23 Surefire Ways to Boost Employee Wellbeing
Let’s face it – we spend the majority of our waking lives at work.
For most us, our lives are made up mostly of work.
Companies are learning that acknowledging – rather than denying – this fact is not just the right thing to do, but also a sound business decision.
In a recent interview, Life is Good founder Bert Jacobs emphasized that focusing on things like employee wellbeing has an often under-acknowledged business benefit for organizations.
According to Jacobs, focusing on employee wellbeing and purpose is “a smart strategy for building a strong business….The organization only hurts themselves if they’re not working in the best interest of everybody at their organization.”
Why is this the case? Employee wellbeing is linked to employee engagement and productivity, and your organization becomes stronger across the board when you make it a priority.
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Your company isn’t the product you make, your intellectual property, your patents, or even the customers you serve. First and foremost, your company is your people. (Literally. The word “company” comes from the military, and simply refers to a body of soldiers.)
Before we get to brass tacks, first a quick note on what we mean by employee wellbeing:
“Employee happiness,” “employee engagement,” and “employee wellbeing” are terms that often thrown around interchangeably. While they’re all related, they mean different things and imply different strategies.
What’s the difference?
Specifically, employee wellbeing is about how your job – your duties, expectations, stress level, and environment – affects your overall health and happiness.
And while it certainly includes things like exercise and nutrition, well-being isn’t just about physical health. It’s about mood and cognition, and less tangible factors like a sense of purpose. Above all, it’s about understanding your employees from a holistic perspective, taking into account the totality of their lives, and considering their overall quality of life.
Easier said than done, we know. But we’re here to help.
Here are 23 proven and powerful ways to boost employee wellbeing at your company.
1. Throw Down Fitness Challenges
Fitness challenges are one of the best ways to kickstart your company’s wellbeing into gear.
Why are they so effective? Fitness challenges unlock the spirit of fun and friendly competition. Peer involvement will encourage greater participation, and inspire your team to push themselves further than they would on their own.
Here at SnackNation, we recently launched the “Walk it Out” step challenge, during which the entire org received Jawbone fitness trackers, and logged our steps daily.
The goal was to “walk” from LA to San Francisco as a team over the course of 4 weeks – that is, log the 772,000 steps between LA and the city by the bay.
In addition to the team goal, prizes were awarded for individual step leaders after each week. It was that combination of shared and individual goals that held the key to the program’s success. Our team felt a sense of togetherness and esprit de corps as we strove for common goals, and celebrated individual leaders throughout the week.
Fitness challenges don’t cost much to launch (fitness trackers are great, but definitely not required), and provide outsized benefits to your organization, fostering both team building and overall wellbeing.
2. Give Employees The Tools to Discover Their Purpose
Jenn Lim, the CEO and Chief Happiness Officer at Delivering Happiness – a company she co-founded with Zappos’ Tony Hsieh to help companies unlock the business potential of happiness – is a huge proponent of purpose-driven cultures.
Lim and DH take a scientific look at happiness, drawing on positive psychology to determine how companies can optimize their cultures. One of the primary insights they found is that a sense of purpose is key to creating a sustainable culture of happiness and wellbeing.
According to the team’s research, there are three levels of happiness:
- pleasure – a fleeting form of happiness
- passion – a more sustained form of happiness that continues to deliver as long as you are performing the activity about which you are passionate
- purpose – the highest level, which permeates your daily life with happiness and energy
Under this rubric, the best thing you can do for employee wellbeing is to infuse your culture with a sense of purpose.
How is this done?
Chris Cutter, CEO of LifeDojo wellbeing, says,
“We believe that when you put genuine employee engagement first, permanent positive health habits follow.” So what makes “genuine” engagement in wellbeing? According to LifeDojo, a few things:
First, focus on your employees’ intrinsic motivation (everyone has very specific, individual goals and reasons for working on their own health).
Second, foster a sense of ownership by encouraging employees to personalize what health and wellbeing habits they’ll work on as part of your wellness initiatives.
