resources to stay healthy and active. Being able to access virtual fitness classes, request a health coaching appointment, or check out the upcoming healthy living lecture makes it convenient for your employees to stay plugged into your wellness offerings wherever they may be located.
  • Utilize a Virtual Meeting Service: whether you want to stream your onsite fitness classes to employees at home or provide virtual forums for your employees to meet with a health coach to discuss their lifestyle goals, utilizing platforms such as Zoom, Teams, etc., is a great means for your employees to connect face to face with your wellness staff and maintain that personal connection and support in their health journey. Check out our case study on reNew You, an engaging virtual wellness program that our members have raved about this year!

NIFS fitness management is proud to partner with organizations to help them develop a safe reopening strategy with the flexible offerings their employees need to be active. Whether you have an onsite fitness center, you are looking for a virtual wellness program model, or a hybrid of both, for your employees contact NIFS for a complimentary consultation.

Topics: corporate fitness employee wellness corporate fitness programming virtual fitness

Corporate Fitness: Maintaining Connections in a Virtual World

GettyImages-1215677044 (1)While many may have feelings of uncertainty come to mind with everything we’ve endured thus far in 2020, we’ve also experienced inspiration from the dedication of our healthcare workers and educators and witnessed innovation in how many industries are adapting to remote workforces and revised service models.The corporate fitness industry included and that is why NIFS has adapted our HealthYou programming to accommodate our clients’ needs while their fitness centers remain closed and their employees are at home.  

We have long stated that it's our amazing staff that makes our business-model thrive and our hiring practices help us recruit some of the best professionals in the industry. The relationships our staff build with their members are key to our successful corporate fitness centers. One thing the current pandemic has taught us is those relationships don’t need to be nurtured within the four walls of a fitness center. As our clients’ workforces were sent home and access to typical fitness amenities became limited, our staff got to work finding opportunities to support their members’ health and wellness needs to maintain engagement.

Here are a few examples of how our staff is keeping our clients’ workforce connected to healthy lifestyle resources utilizing their customized HealthYou portals and our licensed exercise software integrated with Zoom:

  • Virtual Health Coaching: if you have tried to purchase fitness equipment in the last several months, you’ve likely experienced home-based cardio equipment on backorder, dumbbell racks empty in the stores, and the basics for building your home gym difficult to come by. Our staff have been routinely connecting with their members via phone calls and email and finding innovative ways to support their members’ evolving needs. For some, it may have been relaxation techniques while kids were home with distance learning, for others it may have been working through a new exercise program within the scope of what equipment and space a member has available at home. The gratitude and thanks our staff have heard from their members in maintaining that connection has been inspiring.

  • Group Fitness: we’ve been host morning, noon, and night virtual group fitness classes since the pandemic started and it’s amazing to hear just how much our members love to see THEIR fitness staff and still workout with them. They’ve also enjoyed getting to experience classes with other NIFS staff across the country for variety. Not only do they have live classes available but they have a video library of recorded classes at their fingertips which have 1,000’s of views.

  • Programming: let’s face it, those early weeks of the pandemic, in particular, were rough. Stress and anxiety levels were high and many fell into the groove of day-long snacking followed by evening binge-watching of our favorite shows. Wellness programming like NIFS Commit 21, Fitness Bingo, and NIFS Stress Relief Calendar has helped employees establish personal goals and self-care routines to get back on track.

  • Nutrition Services: NIFS Registered Dietitian has been hosting Healthy Lifestyle sessions on Zoom each week where everything from weight loss, to pre-and-post workout nutrition, to family meal planning, is discussed. There is also a Facebook group in which healthy recipes are shared and some great discussion continues throughout the week! As the frequency of cooking at home has increased, these nutrition resources have been a great option to break out of those menu ruts and explore new healthy choices.

We are already hearing requests and interest for our HealthYou resources to remain available to our members once fitness centers reopen. The landscape of many industries post-pandemic will likely look different and we are glad that members are inviting more options to exercise onsite when their fitness centers reopen as well as requesting the continued accessibility of virtual resources.

