Make Your Company Better

A company is only as good as the people who work there. From the people who hold the guiding vision to those who keep the computers working, people create the capacity, culture and future of a company.

One of the best things you can do for your company is support the health and wellbeing of its people. An effective wellness program:

1) increases productivity and engagement,

2) contributes significantly to recruitment and retention,

3) saves the company money on health insurance and sick days,

4) helps develop a strong and positive workplace culture, and

5) acts on the fact that health is part of everything that we do.

Torontonians work hard, but we are also savvy about our health. Nearly all of us have at least tried yoga, fitness, nutrition, and meditation. Especially in downtown Toronto, we are often on the look out for ways to be as healthy as possible within the little spare time we have.

In health-conscious Toronto, a dynamic wellness program is a sign of a forward-thinking business strategy and attentiveness to every aspect of your company, both of which attract the best and brightest people in your field.

Many companies now have wellness programs, and all the data show that these programs are good for business. To stand out now, your program has to be fresh and innovative, going beyond an occasional lunch-and-learn or a discount gym memberships. A good benefits package helps, but a lot of people don’t take the time to use their benefits, which means your company is paying for something without getting the return. Integrating a wellness program with existing employee benefits maximizes return on an investment that you already made.

So what makes an innovative wellness program, and why does your company need one? The first three points below answer the second question, then we’ll circle back to the first. But first, let’s describe what a day in this program could look like:

Employees take 1-3 hours of their day away from work to participate in whichever component(s) they choose. Some people get a one-hour acupuncture treatment. Some of those and others try tai chi for the first time and laugh with their colleagues about how silly they think they look. They are  maybe even aware of their body in a way that they never have been.

Some people now have less tension in their shoulders when they go back to work at their desks. Some skip their usual mid-afternoon coffee and carbs. Another doesn’t have a headache anymore and can focus better in their end-of-day meeting.

When they go home that night they have more energy to spend with loved ones or work on a hobby that makes them happy. They are looking forward to the next day like this and don’t mind quite as much pushing themselves on that deadline.

A wellness program can be structured in many different ways and with various components. It is aligned to the needs and culture of the company, and has visible support of management at multiple levels. It is also usually voluntary and accessible to all employees.

So, what makes an innovative wellness program,
and why does your company need one?

5

Benefits of an Innovative Wellness Program

1) Wellness Saves Money

This is a well-researched fact. Investing in employee wellness is a smart financial strategy for all companies, no matter how big or small.

A review of 36 studies found that employers saved on average $358 per employee from reduced health care costs, and saved another $294 by reducing employee absenteeism. This came from spending just $144 per employee on the wellness program itself, and $132 per employee in additional material costs.

For every $1 invested in the health of your employees, you gain $6 from reductions in absenteeism and medical expenses.

This is preventive health care in economic terms. Preventing a health problem is always better than trying to treat a condition that has already developed. This goes for back pain and stress as much as it does for arthritis or cancer.

Acupuncture is an excellent preventative health care intervention. You don’t have to be “sick” to benefit from acupuncture.

As little as one acupuncture treatment a month can have a huge impact on a person’s overall sense of wellness and happiness. One session alongside a generally healthy lifestyle goes a long way.

2) Increase Productivity

Even when a health problem doesn’t send you home early or force you to take a sick day, smaller issues can impact your productivity at work.

Nagging back pain, a low-grade headache, heart-burn, fatigue… these kinds of symptoms can flare-up throughout the day and get in the way of an employee doing their best.

Mental health goes the same way. Focus and creativity are highly desirable qualities in employees. They are harder to access when one’s mind is weighed down by mental health issues like anxiety, depression or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Acupuncture, taiji and meditation are effective strategies within a wellness program to maximize employee productivity at work.

Acupuncture can quickly reduce symptoms like pain, fatigue and anxiety. Private treatments for employees can even be done on-site throughout the day. A taiji movement class in the first thing in the morning or after lunch wakes up the body and mind better than a cup of coffee. Meditation improves one’s ability to stay on task, to problem-solve clearly, and to prevent personal emotions from clouding judgement at work.