Third, offer a coach who can treat employees not as problems to be solved, but as human beings to empower. Finally, give employees the opportunity to be champions of the program, encouraging your team to grow interest in new initiatives from the bottom up…instead of imposing new programs from the top down.
Engagement has an incredible impact on your company culture. When an employee sees wellbeing as a perk instead of something they ‘have to do,’ you start to see job satisfaction, productivity and appreciation skyrocket.”
(For more on the power of purpose, check out our Ultimate Guide)
3. Encourage Employees to Develop Friendships
It should come as no surprise that building lasting friendships can be one of the most fulfilling aspects of our lives. And one of the best wellness strategies you can foster.
However, you may be interested to learn that recent research proves that when working in a team, friends outperform strangers.
Ohio State researchers compared the results of 26 different studies and concluded that friends coordinate tasks more effectively because they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses so that can break up work in the most effective way.
Robert Lount, a co-author of the study and associate professor at Ohio State’s business school, notes, “Working with friends is not just something that makes us feel good – it can actually produce better results.”
Employee engagement is at an all-time low and one way to encourage employees to care more about their job–encourage them to foster friendships.
Feeling safe, supported and appreciated at work can go a long way to improve performance and productivity but social interactions also release oxytocin, referred to as the love drug.
According to MindBodyGreen, humans are social beings and our brains have evolved to ensure our survival which means that they operate best when we interact and connect with others. Social exchanges can decrease stress, anxiety, and depression while increasing feelings of happiness and calm.
Oxytocin also calms “the fear center of the brain, and strengthens its communications with brain circuits that help you control emotions.”
When you boil it down, having friends at work helps you be better at your job by improving communication and collaboration, and perhaps more importantly, it leads to a happier life overall.
Here a couple simple ideas to facilitate connections for your employees:
- Implement a new hire buddy system
- Allow co-workers to take their full lunch break
- Encourage team traditions and rituals
- Start an office-wide Slack channel dedicated to sharing personal interests
- Consider having a yearly offsite
4. Break Out in an Impromptu Dance Competition
This idea comes from the awesome folks at Sonic Boom wellness, based in Carlsbad, CA:
“Sitting at a desk for an entire eight-hour shift (or longer) can take its toll on our physical and mental wellbeing. As one of the many creative ways we help keep Sonic Boom employees engaged while at work, our Co-founders suggested that we participate in random two-minute dance parties – an idea borrowed from the popular Ellen daytime talk show.
When the music starts playing in our colorful Think Tank, Boomers are encouraged to stop what they’re doing, get up from their computers, and let loose with some sweet dance moves. Not only do we get our blood flowing, we also experience a healthy mental release by dancin’ like we just don’t care (and building some special camaraderie with our coworkers in the process).
A bit silly? Of course. But is everyone smiling at the end? You betcha.”
5. Get Some Steps in During Your Meetings
Want another way to help your team “hack” their way to improved health? Hold your next meeting on foot.
Walking meetings are a great way to add a little movement and exercise into your schedule, without sacrificing productivity.
In fact, you’re more likely to enhance your productivity.
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) April 6, 2015
The benefits of ditching stuffy conference rooms for meetings on-the-go are plentiful: the added blood flow and shifting environment will enhance focus and spur creativity.
Think we’re making this up? Some of the greatest thinkers in history – including Steve Jobs, Harry S. Truman, and even Aristotle – swore by walking meetings.
El Segundo, California-based skincare brand Murad came up with an ingenious way to encourage walking meetings. They painted a walking track in their new, 45,000 global headquarters. The track, which snakes through and around the floor of their offices, enables employees to stretch their legs and discuss work on the fly.
Lisa Sterling, Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer at human capital management technology company Ceridian, offers another cool idea:
“Several Ceridian offices have installed treadmill workstations for employees to walk while on conference calls, web meetings or working on their laptops. It’s a way to encourage our people to keep moving during the day and is actively embraced by our people.”
6. Institute Flexible Work Hours for Improved Work/Life Balance
As we mentioned in the beginning, employee wellbeing isn’t just about physical health. It’s about one’s overall quality of life.
