April 2024
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TD Magazine

Wellness Done Well

Monday, April 1, 2024

A corporate culture that focuses on holistic wellness helps workers thrive and achieve peak performance.

From highway billboards to popular MTV campaigns about well-being, old news is finally resonating like new as organizations respond to the loud, clear mandate from their postpandemic, change-weary workforces: Employees expect more wellness in 2024 and beyond.

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Seventy-eight percent of employers now or will soon offer more health resources to employees, according to the Society for Human Resource Management's 2022 Mental Health in America report. With nearly four out of five employers committed to expanding wellness in the workplace, it may seem safe to assume that healthier workplaces are on the horizon. However, 2023 results from Businessolver's eighth annual State of the Workplace Empathy study indicate that, while most companies are prioritizing wellness, the resources they offer do not often match the employees' needs and do not dive deeply enough to foster the fundamental habits of a healthy workforce.

To put it bluntly, organizations are tackling workplace wellness with half-baked initiatives and unused health benefits. Instead, the solution must be much more profound. After four years of supporting organizational well-being, I've established practical steps for fostering corporate wellness.

Gain C-suite buy-in

True organizational cultural change warrants an honest question from the C-suite: "Why should employers care about employee health?" In Wellbeing at Work, Gallup authors Jim Clifton and Jim Harter summarize decades of research linking employee wellness to high-performing organizations, including:

  • Ten percent more customer loyalty
  • Twenty-three percent more profitability
  • Forty-one percent more quality
  • Sixty-four percent fewer safety incidents
  • Eighty-one percent less absenteeism

To gain leadership buy-in for initiating a holistic wellness program, take the following steps.

Connect wellness to performance. Healthy employees come to work energized and ready to fully engage—and, with time and support, they develop into high-performing employees. Gallup research shows that high-performing individuals are 20 percent more likely to have an impact on close co-workers' performance and foster high-performing teams.

Use metrics. Specific data that organizations can track to correlate the impact of wellness include decreases in attrition, the percentage of errors, and general absenteeism or reported sick leave—which are signs of an unhealthy workforce—as well as increases in productivity, the number of deadlines staff meet, and cohesion and creativity within working groups.

Pitch a pilot, not a program. Starting wellness as a pilot program sets expectations and keeps the bandwidth of additional work manageable for a small team with no additional funds and limited resources. It also ensures any wellness program evolves slowly over time with tested data, relevant resources, and fully integrated pillars structured around a culture of wellness.

Choose a framework

Perhaps the most important step in corporate wellness is selecting a holistic framework to create daily foundational habits and holistically manage employee well-being. Wellness teams should select three to five general wellness categories to encapsulate a broad range of wellness that can evolve with the future of work, the workplace, and the workforce.

One way to support employees' minds, bodies, and spirits is to consider these five pillars as a framework for holistic wellness:

  • Career well-being. Employees enjoy work; engage in meaningful, purposeful work; and have opportunities for growth.
  • Financial well-being. Staff have adequate resources to manage their finances responsibly, financial stability, financial independence and freedom from debt, and the tools to build wealth.
  • Physical well-being. Personnel have the energy to get things done at work and in life; they take wellness breaks and engage in regular, healthy lifestyle practices such as sleep, movement, and nutrition.
  • Psychological well-being. Workers feel safe, with a sense of belonging and inclusion in their workplace; have freedom to give feedback without fear of retribution; and leaders and co-workers empower them to innovate and creatively solve problems with colleagues.
  • Relationship well-being. Employees have meaningful relationships with their co-workers and teams, feel a sense of belonging at work in their communities, and have opportunities to serve together. In addition, leaders and colleagues encourage individuals to engage in service outside of work with meaningful causes and share stories of impact with their co-workers.

Create wellness objectives

Initially, wellness teams should focus primarily on educating the workforce on the wellness pillars and framework. Some organizational goals for a wellness initiative during the first year could include:

  • Creating a common lexicon of defined wellness terms—such as exercise, sedentary period, and psychological safety—to arm employees for conversations around wellness
  • Equipping the workforce with resources, knowledge, and opportunities to create wellness habits for each of the pillars
  • Supporting managers with coaching tools to foster employee development
  • Benchmarking, through quarterly surveys, the state of employees—from suffering to thriving—in wellness

Identify key players

In the cycle of change and new ideas, there are fast, slow, and extremely slow adaptors. Determine key players in each category and know when to include them in the process.

Change agents. As soon as possible, identify fast adaptors invested in employee well-being and include them in planning and promoting the wellness initiative. Change agents can be influential in their organizational roles or responsibilities or in their ability to influence colleagues toward participation. Because change agents are usually excited to share, encourage them to create narratives to feature in storytelling, wellness podcasts, and newsletters.