3) Improve Retention and Recruiting

Wellness programs help companies to keep their current employees and to attract new ones. Competition between businesses in a city like Toronto is not just about the product or service. It also means competing for the best talent in your field.

A company that shows current and prospective employees that their lives—not just their labor—matters will have a much better chance of locking down those talented, ambitious people that drive a company ahead.

According to Leonard Berry, a senior fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, in an article for the Harvard Business Review:

“A study by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health shows that organizations with highly effective wellness programs report significantly lower voluntary attrition than do those whose programs have low effectiveness (9% vs. 15%). At the software firm SAS Institute, voluntary turnover is just 4%, thanks in part to such a program; at the Biltmore tourism enterprise, the rate was 9% in 2009, down from 19% in 2005. According to Vicki Banks, Biltmore’s director of benefits and compensation, ‘Employees who participate in our wellness programs do not leave.’ Nelnet, an education finance firm, asks departing employees in exit interviews what they will miss most. The number one answer: the wellness program.”

There are a couple of ways that this happens. A wellness program gives employees a clear signal that their company cares about them and is willing to invest in them. Additionally, being healthier makes people happier. And it takes a lot to pull someone out of a situation that clearly makes them happier.

Culture is another important piece. Workplace culture develops through every interaction, and especially in those interactions that are not specifically about work. Dynamic events like taiji classes and meditation classes, are opportunities for bonding between coworkers. They get a shared experience doing something that is meaningful or interesting to them. Their personal self comes out organically in these activities. This leads to stronger connections than you tend to get in the typical “ice breaker” exercises.

Group wellness sessions like taiji and meditation help to build a positive work culture. And when people truly enjoy coming into work and seeing their colleagues, they do better work.

4) Work is Part of Life

Our work is not separate from our life. There’s a lot out there about work-life balance as if work and life were two different things, so I’m going to reframe how we talk about this:

There are some activities that require us to put out energy.
There are other activities that put in energy.

For most of us, work is something that requires energy output. We have to talk and create and problem-solve. We build relationships. We create products or provide services. All of this requires energy to leave our body and go out into the world. The entire enterprise of business is about creating something and putting it out into the world.

There are other things we do that bring energy into our bodies and minds. Sleep, eating, meditation and medicine all recharge us. Relationships, exercise, and cultural media can be restorative or dispersing, and we can engage in these activities intelligently when we know how much energy we have to give at a given moment.

If we want to put energy out, we have to spend a balanced amount of time putting energy in.

Sending out, taking in. Just like breathing.

A good workplace wellness program teaches participants how to balance these outward and inward movements, in the context of the specific demands of their job. This is where workshops for group meditation or movement exercises can have a big impact on employees’ mental and physical health. Treatments like acupuncture are restorative, they put energy in so that you have more to give later.

If everyone in your office, from 9am to 5pm, only puts out energy, then they have to spend 5pm to 9pm putting in energy, and that is actually very hard to do. I see this over and over and it is a recipe for burnout.

Time at work is intelligently balanced between producing and learning, creating and absorbing, doing and receiving. If it is, the possibility of burnout is lowered, and actual productivity is increased.

5) Health Is Everything

Whenever we get sick, even just a cold, we remember how important it is to be healthy. Health is vitality and ease. It means having the ability to do whatever you choose to do. It is a kind of resilience that allows you to navigate through your day intact.

However, when we are feeling good, we tend to take our health for granted. We push ourselves. We push others. We forget how horrible it is to not have the choices that being heathy provides.

Sometimes we think of being healthy as making sure that we take our supplements and medications in the morning, or getting the gym 3 times a week. But health is everything.

Health is how we sit, how we walk, what we eat, how we think, how we breathe.

An innovative and smart wellness program is informed by this comprehensive understanding of health.

When we develop a program, whether it is a single event at a company retreat or recurrent wellness days with layered components, the understanding of health being everything we do pervades the design.

Henry Claflin

Henry is an acupuncturist, herbalist, martial artist and writer. He practices in the Queen West area of Toronto, Ontario.

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