Our lives are multi-faceted. Work is important, but there are so many other things outside of work that give our lives meaning and purpose – things like family, faith, community, and hobbies.
It goes without saying that these things require our time and energy. More often than not, work obligations get in the way, and our wellbeing suffers as a result.
Allowing for flexible working hours does two things. It empowers employees to alter their work habits to fit their family needs or to keep working on the projects that give their lives additional meaning.
Perhaps more importantly, it sends a signal that you trust your employees. When you enable employees to set their own schedules as long as they hit deadlines and deliver results, they feel more like partners than corporate drones – and they’ll work that much harder for you.
7. Fight The Harmful Effects of Sedentary Lifestyles with Standing Desks
Do you know that sitting is the new smoking?
It’s true. Sedentariness represents a grave threat to the health of millions of American office workers.
Don’t take it from us. According to the New York Times, “It doesn’t matter if you go running every morning, or you’re a regular at the gym. If you spend most of the rest of the day sitting — in cars, office chairs, or on your sofa at home — you are putting yourself at increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a variety of cancers and an early death.”
One way to offset the dangers of sitting too much is by… standing. Sitting is one of the most passive things you can do. By standing while you work, your body will burn energy as your leg, core, and back muscles tense to balance.
Many employers are put off by the cost of replacing existing desks with expensive standing ones.
Fortunately, Oristand has solved that problem with their totally functional, totally affordable cardboard standing desks. This simple yet sturdy design is only $25, and is used by more than 20,000 professionals across the world to decrease sedentariness and increase wellbeing.
Here’s what Mike Travers, Senior Benefits Consultant at full-service HR provider TriNet, has to say about the benefits of standing desks:
“Standing desks are great for when you’re stuck in a long meeting, for instance, as they may help you not to fall asleep. Studies show that when you stand up, your body remains active and you reap the benefits of the extra metabolic functioning that can help reduce your chances of diabetes and heart disease. Just think of the cost savings as well!
Some of those sit down chairs are very expensive. If you have a phone job, you often project better over the telephone from a standing position rather than slouched in a chair. There is also evidence that the more you sit, the greater your mortality risk! For me, that says it all.”
8. Focus on Personal Development
No one wants a dead-end job.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Your employees – especially the younger folks in the group – crave progress. They need to feel like they are on a path that leads somewhere.
One way to ensure that your employees are learning and growing is by aiding their personal and professional development.
At SnackNation, we do this in a few ways. We have a personal development library, where all employees are encouraged to borrow books from an array of personal development titles.
We also have every employee complete IDPs – individual development plans. Employees develop goals and then work with managers to develop a path to achieving those goals. Monthly check-ins assure accountability.
Finally, we hold weekly “Sensei Sessions.” These are hour-long personal and professional development sessions led by senior leadership. It’s a great way to inspire your team and share knowledge and experience.
Here’s one of our Sensei Sessions presented by our Head of Sales. Kevin Dorsey:
9. Allow Remote Days to Renew Focus and Remove Distractions
Sometimes, you just need to change things up.
If it’s feasible, allow your employees to work from home or from an offsite location (like a coffee shop, park, or the beach) one day a week. Doing so allows for greater focus, and a change of scenery can inspire new ideas.
Additionally, this flexibility sends a signal that you trust your employees to be self-directed, and will result in greater emotional wellbeing and engagement.
We asked Erin McGinty, Director of Benefits Consulting at TriNet, to share her thoughts on why remote workdays can improve work-life balance for your team:
“One remote workday keeps the doctor away! Have you considered allowing your employees to work from home one day a week? Having this level of flexibility to be home to let the repair person in or to be there for that one day a week the kids have an early soccer game can help reduce stress on your employee and offer work-life harmony!
People who get to work at home on occasion are not only happier, they are less likely to resign and can also be more productive (think way less distractions from water cooler talk and avoiding that commute)!”
10. Encourage Bike to Work Days
Biking to work is a great way to kill two birds with one stone – that is, knock out your commute and your exercise at the same time.