Slow adaptors. These individuals are unsure about participating in corporate wellness but open to change. Good communication and incentives to participate are effective forms of persuasion. Ensuring they have opportunities for inclusion but ample time for reflection is key. Influencers can accelerate slow adaptors' participation by providing opportunities for questions and answers. However, slow adaptors can actively disengage if others push them too hard or too fast.

Showstoppers. Showstoppers are disinterested in corporate wellness initiatives and can easily become roadblocks to the initiative if the wellness team engages them too early. Nonetheless, they are key players, usually having valuable advice and insightful concerns to share. By taking time to engage with and listen to showstoppers, the wellness team can gain valuable insights into potential risks.

Map to the calendar

For each wellness pillar, select a one- to three-month calendar focus that includes at least an educational webinar, a newsletter, a podcast, and an opportunity for employees to engage in wellness habits (see sidebar). Especially during the first year, a one- to two-month buffer between each pillar is essential to allot time for evaluation, preparation, and program adaptability based on employee feedback. In addition, building in regular updates and encouragement from senior leaders will add credibility and emphasis to the wellness initiative.

Webinar. A core member of the wellness team, in coordination with an internal L&D trainer, should lead each organization-wide webinar, providing an overview of perspectives, statistics, and concepts related to the wellness pillar.

Podcast. To build momentum for wellness, host a 15- to 20-minute podcast with a team member, thought leader, or influencer on the pillar of focus. Use a free virtual recording platform, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, to capture the conversations, highlighting stories of wellness from employees seeking to share and encourage others in their personal journeys.

Newsletter. A simple, one- to two-page newsletter summarizing the webinar is a great way to follow up and reshare the ideas the wellness team introduced. Wellness creators can also embed resources and the pillar podcast for easy access.

Leveraging external resources as possible, wellness teams can maximize resource sharing and minimize time and limited resources often scarce in human capital teams tasked with wellness. For example, healthcare providers are invested in their customers' well-being and often provide free webinars, consultations, and incentives. Consider facilitating a wellness fair for employees to engage with healthcare providers on a multitude of wellness resources.

Free online resources such as Sapien Labs (sapienlabs.org/mhq), Gallup, and other credible websites have numerous free resources for organizational use. In addition, wellness apps are making huge strides in personalizing free (or almost free) accessible wellness. Some popular ones include Mood Journal, Calm, and Apple's Fitness app.

Have a launch party

As with leadership buy-in, workforce buy-in is essential for success. Hosting a launch party to kick off the wellness initiative will set up organizations for success. On the agenda, include a discussion about annual goals, share an overview of the schedule, and present opportunities for employee engagement. Involve change agents so they can share in the excitement with their peers.

Stay true to wellness by offering healthy snacks such as fruit, yogurt, and protein bars as well as by ensuring an attractive physical environment.

Starting out with a group activity around wellness enables employees to build both relationships and psychological well-being together (bonus points for incorporating physical activities). Consider the following examples.

Wellness bingo. For an easy and fun way to introduce the initiative, create bingo cards with wellness activities. Cards can include such statements as "Walked outside this weekend," "Got coffee with a co-worker," "Introduced myself to someone new last week," and "My retirement contributions meet the maximum employer match percentage." Those will both reward wellness behaviors and encourage specific activities for future engagement.

Group stretching. This can be as casual as asking employees to recommend and lead the group in specific stretches or projecting a short YouTube video for everyone to follow along with.

Word walls. Ask participants to share their goals or favorite activities for each well-being pillar by posting sticky notes around the room.

At the close of the launch party, or immediately following it, give employees a brief survey asking:

  • On a scale of 1 to 4, how interested are you in the corporate wellness initiative?
  • In which well-being pillar are you most interested?
  • What is one activity you want to see this year in our wellness initiative?
  • Are you interested in joining the wellness team as a change agent?
  • Is there any additional feedback you have for the wellness team?

Incorporate regular feedback and evaluation

One of the benefits of building up to a wellness program is the ability to collect data and adapt employee wellness to the workforce's and organization's needs. Incorporate systematic surveys, opportunities for regular feedback, and analysis of organizational data points for each pillar.