NIFS HealthYou programming is a great solution for organizations looking to broaden their employee wellness offerings. Whether you have an onsite fitness center or your employee-base works remotely, our amazing staff and virtual tools can connect them to the resources they need to live well. Contact us today for a complimentary consultation to explore opportunities for your employees.

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Topics: corporate fitness program corporate fitness employee wellness group fitness remote working virtual trainer virtual group fitness online fitness coach virtual training online fitness

Corporate Wellness or Employee Well-being? Or Does it Matter?

NIFS | Corporate Wellness vs Well-beingI wrote a post a while ago about changing the name vs changing the notion of "activities" in senior livingAt the time, the industry was working through a naming brainstorm (“name-storming”) to determine if continuing care retirement communities (CCRC) should be renamed. For the record, the industry has moved toward life plan community as an alternative to CCRC. The whole “name-storming” thing got me thinking about the value of words. Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer that words matter. Words are indeed powerful, and we must choose them carefully to thoughtfully convey what we mean. Otherwise, we have this situation, or this oneAnd yet, getting the words right doesn’t mean we can slack on our actions behind the words. Which brings me to a debate going on in corporate wellness…or is it corporate well-being? This article says well-being is the future of wellnessThe Global Wellness Institute’s Chairman also thinks well-being is where the industry needs to move because wellness isn’t as holistic. (Interestingly, she also notes that wellness apparently isn’t associated with happiness.)

If you point your web browser to a search of well-being versus wellness, you’ll get a host of articles that are part of the current conversation. And it seems that there is a movement in favor of the more holistic “well-being” as the appropriate, inclusive, aspirational name for the corporate programming we have traditionally called employee wellness.

So let’s make that switch. Let’s all link arms and agree to change our vocabulary and put wellness where it belongs…in 2017. Wellness vendors become well-being vendors, and wellness programs become well-being programs. Employees earn well-being points instead of wellness points and wellness directors sign new job descriptions that dub them well-being directors.

Except here’s the thing. We will still have corporate wellness programs that focus primarily on physical health without taking a hard look at how the workplace environment nurtures or neglects employees. Businesses will still have program directors who come from fully clinical backgrounds and who myopically build sterile programs that lack a more human element. Practitioners will still be talking about how important stress resilience is to helping human beings thrive with very little concrete employer-provided action to truly help the workforce get a handle on the pressures of work and life.

[Read More: Why wearable fitness trackers aren’t your wellness program]

Of course, the above descriptions don’t fit every situation. There are some fabulously compassionate, effective, and well-loved wellness programs out there in corporate settings. But for those programs, it doesn’t really matter if we call it wellness or well-being. Because the focus is on helping employees be their best selves in work and life.

I do realize this is pretty rich commentary coming from an organization whose primary focus in on fitness. To be fair, we have a lot to gain by the industry holding still on the current model where “wellness” equals physical health. But I’ve been around long enough to see that having your physical self in good shape isn’t the only way to be well; we’re only part of the picture. And, the more our staff are tasked with work beyond managing the corporate fitness center, the more value I see in using our relationships with employees to help them discover how they want to live well (which may or may not include a regular workout).

That’s the change we’re making, one connection at a time. What do you want to change: the scope of your program or what you call it?

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Topics: employee wellness wellness programs employee wellbeing well-being

Tips for a Healthier Work Environment, Part III - Workplace Relaxation

In the first two blogs from this series, I wrote about offering healthier food at work and moving more throughout the day. Our last topic in this series is the one that excites me the most because I love the idea of being able to positively influence the work space for my colleagues. Don’t worry, I’m not asking you to hire a design expert. All I’m asking is that you consider the idea of RELAXATION in the workplace (gasp).

Try closing your eyes on some of these ideas to envision what makes you feel calm and takes you away for a moment. If you can conjure up a few mental images that bring peace, just apply those to the ideas below and you’ll be in good shape. If that’s not up your alley, you could even ask for volunteers at your company. You might be pleasantly surprised with what kind of workplace wonder they conjure up.

