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How Business Leaders Can Actively Encourage Workplace Wellness

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Raj Jana – Founder of JavaPresse Coffee Company. His opinions are his own.

Thankfully, the days of working long hours in hot, dangerous factories while bosses bark from above are long gone. We’ve come a long way in workplace wellness thanks to past generations and their relentless struggle for better working conditions.

But our work is not done just yet. As the jobs we do change, new challenges arise for keeping people healthy and happy while at work. And if you’re not convinced yet that keeping people happy and healthy is good for business, then get with the program!

Promoting wellness can be a bit tricky, though. If you go around telling people how they can be healthy and happy, isn’t that a somewhat passive way of saying that right now they are not? People don’t like to be criticized, so when you’re helping them, you need to find ways to make it feel like they are really helping themselves.

As a business leader, you have a unique opportunity to affect the lives of your employees. You spend lots of time with them, and if you’re good at what you do (and hopefully you are), people respect what you have to say and will listen to you. Leveraging this into promoting good habits in your employees will not only help them, but it will also provide a nice boost to productivity and the company.

Here are some tips for promoting workplace wellness:

1. Lead by example

This is one of the most powerful things any leader can do. It’s one thing to say, “hey, you should be doing this.” But it’s quite another to actually live the message you are trying to convey to people. When they see someone they respect and care about practicing what they preach, they are far more likely to look inwards and make changes on their own.

However, you need to be careful about this. As the “boss”, you are dealing with a bit of a hierarchy. It’s easy for your efforts, which you perceive as well-meaning, to put people off and actually discourage people from following your lead.

Let me give you an example. I had a boss that loved to cycle. He used to participate in races and all sorts of long-distance competitions in his free time. We had a fitness month at work, and he encouraged as many people as possible to cycle to work.

No one did. People live far away; not everyone wants to shower at work; there are many reasons. His enthusiasm, and subsequent disappointment when people didn’t follow along put a dampener on the whole event. We didn’t really do much for “fitness month,” and the next year we crossed it off the calendar. I’m not saying it was all his fault, but his definition of “leading by example” was a bit off.

Instead, think of doing some smaller things. For example, it’s really important that people get up every once in a while, stretch their legs and take their eyes off their computer screen. As a leader, make this a priority. If you’re constantly hunched over your computer and locked in your office, your employees aren’t going to feel all that comfortable getting up and walking around a few times every hour.

Ergonomics is another big one. So many of us spend the whole day on the computer. Sitting in good chairs and having nice posture is key, yet we often overlook this part of health and wellness. Make sure your outfit is as good as it can be, and then make it easy for people to follow your lead.

There are tons of things you can be doing. Just have a little tact and try not to be up in people’s faces. They will respond to this, and you’ll likely see workplace wellness improve. 

2. Encourage healthy habits

Unfortunately, there are a lot of contradictions out there when it comes to workplace wellness.

A lot of companies will tell employees it’s important they move around and be active, but the jobs they have them doing require them to sit in front of a computer all day. Or they might run campaigns to promote healthy eating while the cafeteria sells lots of fried foods, or vending machines offer nothing other than sugary, fatty snacks.

You obviously want to give people choices—you don’t want them feeling like you’re controlling their life—so you need to try and find a balance between encouraging better habits and letting people do as they wish.

One thing you could do is to allocate some budget money for office food. Once a week, or month, or whatever, you could have some new, healthy food brought into the office so that people can experiment new options. Everyone loves pizza, but that’s not exactly promoting wellness.

You could also look for some vending machines that stock healthier snacks. Chips and candy taste great, but they are not something that should be consumed all the time. If you give people more options, you’ll find that they will opt for healthier choices when they are available.

Depending on your budget, you could also offer free or discounted gym memberships to your employees, or you could plan team building activities around healthy habits. Instead of happy hour, maybe think about organizing some time in the park.

Every company will be different, and it’s your job as the leader to figure what works and what is possible. But if you have wellness as your focus, you’ll find it’ll be a lot easier to convey this message to your employees. 

3. Emphasize “me time”

Somewhere along the line, the idea of taking vacation or time off became taboo. I once had a very successful corporate executive tell me that he didn’t take two weeks in a row off until he became the executive because “in two weeks you become replaceable.” He spent twenty or so years working without taking more than a few days vacation at a time. That seems excessive to me.

And it also represents a gross misunderstanding of the value time away from work can have on worker productivity. Things are changing. But I’m not so sure they are heading in exactly the right direction.

For example, a lot of companies are now offering “unlimited” time off. Instead of deciding for people when they can take a break, you let them choose when is best and for how long. In theory, this is great, but there’s some debate as to whether or not this is actually the best thing for employees, and many argue this is really a move for companies to save having to pay people accrued vacation time when they leave.

But no matter how you structure PTO, the most important thing is to encourage people to take it. If you notice some employees not really making the most of their vacation time, call them in and ask them what’s going on. There may be a reason, and if it’s work-related, you can help them figure out a way to solve the problem and get out of the office for a bit.

Summer schedules are another great way to do this. Offering flex time, or making it possible for people to leave early on Fridays, are small things that will make people happier.

Work can be stressful, and if you as a leader don’t do enough to help people deal with this stress, the company will ultimately suffer the most. 

4. Empower people

This is one thing not a lot of people will consider when talking about workplace wellness. But there’s actually a really simple reason why it’s important: people are more likely to take care of themselves when they feel in control of their lives.

If, for whatever reason, an employee feels powerless or as if they aren’t an important factor in the business, this negativity is going to seep into the rest of their life and affect their overall well-being.

Try to find as many ways as possible to show to people that they are the ones in charge of their lives. Little things can go a long way. Putting someone in charge of a committee or team, or asking them to take the lead in a meeting, are both great ways to delegate some responsibility and boost an employee’s sense of self-worth.

Conduct regular meetings with employees asking them if they feel like they are being challenged enough, or if they feel like they have enough responsibility. These little things will go a long way toward empowering people both personally and professionally.

As a business leader, you have a responsibility to make sure the people that work for you are well. The healthier and happy your employees are, the more productive they will be, and the work environment will improve, too. But promoting wellness in the office can be a bit of a challenge, so consider using these tips to try and help both you and your employees live and work better.

Raj Jana

Raj Jana is an entrepreneur who believes there is more to business than just financials. He is passionate about giving back and empowering others.

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