Plus, biking to work saves the planet… and gas money. It’s a win-win-win.
Need help convincing your company that biking is a viable option? Don’t go it alone. Enlist the help of The League of American Bicyclists, who raise awareness for National Bike to Work month, week, and day every May.
According to The League, 40% of most trips in the U.S. are two miles are less, making biking a viable transportation option in most instances. And while commutes are often a bit longer on average, you can combine public transit with cycling to make biking to work a reality. In fact, most major cities offer free rides for cyclists on public transportation during bike to work week.
You can also throw in some gamification here to add an extra layer of fun. My Virtual Mission allows you to create a long distance route from one location to another (i.e. Chicago to New York). See who can bike to the “finish line” first.
11. Practice Guided Meditation to Help with Presence
The benefits of meditation are almost too many to list. They include things like better sleep, improved metabolism and weight loss, reduced stress and aging, and improved mood and cognition.
In fact, productivity expert Tim Ferriss often states that his one regret when it comes to meditation is that he didn’t start ten years earlier.
At SnackNation, we perform an employee-led guided meditation session every Wednesday at 2 pm. Our resident meditation expert, Spencer Carlson, studied the practice in India, and helps our team become more mindful and present.
The result is a noticeably calmer, more-focused team on Wednesday afternoons.
If you don’t have a Spencer (and really, there’s only one), there are some great apps that can aid your meditation practice. Healthline published a great list earlier this year.
Beyond the most frequently and often more-lofty benefits of meditation, are small improvements to patience, communication, analytical thinking and even making fewer typos.
Establishing a company-wide practice encourages community, keeps people accountable and is a great culture exercise.
Bonus – try tacking on a 2-minute gratitude practice after your meditation. Simply make a mental list of all the things that come up when you think about what you are grateful for. Gratitude is a powerful tool for increased fulfillment and happiness.
12. Extend Trust by Offering Unlimited Vacation
Yes, you read that correctly.
Companies like GE, Netflix, Hubspot, and yes, SnackNation, are just a few who are hopping on the unlimited vacation trend.
If you answer emails after work, you should be getting unlimited vacation https://t.co/IgyQtc87vq
— Quartz (@qz) July 24, 2016
Now, before you dismiss this outright, unlimited vacation doesn’t mean employees are free to collect a paycheck while they relax on a Mexican beach for six months out of the year.
In practice, unlimited vacation connects time off with results. The policy states that as long as you meet your deadlines, goals, and deliver results, you are free to take as much vacation as you want.
Unlimited vacation works because in emphasizing results, you again demonstrate that you trust your employees to do the right thing by their company and teams. Employees appreciate being treated like adults and are inspired to deliver outsized results in order to justify a little extra R&R.
It’s a win-win for the company and employee alike and results in a boosted sense of employee wellbeing.
13. Grant Sabbaticals to Celebrate Individuals and Reduce Burnout
Sabbaticals work like this: after an employee reaches a certain tenure – usually 3-5 years at a company – he or she is eligible to take 6-8 weeks off to go on a trip, or work on a passion project or perform a public service at home. (The only thing that is off limits is sitting at home doing nothing!)
The idea is to embark on a journey that will be personally enriching, and that will yield new perspectives, new ideas, and new learnings that he or she can bring back to the company.
And before you assume 6-8 weeks is too long to be away from one’s job, consider that after 5 years, that represents a very small fraction of one’s total time at a company.
14. Give Unlimited Paternity/Maternity Leave
Netflix made headlines this year when they announced they were offering unlimited paternity/maternity leave. Employees are free to take as much time in the first year after a child is born or adopted.
Compare this to existing federal law, which guarantees up to 12 weeks of parental leave, but only for companies with fifty or more employees.
The benefit here again is that it signals to your employees that you understand that their lives outside of work – particularly their family lives – are important.
This emotional connection helps to contribute to an overall greater sense of employee wellbeing.
15. The “Undercover Boss” Competition
This fun idea also comes from the good people over at Sonic Boom:
“Ever dreamed of giving your boss a big ol’ pie to the face? Those dreams become reality for the Boomers at Sonic Boom Wellness during our “Undercover Boss” competitions.
