As a manager, you have a lot of influence over the culture of your workgroup. Through your actions, you can foster a workplace culture that encourages health and wellness.
The tips below represent just a few ideas for how to cultivate wellness among your employees. While not all of these practices will be appropriate for your workgroup, we hope you find value and can implement a few of them.
We encourage you to view this list as a launching point. Take this list—or a modified version of it—to your employees to see what they would appreciate. Ask them which ideas would support their own personal goals around wellness and which ones might seem intrusive. Solicit additional suggestions. Involving your employees from the start will mean greater buy-in later as you work towards establishing practices that foster a healthy work environment.
- Try not to schedule meetings during lunch time, so that employees understand that you expect them to take time for self-care during the day.
- Conduct walking one-on-one meetings; research shows that walking improves creative problem solving.
- Incorporate a stretch or movement activity at the start of meetings. It may be the only time people get a chance to move/stretch during the day. It can also help people settle down and focus on the topic at hand.
- Encourage employees to stand up and walk around during meetings, as needed. Many people have aching backs and/or aren’t able to sit still for long periods of time before their mind wanders. Research also suggests that prolonged sitting increases our risk for cardiovascular disease. It is also associated with an increased risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels.
- Take employees’ schedules into account before scheduling meetings. While this might not always be feasible, when possible, take into account your employees’ schedules when setting up meetings, especially standing meetings. While it’s not your responsibility to know what else your employees have going on, encourage them to let you know if a certain meeting time doesn’t work for them, and do your best to find a time that works for everyone. For example, perhaps shifting staff meeting to start 15 minutes later means that an employee can attend her exercise class. If an employee already has 5 hours of meetings on Wednesdays, consider NOT scheduling your weekly one-on-one on that day so that she has some breathing room.
- Encourage employees to take a lunch away from their desk. This is different from simply permitting employees to take a break. Positively reinforce this behavior in employees who take time for self-care. Let those employees who don’t take a break know that you would like them to step away from their desk at least once a day. Remind them that they will be more productive if they take a break for lunch.
- Encourage mini breaks throughout the day among employees. Don’t be that manager who rewards—either explicitly or implicitly—those employees who never step away from their desk. Let your employees know that you expect them to take breaks throughout the day. This practice will help prevent workplace injuries, as well as refresh their thinking. We also know that prolonged sitting is associated with serious health risks (see previous description).
- Post signs encouraging stretch or movement breaks throughout the day. These will be a visual reminder to employees that you expect them to take breaks.
Opportunities for Healthy Eating
- Instead of candy bowls on desks, consider offering fresh fruit or nuts. Research on “mindless eating” shows that we are greatly influenced by our food environment. In a nutshell, eating healthfully is much easier if we don’t see unhealthy food options. If you aren’t ready to remove the candy bowls, having the candy in an opaque bowl with a lid makes the candy less visible and research shows that people will eat less of it.
- When providing catered meals, include healthy options. Offer only water, unsweetened tea or coffee as drinks. When offering catered meals, try to include “real food” options which feature vegetables, salads and whole grains. Try to limit processed foods and foods which contain high levels of sodium, saturated fat, sugar and refined carbs. Because we usually don’t register the calories that we ingest by drinking (as opposed to eating), it’s especially important to select drinks with low caloric intake, such as water, unsweetened tea and coffee. One hundred percent fruit juice, while full of nutrients, still contain a lot of (natural) sugar as well as a lot of calories. Soda—both diet and regular—has no nutritional merit whatsoever. Regular soda contains huge amounts of sugar which are bad for our bodies and our teeth. Diet soda has been associated with increasing our cravings for other sweet foods and drink. If employees balk at drinking water, consider sparkling water, either plain or flavored with just a small amount of natural fruit juice.
- Consider asking employees NOT to bring in unhealthy foods to share. Do an informal poll of your employees to see how many look forward to “donut Thursdays” and how many wish that they weren’t tempted by unhealthy treats. Depending on public opinion, consider asking employees to bring baked goods or junk foods only on special occasions.
- Think of ways to reward employees other than with food. There is a long tradition of rewarding exemplary behavior with a pizza or ice cream party, mostly because many of us enjoy it and it’s relatively cheap and easy. Consider alternative reward systems.
Opportunities for Physical Activity
- Champion a WoW class for your building. Regular physical activity is vital for our health, yet between long commutes, extended work hours, and family obligations, it can be hard to find the time to work out. Make it easier on your employees by arranging for a fitness class to come to your building. Having it on site greatly reduces the barriers to attending. Consider a 45 minute class if many of your employees only have a one hour lunch. By arranging for the class—and ideally also attending the class—you’re leading by example and showing how seriously you take this issue.
- Consider having a flexible dress code around exercise clothes. When feasible, don’t require that your employees wait to change into their exercise clothes until the last possible moment. Allowing them to change earlier means they are less likely to miss the class because their meeting or phone call ran late. Also consider letting them cool off after exercise before they change back into their work clothes.
- Encourage employees to use some of their STAP funds for health promotion classes. The university and IRS guidelines allow STAP funds to be used for either career development courses or health promotion classes. By encouraging your employees to use STAP funds for health promotion, you are communicating to them that you care about their health. You are also communicating your understanding of the important link between personal health, productivity and job performance.
- Allow flexible work schedules (work from home, shift start and end times) to help deal with long commutes. Obviously this won’t work for all jobs, but when feasible, consider allowing employees to shift their work schedule to better deal with traffic. Consider allowing employees to work from home one day a week.
- Well Time: Regular, full-time employees may use up to eight hours per year of accrued sick time to participate in wellness activities approved through BeWell@Stanford Employee Incentive Program. Regular, part-time employees can also participate on a pro-rated basis. Encourage and support employees who want to participate in wellness activities that may take place during regular work hours such as:
- Participating in workshops and fitness classes
- Taking the health assessment
- Giving blood or getting a flu shot
- Attending the Cardinal Walk or Wellness Fair
- In addition to the tips above, BeWell@Stanford offers the Healthy Work Environment (HWE) program, developed to support the enhancement of worksite well-being. There is an opportunity to become or identify an Ambassador who will partner with BeWell and your work group to identify wellness goals and strategies. This year, BeWell is tying these successful efforts to the $100 BeWell incentive. For more information, visit the BeWell@ Stanford website or contact the HWE group at Healthyworkenvironment@stanford.edu.
Content provided by the Stanford Health Improvement Program.
For other BeWell resources for staff, visit the BeWell Website.