Workplace Wellness: How to Make It Work for You and Your Company
Samvida Patel, IIN Content Editor, Class of February 2015
In recent years, our perception of February as a month of love has appropriately shifted from celebrating romantic love alone to recognizing the importance of self-love and nurturing relationships with family, friends, and others close to us. After all, meaningful relationships – no matter who we cultivate them with – comprise one of the pillars of what we at Integrative Nutrition call primary food, all that nourishes our well-being beyond the food on our plate.
But what if we went one step further than self-love and used this month to think about other aspects of our life where we can show a little more love? Of all the areas that contribute to our well-being, there’s a major one that more often than not needs the most. (Hint: It’s where you spend at least one-third of your waking hours.)
Not surprising, right?
The average person is expected to spend about 90,000 hours at work over the course of a lifetime, yet according to a Gallup world poll, only 15% of employees across the world feel engaged at work – a clear sign that there’s much potential for change.
And it’s not that change isn’t taking place. In fact, attempts to rethink how work can be a more stimulating and fulfilling environment are being made on both the individual and large-scale levels.
Less is more.
Much of Europe has been toying with the concept of a four-day workweek for its promising implications on productivity and well-being; the Netherlands currently has the shortest workweek at 29 hours. However, the overall global work-life landscape showcases a different reality:
- In Asia, only 4% of countries meet the recommended International Labor Organization standard of 48 maximum hours per week, with 29% having high thresholds of 60+ hours per week.
- A total of 80% of Middle Eastern countries permit working more than 60 hours weekly.
- Roughly one in four Japanese firms reported employees working 80+ hours of overtime per month, which commonly results in karoshi, a term that literally translates to “death by overwork.”
- In 2019, Colombia was ranked first for having the longest workweek, averaging 47.7 hours.
- The United States works the most number of hours on average in comparison to other large nations that share the same level of productivity.
Despite recent noteworthy evidence supporting a three-day weekend – like Microsoft’s study in Japan, which boasted a 40% productivity jump, increased happiness, and less stress among employees – shortened workweeks can pose significant challenges. For contract workers or customer service professionals who handle high volumes of client inquiries, one less workday could actually increase their stress and exhaustion as the same amount of work would need to be completed with one less day on hand.
Moreover, for those working in unskilled labor jobs, many of which already pay minimum wage, trimming the workweek would also decrease their pay; either that or the cost of labor for companies would increase. Many workers actually want to work more hours so they can earn enough to cover basic expenses.
And of course, especially in the United States, technology perpetuates the existing workaholic culture and expectation to stay connected at all times of the day. So even though reducing the number of hours we work is one approach to cultivating more happiness and satisfaction in the workplace while creating more balance and promoting wellness, it’s a fix that’d require a considerable amount of time, planning, and resources.
On an individual level, we can choose to opt out of jobs we don’t love or those we find toxic and unhealthy in favor of new roles or career paths that provide more joy and support our wellness.
In fact, one of the top reasons why the majority of students join IIN’s Health Coach Training Program is because they were previously working in high-stress jobs and looking to make a career change that aligns with their purpose and allows them to prioritize their well-being and freedom.
Here are just a few examples of IIN graduates from around the world who experienced an imbalance in their corporate careers and, as a result, pursued their calling in health coaching!
- Amy Jarosky – A former managing director of a large New York–based hedge fund, Amy created her health coaching business to support other busy, stressed-out professionals in achieving balance, improving sleep and energy, and enhancing digestive health.
- Diana Alva – After a 15-year career in pharmaceutical sales and marketing, Diana went on to find fulfillment through her own venture based in Querétaro, Mexico, geared toward guiding female executives in feeling their best.
- Lauren Imparato – Having found respite in yoga, Lauren left her career as vice president of Morgan Stanley to launch her yoga studio and lifestyle company, I.AM.YOU, where she offers yoga and health coaching services under one roof.
- Neeta Jain – Reflecting on her own journey as an Indian expat, Neeta left her lucrative career in technology at Amazon to create Her Shakti, a global health coaching business aimed at empowering other expat women in reclaiming their roots, finding their community, and working toward their healthiest self.
- Patricia Oliveira Ferraz – While she experienced a great level of success as an executive at one of São Paulo’s elite design agencies, Patricia’s elevated stress, physical health, and lack of quality time with family motivated her to restore her own and her family’s health and help other women create balance while juggling high-profile careers.