With Undercover Boss, everyone participates under a secret identity – so no one knows who’s topping the leaderboards until the very end. And the reward for out-striding your boss during this three-week activity contest? Catapulting a whipped-cream-loaded pie straight into her/his face.
But beware! Your ‘punishment’ for being out-strided? The winning bosses get to randomly draw the name of a losing employee, and send that big-ol’ pie flying into their face.
In the most recent contest, our amazingly active accountant, Matt, out-strided our President, Bryan. The photo speaks for itself…”
16. Make Recognition and Praise Part of Your Company’s Culture
One of the most desired – and easiest to implement – wellbeing initiatives is simply to recognize employees for their effort and achievements.
This is especially effective for Millennial employees, who are accustomed to receiving praise from a very young age. Being part of the so-called “self-esteem generation,” they often crave recognition more than a pay raise.
A handwritten thank you note, or formal recognition program – an employee of the month award, for example – all go a long way towards creating a positive emotional environment that supports wellbeing.
Or you could do a “Crush It Call”. Here’s how we do them at SnackNation HQ:
17. Take the Vegan Challenge
Eating vegan is not only compassionate but promotes healthy and mindful eating. The practice forces you to consider everything you put in your body and virtually eliminates mindless consumption.
Your team will be eating lighter, more nutritious foods, and will be properly fueled to take on challenges and perform at their peak.
Challenge your team to eat vegan for a week. Not only will your team be more focused and productive, you might be surprised by how many people stick with it.
If a week sounds like a stretch, start with 1 day and then keep extending the challenge timeline. If you want to take it up a notch, you can even try growing your own worksite garden. TotalWellness president Alan Kohll tells us:
“A worksite garden is an excellent opportunity to address a number of healthy habits. Gardens can help build fresh ideas, energy, teamwork, company morale, workplace relationships and friendships. It can also help you promote engagement in wellness activities by supplying healthy food for employees and physical activity breaks to work in the garden.
At our headquarters in Omaha, we have 15-beds filled with kale, carrots, peppers, squash, cucumbers and much more! The garden provides a means of physical activity and stress reduction, plus it increases access to fresh produce to our employees.”
18. Incentivize Preventative Care, Like Flu-Shots
While this may not be the “sexiest” item on this list, one of the best ways to improve overall health in the office is to address potential illnesses before they happen.
Case in point? The flu.
Cold and flu season can decimate your office. Flu viruses spread during the winter months, and take hold when cold weather weakens our immune systems.
In total, cold and flu season costs our economy an estimated $40 billion every year in lost productivity due to illness.
One way to curb these losses? Incentivize flu shots. Offer a small cash bonus, gift card, or giveaway (like a stress ball, t-shirt, or mug) for employees who get the shot in October or November. Your company will more than cover their losses by avoiding mass absenteeism.
19. Urge Sick Employees to Stay Home
While we’re on the topic of cold and flu season, let’s talk about another form of preventative care that is a lot easier than getting the flu shot…
Coming into work when you are sick seems to be popular these days.
The truth is, we all having demanding jobs and high expectations of ourselves. But when it comes to wellbeing and health, we take shortcuts.
Haven’t we all had the thought, “If I stay home sick today, will I jeopardize my opportunity to get that promotion?”
However, when you come to work sick, you not only prolong your recovery period, you also expose your coworkers to your bug.
An article in The New York Times, “If You’re Sick, Stay Away From Work“, explains that coming to work with the flu “can be deadly for others, especially pregnant women, young children and older people. And no matter how many precautions you take, there’s no way to eliminate the risk to people around you.”
It may seem small, but we’ve all had the experience of not being able to shake that lingering head cold for two weeks, sometimes more.
It’s pretty hard to focus when you have to stop to blow your nose every 15 minutes or spend all afternoon asking around for cold medicine.
As a leader and culture carrier, it’s your responsibility to communicate that getting sick is not a sign of weakness and that it’s okay to work from home or take a day or two to fully recover.
