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?

 

 

Me!

Hey everyone!

Well, this is my very first time ever writing a blog so bear with me!

Who am I?

My name is Alison (Ali) and I am currently a Workplace Wellness and Health Promotion grad student at Centennial College in Toronto, Ontario.

Favourite way to sweat?

LesMills BodyPump, BodyAttack or RPM

Favourite vegetable?

Kale

Favourite fruit?

It’s a 3 way tie between pomegranates, avocados and raspberries

Favourite beverage?

COFFEE

Why am I here?

The short story: To talk about wellness with anyone who is interested. Mainly, I like to discuss fitness, nutrition, mental health and wellness in the workplace. It is my hope that I can provide readers with recipes, reviews about all things wellness in Toronto (and beyond!) and discuss ideas and thoughts surrounding these subjects.

The long story: I used to write, a lot. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, you name it. Then, I went away to University. I wrote a lot there too, but mainly things like research papers, statistic reports and then my biggest piece of writing to date- an undergraduate thesis. But that stuff was boring, I didn’t have time to write the fun stuff for myself anymore.

Through University I found myself struggling with crippling bouts of depression and anxiety. I think a lot of students go through this but society teaches us to keep it to ourselves, and I did. There is nothing as poisonous as the self-stigma we put on ourselves and I felt entirely alone. Anyone who has been through University knows it is a fight. I felt like I was swimming upstream through the rapids for most of my time as an undergraduate, barely staying afloat.

After a horrendous breakup, a friend of mine suggested I join her in a kickboxing class. Her words were “because visualizing his face must be good for something”. She was right, and man did it feel good. This was kind of a turning point in my life. I was shocked to realize just how much a good workout could affect my mood. I wish I could say it was right then that my whole life became perfect and I started going to the gym every day. (I will disclose this now- my life is still not perfect and I still don’t workout every day, and that’s okay!).  However, from that point on, I decided that fitness was going to be a part of my life. I made it through my undergrad, working out as much as I could and really finding myself benefitting from a group fitness environment. While at that time I would have loved to be active every day, I could only manage about 3 days a week- yet those 3 days a week are what I truly believe kept me afloat through it all.

When I graduated, I was sure glad all that stress was over. Unfortunately, as a new graduate I found the world to be overwhelming, and the employment market a huge source of discouragement. I always thought that when I left school, my life would fall into place and I would never feel anxious or depressed again. “Real life” left me with a lot of free time on my hands and an even bigger serving of disillusionment. I had never really been overweight in my life, and I considered my eating habits to be fairly healthy, but I also wasn’t exactly athletic and toned. The months following my graduation lead to a few things, a sense of complacency in a terrible serving job, and about 20 pounds on my small frame.

Around that time I met my wonderful partner Zach. Zach is many things to me- my biggest cheer leader, my support system, my road trip buddy, my best friend and my rock. Being in a new relationship is always an exciting time- but I wouldn’t say it was a driving force in my health goals. In fact, it was kind of the opposite. Zach has made it very clear from the get-go that he thinks I am beautiful. It is hard to stay focused on eating well and working out when you have a sexy man telling you that you always look amazing, no matter what. Here’s the kicker to our story- Zach lives 830km away from me. This has had it’s challenges over the years we have been together, but also has had many benefits. I ended up losing my serving job (a huge blow to my ego) and therefore, I didn’t have an income to afford to go visit him. He was struggling himself and we had a period of being apart for quite some time- this wasn’t a pretty time in my life and was a big contributing factor to this post-graduation 20 pounds.

Instead of hiding away in a blanket of depression I started to dedicate my extra time to fitness and changing my eating habits. As I said, I had never been one to eat terribly unhealthy, but something had to change. The key for me was also realizing how much a healthy active lifestyle affected my mood. I began to workout at least 5 days a week with a healthy combination of strength training and cardio group fitness classes. I eliminated all refined and processed foods out of my diet. I started to feel amazing. I dropped nearly 20 pounds in 5 months. Around this same time, I was realizing that I needed to make another big change in my life. I realized I needed to go to graduate school in order to find a career that fulfilled me. I had been an “A” student during my undergraduate career but I still wasn’t quite cut out to pursue a masters in clinical psychology like I once thought I would. I applied to a few M.A. counseling programs thinking I would like to help people through therapeutic means. Yet, something was holding me back. What I thought I wanted and what I actually wanted didn’t seem to match up anymore. However, I didn’t even know exactly what it was that I wanted. I searched and searched and searched until I stumbled upon health promotion programs. I thought about an M.Sc. in Health Promotion. I thought about Organizational Psychology, but I gagged at the thought of dedicating 2 years of my life to research. I still knew I wanted to help people, I just didn’t know what medium I would do this through. I have worked as a summer camp counsellor and I get an immense amount of satisfaction from mentoring and motivating people. I started to help my friends change their lifestyles as well, and the fulfillment I gained from helping others out in this capacity was immensely gratifying. This is also when I discovered the WWHP program at Centennial. I read through the course descriptions and through the career options. I was thirsty for more information. I contacted graduates of the program and spoke to them about what they were doing now. I didn’t even know that workplace wellness existed! Everything sort of fell into place for me. I slowly started wrapping my head around the fact that I could help people in the workplace, I could even help with mental health in the workplace, and I could do it all through my passion for exercise and nutrition.

To me, health is not just about getting through life and avoiding or fighting off illness. Health is about being present in life, it is about preventing diseases (mental and physical) and it is about  fostering our ability to live life to it’s fullest. I believe that our physical and mental states are so much more connected then we realize. I believe what we put in our bodies dictates so much of our lives and affects our mental and physical health the same way that exercise (or lack of exercise) does. I believe that in our society we do not treat our bodies with the respect they deserve. Instead, we work them to the ground and in the process destroy our mental and physical well-being and develop chronic illnesses. The biggest culprit of encouraging this behaviour is a place where we spend most of our time- the workplace. I think this is all preventable if only we have the information and motivation to change our lifestyles. It doesn’t have to be a drastic change. It doesn’t have to be a wake-up-at 5am-every-day-to-run change, it doesn’t even mean avoiding chocolate at all costs. It just means doing the best we can, day to day, to incorporate wellness into our lives. 

 

So to come full circle, here I am studying wellness and pursuing a career where I can do exactly what I mentioned above. I love researching about wellness, I love hearing about wellness, I love sharing the messages, I love participating in wellness initiatives. And I REALLY love writing about wellness. Writing has become fun and enjoyable to me again for the first time since high school. Through my writing about wellness I want to share my passion with all of you. Since fitness and nutrition are my biggest passions when it comes to health promotion and wellness I will be sharing a lot of information about those domains of health here, but I will also be sharing information on just about anything in the wellness field. So stick around and read what you can. I hope I can help you head towards a life full of well-being and health, or at least get the wheels turning to help you live your life the best way you can!