While these graduates’ transformations following their IIN education showcase acts of creating careers they love and believe in, they also provide a snapshot of the qualms individuals face in the corporate world and gaps that have yet to be filled by employers. Considering that not everyone has the flexibility, resources, or circumstances to easily quit less-than-favorable jobs, it becomes that much more important for companies to take steps to ensure employee well-being.
Unsurprisingly, workplace wellness makes for an ideal middle-ground solution to loving our jobs just a little bit more and requiring neither operationally challenging measures like a shortened workweek nor employees to go through the time-consuming hassle of seeking new opportunities.
Though far from a new concept, workplace wellness has markedly evolved since its inception following World War II: from encouraging fitness by offering on-site gym access and developing employee assistance programs (EAP) and occupational health standards to providing a variety of health and medical benefits and focusing on preventive health benefits and overall wellness incentives.
What started as an initiative to keep workers fit enough to perform in physically demanding jobs now aims to foster better overall health amid a burgeoning chronic disease epidemic. The notion of modern-day workplace wellness programs was born out of the realization that in spite of companies spending exorbitant amounts on health insurance among other benefits, the majority of people are still unhealthy and getting sicker:
- Six in 10 adults in the United States suffer from a chronic disease; four in 10 adults in the United States have two or more.
- The United States spends upwards of $3.65 trillion on healthcare yearly, which is more than any other developed country in the world.
- Chronic disease amounts to a $1 trillion annual loss in the U.S. economy.
- Although employers bear the brunt of health insurance costs, the portion of insurance premiums paid by American families has increased by a whopping 71% over the last decade.
Needless to say, rethinking employee health and wellness incentives is a crucial step toward bringing about sustainable health improvement among employees and, in turn, uplifting productivity and company success.
What’s in it for companies?
With the U.S. corporate wellness market projected to reach $15.5 billion by 2024, and the global workplace wellness industry estimated to hit $74 billion by 2026, it’s safe to say that companies are expected to prioritize employee well-being through work environment, values, and benefits.
As people realize that wellness is a function of eating healthy and creating balance in all areas of our life (whatever that looks like for each individual!), companies are creating wellness programs that include a host of benefits, like subsidized gym memberships, catered organic lunches, massages, guided meditations, free healthy snacks, yoga classes, standing desks, 24/7 access to a doctor (through video, too!), childcare discounts, annual retreats, and much, much more.
If you’re an HR professional or company executive, the above list of wellness benefits may seem daunting at first – especially if this is the first time you’re creating a wellness program. However, the beauty of workplace wellness programs lies in the fact that they vary from one organization to the next and can be customized to your company size, employee needs, and budget.
Aside from the clinically meaningful health benefits for employees, research suggests corporate wellness programs have a myriad of benefits for employers as well:
- Improved productivity – Microsoft’s study in Japan was one of many examples of significant productivity boosts in the workplace; a study conducted by UCLA Riverside found that wellness programs were linked to almost an extra working day’s worth of productivity per worker each month.
- Decreased absenteeism – According to UnitedHealthcare’s 2018 Wellness Check Up Survey, 56% of employees took fewer sick days as a result of having access to a corporate wellness program. More days in the office provides more opportunity to accomplish tasks!
- Reduced medical costs – Whereas we typically hear about companies needing to slash costs, the Los Alamos National Library experienced the opposite: Only a year into implementing their wellness program, the company had an extra $3 million on hand due to decreased healthcare costs.
- Greater employee satisfaction – According to a survey conducted by Deloitte, more than 70% of employees feel workplaces aren’t doing enough to reduce burnout. The American Psychological Association (APA) reported that 89% of employees who see senior leadership embracing employee well-being were more likely to recommend their company as a place to work!
- Increased employee retention – Optum published a report outlining a strong link between well-being initiatives and employee engagement; notably, engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave their employer. On the flip side, the cost to an employer when an employee leaves can be anywhere from 50%–200% of the employee’s salary, exacerbating the need for initiatives like workplace wellness.
- Better work culture – At the end of the day, showing employees that the company cares about their well-being goes a long way. Who wouldn’t want a workplace with happier and healthier people who are motivated to give their best effort? Studies actually show that with the workforce consisting of more and more millennials, whether a company prioritizes employee wellness can be the difference between an accepted and rejected job offer.
- More company recognition – By offering comprehensive wellness benefits and creating a culture that embraces holistic health, you’re likely to gain traction among job applicants as a company worth looking into! Media outlets like Greatist have showcased America’s healthiest companies. (We’re on the list, too!) With unemployment hovering around a record low, offering distinctive and competitive benefits has become even more integral for companies.