What could be more important to the wellbeing of your employees than their health? It’s worth the OOO time.
20. Let employees set their own goals and work strategies.
Most positions within your company probably come along with a detailed job description and a set of priority goals. Knowing how those pre-set goals advance the company mission will probably motivate employees to do their best work, but employees might feel even more motivated—and even more fulfilled—at work if you let them set some of their own goals and come up with their own strategies for fulfilling established objectives.
According to research from the University of Birmingham, Business School, high levels of workplace autonomy correlate with feelings of wellbeing and satisfaction. While workplace autonomy covers a range of factors besides setting goals, giving employees the freedom to creatively contribute is a solid wellbeing choice for companies who don’t have the option to offer things like flexible work hours.
To give employees more autonomy without the risk of undermining core company goals, create a structured plan for employee goal setting to ensure everyone gets something out of the process. Layout company-wide strategic objectives for your team members, but let them create their own plans for achieving those goals.
21. Set up volunteer programs and volunteering days.
It can seem like the last thing anyone has time for in a busy workplace is volunteering. But as challenging as volunteering can be, the rewards far outweigh any potential downside. Volunteering benefits the mind, the community, and even the body. And we’re not just talking about vague warm fuzzy feelings; many studies have found scientific evidence that volunteering has psychological and physiological benefits. A range of studies incorporating a range of methods and focus areas suggest that:
- Volunteering is positively correlated with self-reported health.
- Volunteering enhances several critical aspects of personal wellbeing, including happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, sense of control over life, physical health, and overcoming depression.
- Volunteering could lower baseline depression. (And since the best estimates from the World Health Organization say over 300 million people suffer from depression, some of your employees may be suffering in silence.)
- Volunteering might boost physical mobility, stamina, and flexibility.
By offering free days for volunteering and planning group volunteering activities, you’ll be giving employee wellbeing levels a major boost.
22. Renovate your office to bring in more natural light.
Overhauling your office to let in a little more sunlight might seem like a frivolous endeavor, but a study from the Interdepartmental Neuroscience program at Northwestern University in Chicago (reported by Psychology Today) suggests it will pay off in the long run—in the form of increased employee wellbeing, happiness, and even job performance.
The study found that exposure to natural light affects workers’ quality of life, vitality, daytime function, and sleep. Researchers believe natural light influences so many aspects of our lives because it is the main cue guiding our circadian rhythms, our 24/7 natural clocks, sometimes called our sleep/wake cycles.
Employees feel the desire for natural light on a conscious level as well. According to a Leesman employee experience survey, 73.9% of employees find natural light important.
Here are some simple ways to bring more natural light into your office if you don’t have the budget for a complete overhaul:
- Add mirrors to reflect the natural light you already get.
- Use transparent or semitransparent partitions instead of solid ones.
- Replace solid doors and cubicle walls with transparent or semitransparent ones.
- Remove any large objects obstructing light coming in from windows. You can shift desks, bookshelves, and filing cabinets—anything that’s stopping natural light.
- Redistribute office space to seat several employees (instead of just one executive) in an office with a window.
23. Promote mental health awareness and counseling.
As we mentioned earlier, the best estimates from the World Health Organization say over 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression. It’s fairly safe to guess that in almost any workplace, you’ll find at least a few employees who suffer from depression or depressive episodes. People often let depression go untreated because of social taboos, lack of understanding, and unfamiliarity with treatment options.
Among other problems, depression wreaks havoc on a person’s sense of wellness, engagement with the world, and motivation at work. However, if treatment options were better broadcast and more readily available, many people who need help might just take the plunge.
Your company can join the fight against depression by offering mental health awareness programs and counseling or simply promoting the options available from your healthcare provider. Work with Human Resources to invite a representative from your insurance company to give a talk about mental health options and go from there. Even a small mention of mental health options on the monthly company newsletter could be just the boost someone needs to seek help.
What about you? What are the benefits of employee wellbeing in your eyes, and what do your companies do to ensure that wellbeing is a priority? Let us know in the comments below!