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4 Free Ways to Kick-Start a Wellness Culture

4 Free Ways to Kick-Start a Wellness Culture

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Health promotion strategies aren’t enough. What we need is a wellness culture.

Imagine working in this context: banking company headquartered in the North East of the US, shortly after a few layoffs, culture is more defensive than friendly.

A few years ago, I worked with such a company. I was called in by their wellness committee to increase engagement. I listened to the long list of challenges the wellness team had to share: low budget, low enthusiasm, low support from management and so, yes, low participation.

A member of that committee shared with me that, of those who do take advantage of the wellness programming, most do it “under cover”. For example, participants leave their coats at their desks even in the dead of winter so their co-workers don’t realize they left for a workout – or even for lunch. Participants would also mark meetings in their agendas with a workout buddy not to safeguard the time slot, but so their peers or bosses who could access their calendar wouldn’t notice they were using the corporate gym facility.

The reason for such jumping through hoops was that those who took breaks or used the corporate gym facility were seen as slackers who had nothing better to do. When the economy is still shaky and the threat of layoffs is not completely out of the question, no one wants to be in that position.

In a culture like this, even if you had the best wellness offer on the planet led by Bob Greene himself (if you don’t know him, he’s Oprah’s personal trainer), wellness initiatives will fail.

Health Promotion Starts with a Wellness Culture

So let’s get back to the drawing board, and start by building a corporate culture that is supportive of wellness. Here are 4 free ideas you can implement today to get things going:

  1. Find some high performing opinion leaders (and hopefully some of them are hierarchical leaders too) who have the guts to sweat unashamedly during a work break, like this group of SAS executives (SAS being the software giant, not Smarts and Stamina). Arrange for them to simultaneously start making their workouts more visible, and be more vocal about how it helps them enjoy a more productive the rest of the day. Maybe you can even give them a sign to display at their desk that says “Brain recharging in process – see you after my workout.” Since these people have already earned the respect of their colleagues thanks to their high performance, no one will dare calling them slackers. In fact, the opposite is likely to happen, where others start thinking, “If Dave does it, it’s OK for me to do it too!”
  2. Ask HR to recommend that everyone schedule a formal lunch break in their agendas, even if only for 20 minutes. Their memo can explain that time to recharge, or strategic renewal, is a clear factor influencing afternoon creativity and productivity. They could even send around Tony Schwartz’s popular article from the NY Times, Relax! You’ll Be More Productive. Working through lunch is one of the bad habits highlighted a recent Stress at Work article. Your HR staff is probably well aware of all the negative consequences of excessive work-related stress, well captured in this Huffington Post infographic. There’s a good chance they will be on board with your request, a good first step in establishing that wellness is encouraged, supported, and even expected in your workplace culture.
  3. Start using wellness in your hiring strategy, as we recommended in recent article, Hiring for Wellness, so that newcomers keep injecting a growing health orientation into your workplace culture.
  4. Start a competition for the best ideas for injecting more movement into the work day, as we describe in the Exercise on Company Time chapter in the Smarts and Stamina book. We talked about standing up when you answer the phone and walking to distant bathrooms rather than using the closest one. What else might your people think up? If you think your organization isn’t quite ready for that, see our earlier post Create a Standing Room Only for suggestions on how to make it work.

We’ve said it before: Balance is not the excuse of the weak; it’s the secret of the strong. Want to pick our brains about how to bring culture change about, considering the specific challenges at your place of work? Contact us, we’ll be happy to hear from you. Or see how our corporate wellness offers move get your participants from contemplation to action.

  • Guest

    Single best articles I’ve received from smarts and stamina. Loved it. Forwarding wildly!

  • Senia

    Single best piece of material I’ve received in my Inbox from Smarts and Stamina. Forwarding wildly!

    • Wow – love the enthusiasm, Senia! Coming from the author of bestselling Profit From the Positive, what a treat! Makes my day. BIG thanks for forwarding wildly – I will RT or fav anything you send out. 😉

  • Margaret

    So identified with the leaving coats in the office & scheduling “meetings” to disguise their workouts. Love your practical tips to create a well-being culture!

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MJ Shaar – in 20 seconds

MJ is one of the most sought-after experts blending positive psychology and health promotion. She spent over 15 years coaching, teaching, speaking, researching and testing smart health habits. Marie-Josée Shaar received her undergrad at McGill University in Organizational Behavior, followed by a Master of Applied Positive Psychology at University of Pennsylvania. She's certified as a Wellness Culture Coach, a Personal Trainer, and a Nutrition and Wellness Consultant.

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