Retreat - Relaxation or meditation rooms are a great option for giving your employees some breathing room, or a place for some peace and quiet during the day. Since our culture hasn’t given in to the afternoon siesta idea yet, I think this is a nice runner-up. If your building has some unused space, it can easily be transformed into simple room for meditation, quiet break areas, or dare I say some quick shut eye. A natural, calm color of fresh paint, a comfortable chair, a small table, non-florescent lights or a lamp, a few pieces of artwork and you’re all set. Think spa-day, massage room or Zen like atmosphere, and you’re on the right path for offering a perfect retreat. Employees can then schedule time in the room with an online calendar system. However, you may have to limit the amount of time that can be spent in the room so everyone has a chance to benefit from the space.

Kids’ corner – We all yearn to be carefree like a child again but we know that’s not possible in the world of adulting. However, you can offer a space where employees can live out there childhood pastimes and creative ventures. This also doesn’t take much to put in place, but you will need some extra room for this one as well. This nook can have items like puzzles, cards, board games, Sudoko, coloring books and fine-point markers. The goal is to make a creative, fun space for your employees to escape into the enjoyments of non-work related activities that reduce stress levels, are carefree, and offer some mental decompression from their job. Another added benefit is that your employees might run in to some social banter that they don’t get from standing in the cafeteria line. Some may enjoy the opportunity to socialize with other employees. 

NIFS | Coloring  | Stress Relief

Home away from home – Some sites are calling these hang out rooms, or community centers, but I prefer the term, living room. I think that conveys the message clearly and you immediately are taken to a comforting area where you can relax and kick up your feet. Designing a small area where employees get away from the work environment for a few minutes seems to go over really well. They might choose to have their lunch there, read a magazine or book, listen to some calming music, bring their coffee or tea, chat with other co-workers, and just momentarily escape from their everyday work responsibilities. Not only is this convenient for your employees but it’s also a beneficial way to give their mind a break so they can go back to their job refreshed and rejuvenated.

That’s it for now! I hope you’ve enjoyed my tips on improving your work environment and offering healthier more active meetings. Even if you try to implement just one of these, you could get some really positive feedback from your employees. It doesn’t take much for them to feel appreciated, so see where you can go with this and my hopes are that you’ll gain a growing fan base at your organization.

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Topics: stress employee wellness corporate wellness success corporate wellness programs workplace wellness stress management

How to change bad habits

making a list

Bad habits often compromise a healthy lifestyle. No matter what your bad habit is, you can tackle it by identifying your weaknesses changing your mind’s focus.  Take a moment and use these tips on how to change bad habits.

Identifying Bad Habits

First, identify your bad habits and what keeps you from changing them:

  • Make a list of your good and bad habits. Recognize those habits you would like to change.
  • Organize a plan when cravings for bad habits return. Know how you will handle these cravings. If possible, try to avoid them.
  • Recognize the barriers that will keep you from changing your bad habits. Avoid situations and people that will cause you to resort to performing your bad habits.

Break the Cycle and Change Your Behavior

Depending on what your bad habit is, a number of tricks can help you break the cycle. For example:

  • Avoid using food or other substances (smoking, drinking, etc.) to comfort yourself. Instead, use other, less damaging techniques such as listening to soothing music or chewing gum.
  • Avoid sugary drinks. Keep bottles of water at home and at work. If you don’t like drinking plain water, try flavored, but make sure you select a low- or no-sugar option.
  • If you just can’t stop slouching, set a timer on your watch for every few minutes. Use the alarm as a reminder to check your posture and sit or stand up straight. Keep lengthening the time intervals as you get better at keeping your posture a priority.

What bad habit do you plan to kick?  

Interested in helping your employees make healthy habits?  Download our whitepaper to learn how to incorporate exercise into your wellness program for employees. 

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Topics: corporate wellness nutrition employee wellness behavior modification

Employee Wellness Programming Beyond the Corporate Fitness Center

I shared a few months ago about our staff following the KISS principle (that’s “keep it super simple” in our world!) on an exercise-based program with one of our clients. (You can find out more about the NIFS150 corporate fitness program here.) I wanted to update you on that program’s outcomes and talk about our latest challenge.

