Wellness and Corporate Culture

In the literature, it is often made very clear that in order to have a successful employee wellness program, there must be a culture that is supportive of wellness. Of course, any organization that has a wellness program could argue that they then, in hand have this supporting culture of wellness- or else why would they have a wellness program at all?

However, I have found this to not always be the case. So I ask you this, can you have a successful wellness program without a supportive culture?

I would argue that you absolutely cannot. To me, wellness is just a piece that falls underneath the overall umbrella of corporate culture and they must be interdependent in nature. To have a successful wellness program, there absolutely must be a positive corporate culture, one that supports and encourages a culture of wellness. Otherwise, the wellness programs simply will not be utilized or thrive. Wellness is so much more than checking off a box in your HR strategy.

What does a supportive culture of wellness look like?

Top down: It’s important for those at the top to walk the walk. Literally. This means your senior leaders are out there hosting walking meetings, working out at the in-office gym, attending lunch n’ learns and getting involved in fitness challenges. They also support (and encourage!) all of the employees below them to do this as well, whether it be by contributing an awesome prize to a fitness challenge, inviting an employee to a lunch time workout, organizing a team for a local race or challenging an employee to reach a healthy lifestyle goal.

Flexible hours: This doesn’t mean giving employees the free-for-all. But allowing and encouraging employees to take an extra 10 minutes at lunch so they can make it to the gym and back for a solid workout can do wonders. Same thing goes for allowing an employee to come in a little bit later so they can make it to the gym before work. As long as employees are putting in the required work, allowing this flexibility is only going to improve productivity.

Making health the easy choice: This can mean any number of things, providing employees with healthy snacks in the office is a great place to start. Making sure there are healthy breakfast foods around is another great idea. Planning team building events that take place during work hours and focus around health conscious activities (bubble soccer, healthy cooking class, yoga class, etc) is also a great way to embed health into the culture.

Encourage use of vacation time: Is it common that employees don’t use their vacation days? If so, encourage them to do so and set an example by using your own vacation days as well. Sometimes it is an implict norm to not take vacation and people are afraid to, but people need this down time to rest and unwind.

Wellness Days: Instead of calling unplanned days “sick days” instead call them wellness days. Encourage employees to use these days for their wellness needs, not only when they are miserably sick. Sometimes we really do need a day to de-stress and stay on the couch, encourage using these days for whatever reason, no questions asked.

Environment: Not every organization can afford stand-up desks, but perhaps you are able to convert an empty boardroom to a stretching or relaxation room or build a small gym. Another thing to consider is making sure that stair cases are unlocked so employees can use the stairs more often.

Out of all of these, I would argue that having those at the top walk the talk can make the biggest difference. What do you think? What other ways do you think a corporate culture can have an impact on employee wellness?



Financial Wellness

It’s been a bit quiet over here recently but I’m back! Before I jump into my post I just wanted to give a quick shout out to the Giving Tree Retreat in Collingwood Ontario for providing the most absolutely perfect accommodations for our much needed Valentines Day/Family Day long weekend getaway. If anyone is need of a break/romance/time to unwind, I cannot recommend this place enough! Seriously, check out this picture:


That’s right, that’s an open-air tub looking out on a snowy meadow next to a wood stove. The best part about Giving tree’s Karma cabin? No wi-fi! I am a total phone addict and while I still did get cell service here, this really did force me to disconnect and reconnect with my husband. Go there now, do it!

Now, to focus on the main content for today: Financial Wellness. Said getaway was booked at a time when Happy hubs and I had much more of a disposable income. Unfortunately, due to my contract ending, this hasn’t been the case and has kind of been the reason I haven’t been posting much on here. I know, I know, having no job means I should have all the time in the world to post on my blog and feel inspired, but for a Type “A” like myself I find it to have had the exact opposite effect. Worrying about money is exhausting. It’s depressing. I realize I say this from a place of privilege as I am not going hungry and I have a roof over my head, but trying to function like my normal (happy fit and free!) self has been a real struggle when I’m not sure if I can make my student loan payments, or pay my cell phone bill and constantly have to say no to social outings that I can’t afford (I know, first world problems but stressful none the less- I’m not asking for pity here). Couple that with living in 2016, a time when every millennial makes you feel inferior by plastering all of the oh-so-amazing parts of their life on social media (guilty as charged) and I’ve ended up pretty down in the dumps. Social media is NOT conducive to feeling great when you are just trying to get by and all it does is trigger a 21st century “keeping up with the Joneses” syndrome.

