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?



What does “Wellness” mean to me?

I will be honest, this post is a contest entry. BUT, in order to enter the contest, I have to explain what wellness means to me. Motives aside, this is definitely an important question to ponder and reflect on and I am so happy that The Healthy Maven, Run to the Finish and Fit Foodie Finds have made me stop to think about this. In my last job, I ran the wellness program in our HR department and I often talked at length with my colleagues about what “wellness” meant. It was quickly apparent that it means different things to different people, no doubt. In the case of our job, we had to learn to separate what wellness meant to us and what we wanted it to look like, from what the organization saw wellness as (and all the complications that came with working in a large organization with a lot of complex policies, budgetary restraints, etc). That being said, our jobs may have been easier if we had just had someone tell us what wellness meant in this context.

This makes me think, because I often talk about my passion for wellness, but I haven’t exactly defined what it means to me, my perspective and where all of my actions come from. Takes me back to my undergraduate years and always making sure my research papers had an operational definition. How can I go about living my life a certain way without a starting point, a concrete philosophy to leap from? Not to say that these things cannot be flexible in the way they can’t be in a research paper. I think wellness is such a personal thing and as we grow and evolve, it makes sense that our definition of it may be a bit plastic as well.

As a classic Type “A”, I definitely struggle with letting perfectionism go. This is hard for me, because I truly used to see wellness as having a perfect body, eating a perfect diet, having perfect work/life balance. However, I (thankfully) have learned that this is not possible, and defining wellness that way is only going to achieve the opposite of what I want it to be.

I came across this saying a few years back and it definitely hits close to home and has become my mantra when it comes to my health and wellness:

BUT, to put it in my own words; Wellness is about treating my body and mind with respect, activity and nourishment. Wellness is being emotionally present, aware and connected to myself and to others. It is having a positive relationship with my home and work environments, as well as with nature. Wellness is flourishing, living happily, healthily, holistically, and with gratitude.  It is not comparing myself to others but to personal milestones, and how far I have come, whether I have made progress or taken a few steps back and knowing how to better myself (whether this means taking a mental health break, losing weight, gaining weight, resting, connecting with loved ones). It is about doing my best under the circumstances, and not beating myself up when I can’t do my best (like today when I ran very slowly through the rain). It is fostering my ability to live life to its fullest while understanding that the good and bad must co-exist. It is about being me, it is about being okay with it.

To be able to spend a week at Wellfit Malibu would be an incredible experience, a chance to step back from the current chaos, and press the reset button on my health goals. It would be a chance to remind myself to really take care of ME and be in the moment. It would be a dream come true!

No Junk November

I write this as I sit at home on a weekday in my condo. I’m not sure if I’ve ever spent a weekday here, at least definitely not one where I’ve had the chance to sit back and enjoy it. Here in Canada we celebrate Rememberance Day on November 11th, and being in the Public Sector I am lucky that this is a holiday. While a holiday is definitely a bonus, let’s not forget the importance of this day. Rememberance Day is something that sits near my heart as my grandfather was a world war II vet. This is the third rememberance day we have had without him but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. As a child, I remember a large group of war vets who would visit our school and it is sad to know that many of them have passed on, and a lot of the vets who gave us that personal connection to what this day means are no longer with us. When I was visiting Amsterdam a few years ago, I went to see the Anne Frank house. The experience I had there was something that I can’t quite describe, but all I could think was “This is real. This was so recent”.

For many of us, we are very disconnected from the recency of a World War. We go on in our day-to-day lives doing our day-to-day things. Today, I ask that you take a minute to think about why we are able to do these day-to-day things. Step back and realize how lucky we are to have the freedom of being able to do what we please without even thinking about it.

Not to totally change the subject or take away from the importance of a day like to today but November has often been a very “bleh” month for me. The colder weather really starts to set in, the summer slips away as a distant memory and the coziness and warmth of the holiday season hasn’t quite reached us. Ever since our Wedding, I have really been slipping on keeping my habits healthy (see previous post on running a half without training). Recently, I’ve really noticed just how much this has been impacting my mental health. Coupled with the shorter days, I have been one big grouchy, lazy, sad blob of negativity! I was starting to get annoyed by myself and told myself, enough is enough!

I deemed the month of November “No Junk November” and vowed to give-up the comfort foods that have not really been providing me with comfort over the last few months. November is a great time to reset and re-evaluate. My calendar is not yet packed with Holiday events and knowing that the super indulgent month of December is upon us is really all I needed to get my butt in gear. No more fries, no chips, no more pastries when I go to grab a coffee, no more pizzas, no more bottomless beers, no more binging on chocolate as I watched TV.

I am not usually one to stress total deprivation, but I knew that I needed to start fresh and get back to that place where I could allow myself these treats, but in moderation. They were making up a large part of my diet and my body was craving them as it’s primary source of fuel. This left me feeling like I was never satisfied, and always wanting more. When December rolls around, those foods will still be here (and they’ll be here a-plenty!), but hopefully, I won’t be craving them and instead can pick and choose which ones I want to enjoy.

It has been 11 days and I already notice that I feel better. I’ve run a few times, and have done a few workouts as well. I haven’t had any refined and added sugars. I haven’t had anything fried. I’ve cut back on my alcohol. I’ve stopped with the late night snacking. The first week was TOUGH, I really just wanted to grab a sweet treat as soon as the 2:00pm slump hit. But I didn’t! I can now say I have made it over the hump. Of course, I still long for this stuff on occasion, but my body is not telling me to EAT IT ALL NOW. It is crazy (and scary) how quickly we can become addicted to these foods, and how little control we have over it. (If you are interested in an eye-opening read on this, check of the book “Salt, Sugar, Fat” by Michael Moss).

I am going to continue to stick this out until December and then once again allow for a treat here and there, and get to that point where I enjoy eating a healthy diet but the occasional treat doesn’t leave me feeling sick.

If you’re like me and you need to kick-start your healthy habit again, give it a go! Even if it’s just for a week. Don’t stress over rapid solutions. Pick something that hasn’t been having a positive impact on your health and give it up for a bit, enjoy your life as always and you may be surprised at how quickly you realize you don’t need it anymore.

And aren’t you glad we live in a world where we have the power, freedom and independence to make these choices and decisions for ourselves?

Happy November everyone!