ASAP_blog_image.jpgOne of the outcomes we saw from that program was that a lot of the participants did not exercise in the corporate fitness center during the initiative, and frankly, that was by design. We were mostly interested in supporting and inspiring employees to achieve 150 minutes of activity each week, so we eliminated the “must be accomplished in the corporate fitness center” barrier by allowing participants to log any activity accomplished anywhere. After all, the primary job of our fitness center managers and health fitness specialists is to get employees moving. If it’s activity in the corporate fitness center, even better. But with today’s frantic schedules, we’ll take any movement, anywhere, anytime.

The Active Summer Adventure Program (ASAP)

In another creative effort designed to help employees make healthy choices across the spectrum of health (not just fitness), our staff created the Active Summer Adventure Program (ASAP) challenge. In this unique corporate wellness program built on a theme of exploration, participants have the following weekly challenges to complete:

  • Hydration Lagoon: Drink 64 ounces of water each day of the week.
  • Adventure Park: Try a new outdoor activity.
  • Meditation Meadow: Practice meditation, breathing exercises, or stretches on four days this week.
  • Fitness Fountain: Try a new group exercise class, DVD, or at-home workout.
  • Traveling Trail: Accumulate at least 7,000 to 10,000 steps one day this week.
  • Feel-Good Farm: Pack a healthy lunch three days during the week.
  • Progress Paradise: Complete two fitness center screenings (BMI, circumference, blood pressure, body composition, resting heart rate, or body weight) this week.
  • Journaling Jungle: Keep a food log for three days this week.

As was the case with the NIFS150 program, our goal with the ASAP program was to make it accessible for everyone. It was promoted to all employees, including those who work at home. We ran it over summer months when it can be particularly challenging to attract employees into the corporate fitness center. The online registration and website access for weekly challenges made it simple for all participants to have the information they needed to be successful.

And, in keeping with many of our programs, we offered prize drawings for employees who successfully completed all eight quests. Consistent with the “adventure” theme of the program, most prizes were experience-oriented (such as tickets to theme parks, state park passes, and surfing lessons) rather than stuff-oriented (such as wearable tech, shirts, and gym bags).

ASAP Employee Wellness Results

In a post-program survey we learned that almost 84% of responders believed they adopted a new healthy behavior by participating in ASAP. And that’s consistent with their rating of “accountability to try something new” as their favorite program feature. Participants also reported learning something new about health during this program. Although weight loss was not a focus for this program, 43% of survey respondents reported losing weight or inches during the eight-week offering. Almost 60% reported having more energy, and about one-quarter of participants indicated that they were sleeping better. Through the post-program survey, we also gained valuable insights on how we can improve the program if we offer it again next year.

Looking for more creative corporate fitness programming? Check out our best practice series by clicking the button below.

NIFS Best Practices Corporate

Topics: corporate wellness corporate fitness employee wellness corporate fitness centers participation program planning program evaluation CORP Programs and Services

What If: We Did Corporate Wellness FOR Our Employees, Not TO Them?

Throughout 2015, we’ll be blogging about our dreams for corporate wellness, fitness, and aging well. Some of the content will represent a gentle “poking fun” at the industry, but it’s all written to stimulate thought about what really could be if we put our heads together and started mapping out what’s possible in the realm of individual wellbeing. We hope you’ll join the conversation by commenting on the blogs, giving us additional ideas about what to write about, or by finding us on Twitter at #wellnesswhatif.

There is a growing swell of chatter online these days about where corporate wellness is headed. Outcomes-based programs seem to be the flavor of the day regardless of the profound lack of data about their effectiveness. Similarly, the battle of numbers continues between those who promote data about the effectiveness of wellness that is, at best, questionable, and those who strongly object to that potentially flawed data.

Underneath all of the banter is a concept, originally put forward by Al Lewis in his book, Cracking Health Care Costs, that wellness should be something done FOR employees, not TO them. I’m not going to be coy about this—we sit squarely on the side of doing wellness FOR employees. What follows are (1) my observations about common corporate wellness program elements done TO employees, along with (2) what if ideas that speak to our continued quest toward wellness that is FOR employees.