- Higher company stock value – A recent study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that companies with award-winning wellness programs outperformed the S&P 500, substantiating the whole gamut of positive outcomes that take shape as a result of implementing worksite wellness initiatives.
If you have tried developing a wellness program or are reluctant to incur additional costs, it’s important to remember that wellness is highly individual. Understanding what motivates employees and pinpointing their values can allow you to determine what types of wellness incentives will work. For instance, while offering consultations with a nutrition professional may be impactful in theory, it may only work for those who are already health-conscious; others may not feel personally driven to make use of such a service and instead prefer workshops, fitness classes, or cooking demos instead.
Wellness also includes many facets outside physical health – maybe employees want meditation or massage to reduce stress and promote mental well-being, while others seek support in managing money, investing, or learning technical skills that will help nurture their professional development.
Keeping in mind that wellness is very much about the person as a whole is more likely to set your company and employees up for success! Similarly, it’s important to accept that change doesn’t happen overnight. Corporate wellness is an investment that yields high returns in many forms but takes time to see. It requires a little creativity, but a customized approach will help you reap the benefits instead of choosing an arbitrary component of wellness as a benefit.
To that end, it’s easy to see through wellness benefits that are offered for the sake of being able to show that you care about employee well-being. Perhaps the most important part of a wellness program is that the values and culture of the company embrace total health and well-being – you can have the best wellness program, but if you’re constantly piling work on your employees and not allowing opportunities for benefits to be fully utilized, the purpose is defeated!
What you can do as an employee
While corporate wellness by definition is a responsibility that mostly falls on employers, as a beneficiary of worksite wellness initiatives, taking advantage of perks and providing feedback is very much on the employee.
If you’re an employee reading this, and either wanting your workplace to put forward a wellness program or considering alternative strategies to promote wellness more effectively, remember that you always have the power to ask. Sometimes, companies may think they’re catering to employee needs with their existing benefits package and might not realize that employees are looking for more. Set up a meeting with your manager or HR department and provide constructive feedback, highlighting the benefits that having wellness-forward practices would have at an organizational level; they’ll appreciate that your proposal has something in it for them, too!
One of the concepts emphasized in our Health Coach Training Program is the idea of being comfortable with pioneering new ideas – we can’t expect everyone to have the same level of awareness about a topic – be it workplace wellness or the benefits of health coaching. Sometimes it takes a little bit of education and demonstration to showcase the value of your idea; in the case of pitching a workplace wellness plan, if your proposition is well-received, not only do you get to take advantage of the benefits, but you’ll positively impact your entire organization!
And of course, if you are a Health Coach or are considering becoming one, you can offer to serve as the go-to wellness expert for your company!
IIN Corporate Wellness
In an effort to expand our mission of transforming health and happiness around the world, as of 2019, we’ve launched our very own corporate wellness initiative! This way, we can encourage even more people at once to take control of their well-being, either through our Health Coach Training Program or a variety of customized wellness solutions, depending on the company’s preferences.
If you’re looking to bring comprehensive wellness to your company, we’ve provided a brief outline of who we are, our initiative and impact, and the companies working with our wellness program offerings!
Founded in 1992, Integrative Nutrition is the OG of wellness and has been leading the
holistic healthcare revolution:
- IIN invented health coaching and has been advocating for the power of preventive care for decades.
- IIN takes an integrated approach to wellness, incorporating four main pillars into the one-year or six-month accelerated curriculum, covering everything from nutrition, spirituality, physical activity, finances, career, education, social life, and more.
- IIN employs leading physicians, researchers, and speakers, including Deepak Chopra, Dr. Mark Hyman, and Gabrielle Bernstein, to educate students to find their healthiest selves.
Integrative Nutrition graduates have gone on to build their own empires, but even more important they have transformed their lives and the lives of those around them:
- IIN grad Elizabeth Stein created Purely Elizabeth, a natural foods company, to change the way people snack.
- IIN grad Sarah Larson of Y7 Studio is changing the way people move.
- IIN grad Sarrah Hallock created The Well to integrate Eastern and Western modalities and change modern medicine.
Integrative Nutrition has begun developing strategic partnerships with a number of companies to build out their corporate wellness initiatives. Some of our notable partners include:
Whether you’re exploring wellness benefits you can offer your employees or proposing that your company offer corporate wellness benefits, email our corporate wellness team at firstname.lastname@example.org!