I’m not sure how many of you have been following the story of Talia Jane, the 25 year old ex-yelp employee who called out her CEO publicly for not paying bottom tier employees a livable wage. There are a lot of things wrong with what Talia did, but there are a lot of things I agree with as well, one being that it’s not acceptable that large corporations can get away with paying such small salaries to these people and two, that minimum wage is not liveable and needs to be regionally specific (this is a very big problem in Toronto as well). In a rebuttal, Stefanie claims that Talia needs to suck it up and make sacrifices, something I don’t really disagree with, but as pointed out in this rebuttal to the rebuttal, Stefanie is making a lot of assumptions- the big ones being that Talia can live at home while she gets through this and that her family is helping her out, when this may not be the case at all. I am lucky enough that when I was a new graduate I was able to live at home, rent-free, with free food which allowed to me to work for free and gain some experience that no doubt led me to being successful in my field. It seems that Stefanie had these same privileges. No where does Talia mention living at home, in fact, she mentions that she moved out to escape a living situation that made her want to die. Another thing that I liked about this rebuttal to the rebuttal was this statement:

“Bay Area companies are notorious for having figured out that offering their lowest level employees bells and whistles is a cost-effective smokescreen for what they actually pay human beings”

This is something that I have found to be all too true in Toronto as well, and something many people close to me have experienced first-hand. I don’t like how so many people are labeling Talia as “just another entitled millennial” even if some of what she has said does come across as entitled. What particularly irks me are the people saying “you said yourself that this job is something any 18 year old could do and that you don’t need a degree to do it, so why did you take it and then complain about it?” Clearly, these people have not experienced what it is like to be a recent grad facing our current job market. A lot of us millennials know that we have to work hard, and we know that we have to work our way up and get experience and may not make a ton of money, for some time BUT I ask these people, have you looked for a job in 2016 as someone with little to no experience? These are often the only types of jobs we can get, and they are still extremely hard and competitive to land. We take them because we don’t have a choice (been there, done that) and I was just lucky enough that when I was making very little money my mother welcomed me with warm arms and let me stay with her. There aren’t “entry level” jobs for University graduates. There are minimum wage jobs and unpaid internships (and not everyone has the luxury of being able to take an unpaid internship), and then there are careers for people with 5+ years experience. This is not how it used to be. Yes, our parents had to work hard and they had to accept low paying jobs, but generally, they were able to get by, and many were even able to purchase a house a few years later. My own mother told me her first salary was $25,000 in 1981. In current day dollars, that is $67,000. That $25,000 is not much less than what Happy hubs was offered at his first “real” job in 2015 (and I’m not complaining here, he needed his foot in the door and we were lucky to be in a place where we could make this work, just explaining for comparisons sake).

BUT, I don’t want to get all political here, because this wasn’t really the point of my post. That was all just a long-winded intro to what I really wanted to talk about. The main point that I took from all of this is that Talia said the thoughts of her financial state consumed her, and for months, her hands were constantly shaking due to the stress and constant state of worry she was under. When considering the dimensions of wellness, it is so important for all of these reasons discussed to really take a hard look at financial wellness. A few months ago, I was talking to an old colleague of mine about how we wanted to run a financial wellness seminar in our workplace.

I guess our discussion came about because we were discussing that even in our well-paid employee population, there seemed to be people who were struggling. This conversation then came to the realization that it is simply impossible to be well if you are struggling financially. This can be summed up with the familiar saying “wealth equals health”. In order to be healthy, you must be able to afford to access things such as medical care and healthy food. Beyond that though, even when people do have decent paying jobs and can access health care and decent food, it doesn’t mean that they are financially well. Many people are still crippled by the high cost of living, food, loans, expenses of children, etc. and these financial worries can be extremely stressful. We discussed that day how if (even working, decently paid) people are stressed financially, they simply are not going to be making wellness a priority in their lives. This is for many reasons, they could be spending all their money on childcare with nothing left over to buy healthy food, they could have a huge mortgage and don’t have any extra cash for a gym membership, or they simply could be too stressed over money to be motivated to get out and go for a long walk or run. We could give people all the tools they need to live a healthy lifestyle, but people wouldn’t act on it if they don’t have the resources to do so.

While all the dimensions of wellness are important to include in any workplace wellness programming, I’m thinking today that financial wellness is arguably at the foundation of it all. This is definitely something to consider when it comes to planning your workplace wellness programs. (Also, this is another reason to pay your bottom tier workers a liveable wage- giving them the resources to be healthy, productive and engaged employees). Financial health is not something that many of us are taught in school. Even running workshops on creating a proper budget and budgeting and saving techniques could go a long way in terms of helping your employees live a healthy life.

What sort of financial wellness programs do you run in your organization?