Career well-being: Increased use of training budget for career development; voluntary enrollment or participation in cross-training opportunities; increased job rotations; involvement in internal mentorship development or career coaching relationships

Financial well-being: Augmented retirement distribution in paychecks; increased employer matching for retirement account contributions

Physical well-being: Participation in program-sponsored physical exercise; increased planned paid time off around slow holidays and company downtimes; reduction of sick leave

Psychological well-being: Increased ratings of belonging and inclusion in working groups; augmented participation of underrepresented employees in succession planning; increased participation of new or junior-level employees in leadership meetings; increased participation in leadership requests for feedback

Relationship well-being: Increased number of employees who volunteer outside of work; improved participation in company events

Create an ecosystem of cultural wellness

Long term—meaning three to five years away—the goal is to have a well-structured, fully integrated wellness program. As the corporate culture evolves with the wellness initiative, schedule regular assessments of organizational systems and practices, norms, and standard operating procedures to ensure an ecosystem of cultural wellness over time.

Evolve with data. By regularly measuring and adapting to employee needs, within three to five cycles, the team can accurately integrate wellness with all aspects of the organization, including processes, awards, culture, and workplace norms.

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Positive messaging. Focus messaging on the end goal of thriving around holistic wellness.

Stay consistent. Whatever the scheduled communication and organizational commitments to the wellness initiative, be consistent with the timing and regular communications. Consistency breeds repetition and predictability for increased participation. For example, host each virtual webinar on the same first Thursday of the month and send wellness communications on each Monday before all-staff meetings.

Integrating corporate culture with wellness entails considering the following questions, which touch on a spectrum of organizational factors.

  • Talent management: Do individual career development plans, cross-training, and succession planning for leadership include well-being goals?
  • Employee recognition: Do leaders and managers incentivize and recognize successes? If so, do they reward employees in meaningful ways?
  • Communication: Do internal communications, especially from leaders and managers, promote wellness practices and meaningful work with a clear connection to high-performing work and organizational success?
  • Incentives: Do leaders encourage creative problem solving, initiative, and ownership of work? Do they align performance goals with employee values to incentivize engagement in meaningful work?
  • Events: Do employees feel included and a sense of belonging in events, open forums, and opportunities?
  • Rules and guidelines: Do company processes and procedures encourage or prohibit wellness practices?
  • Workspace: Is it easy to move around the physical office space and see the outdoors? Are there common areas for employees to easily connect with co-workers? Are there accessible areas for effective collaboration?

Although mental health has gained more focus in the workplace in recent years, the only long-term solution to a resilient workforce is a corporate culture that fosters holistic health. When organizations and managers encourage and support employees with time, resources, and benefits, staff can engage in regular healthy habits and become fully equipped to meet the challenges of life and work ahead.


Sample Plan: Career Well-Being Pillar (January Through March)

This timeline breaks down how corporate wellness teams can plan and execute a quarter-long organizational focus on a particular wellness topic.

December, Week 1: Planning.

Start surveying for topics, calling for volunteers, identifying events, and seeking staff participation. Assign tasks, roles, dates, and internal deadlines.

January, Week 1: Webinar.

Host an organization-wide webinar one day during lunchtime to launch the pillar. Focus on sharing the terms, state of affairs, resources, and an overview of events for the pillar. Record and share the webinar with employees in follow-up communications.

January, Week 3: Speed Networking.

Similar to speed dating, the goal for participants is to quickly build relationships and foster conversations around career development. During the one-hour event, employees can rotate partners every two to three minutes to engage in conversations around career, work, roles, and duties. Some basic questions can include:

  • What did you do before your current job?
  • What is the best part about your current role within the organization?
  • Who is someone at work you would like to emulate more? In what ways?
  • If you could go back five years in your career, what advice would you give yourself?
  • What career development will you focus on this year?

February, Week 1: Newsletter.

Summarize the main ideas with links to resources and recommendations for habit building and follow-up conversations.

February, Week 3: Working Group.

During a virtual, one-hour working group, employees can share their professional goals, receive feedback, and create camaraderie in purposeful planning and career development.

March, Week 1: Podcast.

Starting in December, the wellness team should identify employees with unique perspectives, personal stories, or lessons learned around career well-being. As January launches and staff engage and share feedback and stories, the team can narrow down individuals to present short stories for diverse lessons and career paths or leverage leaders to discuss an organizational or personal viewpoint. Alternatively, look for external experts to host topical discussions.

March, Week 1: Planning. Start planning for the next well-being pillar.

About the Author

From Buddhist monasteries to postgenocide remediation and community development, Jessica Abshire has spent more than a decade developing leaders and communities around the world. Returning back to the U. after 27 months of Peace Corps service in Kosovo, Abshire transitioned her career to focus on organization development in corporate America. She currently lives and works in Washington, DC, specializing in leadership development, change management, and performance management, and recently started public speaking and career coaching for emerging leaders in the beginning stages of their careers. Abshire has a master’s degree from Georgetown University.

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