Health Risk Assessments

I have never been a fan of the much-praised Health Risk Assessment (HRA) for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that the survey tool is one of many done TO the employee. There is very little personal and intrinsic value for the employee when he fills out an intrusive online survey. Sure, employers tack on financial incentives for the employee who follows their rules—and sometimes the incentive is substantial. But there isn’t really any answer for the employee’s question, “How will this help me change my health?” because an online survey (and the results) don’t move any health needle for any sustained amount of time.

What’s worse is that in some cases, flawed HRA recommendations are pointing employees toward unnecessary follow-up medical care that is in direct conflict with U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendations. And let’s not discount the harmful effects of employers hacking off their employees by doing what feels like invasive questioning about personal issues, only to leave employees with yet another reminder about their likely substandard health.

Does an employer really need aggregate HRA data to learn that their employees are representative of the adult U.S. population with high rates of overweight and obesity, risk for diabetes, and heart disease, and lack of physical activity? How much did it cost the employer to administer an HRA that provided an employee health profile that was already understood?

Biometric Screenings

And then there’s the bloodletting (oops, I mean screenings). I won’t belabor the issue here because the challenges with finger stick/venipuncture screenings are much the same as what I outlined with the HRA above. When was the last time employees walked away from their screening session feeling enhanced loyalty to the employer—as if the employer was genuinely interested in their health and had their back on taking whatever steps were necessary to improve their health? (If you have that warm-and-fuzzy story, I’d love to hear it.)

The Carrot (or the Stick, Depending on Your Perspective)

carrotstick

Incentives come in carrot and stick varieties, and really, it’s just two sides of the same coin. Whether the employer is offering an incentive or a disincentive is a matter of which side of the message you’re standing on. Frankly, there is little evidence to indicate that financially prodding employees leads to any sustained behavior change. But you don’t have to take my word on this; check out this joint position paper published as a partnership among the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Heart Association. And yet, employers put piles of cash into these financial offerings.

All of these tools—if truly helpful to the employer such that they must stay in the corporate wellness toolkit—could be repackaged so as to be an actual benefit to the employee. The employer would need to send a message that clearly indicated a desire to help the individual employee improve his health, and then they would need to back that up by putting their money, policies, environment, and productivity expectations where their mouth is.

The Alternatives

In my opinion, the current wellness program pillars outlined above are flawed—very flawed. So how do we get back to this idea that wellness should be done FOR employees, not TO them? Our staff, largely practitioners through managing corporate fitness centers, took a moment to dream about the possibilities for shifting the current wellness paradigm to one that might actually support and inspire individual health. Here are some of our what ifs:

  • What if the five-minute walk break throughout the day was supported, encouraged, team-driven, even required? We’ve been beaten about the head with the research that shows the harmful effects of sitting. But now, new research from Indiana University has demonstrated that walking as little as five minutes on three different occasions during a three-hour sitting period can reverse some of the harmful effects of prolonged sitting.
  • What if there were no unhealthy options available in your vending machine or cafeteria? Is this the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction? Most of the clients we work with have shifted to healthful subsidized options with unhealthy choices at full cost. I can’t think of a client who has made a 100% change in their worksite food/snack option, though.
  • What if management at ALL levels in the organization supported employees working out during the day? There are a lot of corporate policies that keep employees in their seats, and even for those with more flexible schedules, there is a pervasive management message that work comes first and there is not time for a workout, a walk, a mental health break, etc.
  • What if paid-time-off policies provided bonus time off based on the number of minutes an employee spends exercising in the company fitness center? In a similar vein, what if employees who choose to spend their 30-minute lunch break exercising could be given another 30 minutes to still eat lunch, away from their desk? (Gasp…compensated workout time!)

None of these ideas is a complete pie-in-the-sky kind of concept. And just like outcomes-based wellness programs, none of these ideas has been tested for long-term effectiveness (or harm), validated, or assigned an ROI that means anything. They do, however, require a shift in workplace policy, and they require fresh thinking about how organizational wellness money is allocated. These what ifs fit squarely into the “doing FOR employees” camp, and I’m sure there are many more ideas like this out there. Comment below on your own “FOR employees” what ifs or share your successes with these and other ideas. 

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Topics: corporate wellness employee health corporate fitness employee wellness exercise in the workplace corporate wellness success what if