6 corporate wellness and fitness strategies for 2017

Encouraging healthy habits can help improve workers’ performance, reduce absenteeism and lower health care costs. At the recent Fitbit Captivate conference, experts shared tips and strategies to help employees “bring their best selves to work.”

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What do a tomato timer and bulletproof coffee have to do with corporate wellness?

I wondered the same thing as an attendee of the recent Fitbit Captivate conference in San Francisco. I’ll answer that question later in this article. But first, let’s focus on some of the strategies, lessons learned and tips shared by experts at the one-day conference.

(The Captivate conference was also scheduled for New York on May 18 and Chicago on Sept. 19.)

1. Focus your messaging on what wellness will mean to employees.

Getting employees engaged with corporate wellness programs — and keeping them engaged — is still a struggle for many organizations, said Amy McDonough, Senior Vice President, Strategy & Operations, Fitbit Health Solutions (formerly Fitbit Group Health).

The motivational messaging you provide employees can make an enormous difference in engagement, said Ken Resnicow, Ph.D., professor of Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan. The university’s research shows that guilt, pressure and shame don’t motivate. The message that “exercise is good medicine” doesn’t work, either.

Instead of telling employees that “exercise is the most important thing you can do for your health,” encourage them to think about what exercising might mean for them, Resnicow explained. “Most people don’t value health per se,” he said. “When you lose your health, you worry how it affects your ability to meet your goals. Health is really just an intermediary between who you are and what you want to achieve.”

Resnicow advised HR professionals to focus on the goals employees want to achieve, such as playing baseball with their kids on weekends, rather than trying to motivate them by pitching improved health as a goal. Wellness isn’t something people strive for; quality family time is.

2. Get the CEO involved in your wellness program.

Credit reporting firm TransUnion tried a wellness program several years ago. But it didn’t attract much participation or high-level support and was discontinued, said Debra Wasserman, director of HR Service Delivery.

In 2015, TransUnion started over with a new wellness program, using Fitbits to encourage employee exercise. TransUnion’s CEO James M. Peck “is athletic and into exercise,” Wasserman said. Inviting employees to “beat the CEO” in a weekend fitness challenge proved to be a big hit. In fact, there was a second CEO challenge, because “everyone wanted to beat” Peck, she added, stressing the importance of getting top-level, high-profile executives involved in your corporate wellness program.

3. Proving ROI is still tricky but it can be done.

Proving ROI to business leaders is another ongoing struggle for some wellness program administrators, McDonough said.

Among Chief Financial Officers, 88 percent said controlling health costs was among their top five priorities. But 94 percent said they don’t know how to measure the ROI of wellness program benefits, said Rod Reasen, founder and CEO of Springbuk. (Reasen was referencing an early 2016 CFO survey.) And yet, 95 percent said the top objective of workplace wellness programs is to improve employee health. Reducing healthcare costs came in at number 3.

Typical metrics to help with ROI analysis include employee time, productivity, turnover, engagement and absenteeism, Reasen said. The challenge, though, is that “most people in HR don’t have a data science degree,” which is why wellness program administrators should consider easy-to-use software tools that turn data into insights. (Sprinbuk is a health analytics software platform provider.)

4. Encourage healthy sleep habits.

Sleep is getting a lot more attention these days. Arianna Huffington has even written a book about it. And Fitbit recently started providing users of its Alta HR, Charge 2 and Blaze wearables more detailed sleep data and insights.

Americans are particularly sleep-deprived compared to their counterparts in other countries, said Maurice Ohayon, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, in a session dedicated to sleep. Many Americans get only about 6.5 hours of sleep per night on average, he said, which is “abnormal.”

Lack of sleep can lead to physical health issues, including increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and a depressed immune system; mental health conditions, such as anxiety, mood swings, depression and stress; and daytime performance and safety issues, which include declining work performance, cognitive difficulties and excessive fatigue.

Encouraging healthy sleep habits can help improve workers’ performance, reduce absenteeism and lower health care costs. Ohayon suggested counseling employees to avoid watching TV or reading a laptop or tablet before bedtime; avoid alcohol or exercise before sleep; and not engage in any activity that requires serious concentration before going to bed. Fitness breaks during the day can help, too.

5. Set a tomato timer for 25 minutes, then repeat. 

The last session of the day was entitled “Making Productivity Simple in a Connected World.” The session, led by U.J. Ramdas, co-founder of Intelligent Change, offered inspiration and tips for making the most of each day.

Among the tips Ramdas offered:

  • Decide on your most important goals in life. These goals should help inform the tasks you set for yourself every day.
  • Every night, before you finish work, jot down 3 to 5 things you need to do the next day. Rank them from highest to lowest priority.
  • Every morning, start with the highest priority task. Give it your undivided attention for 25 minutes. Don’t get distracted by email, texts, or other interruptions during this period. Set a timer to keep you on track — preferably a tomato timer. (This is called the “pomodoro technique,” as pomodoro is Italian for ‘tomato.’)
  • At the end of the 25 minutes, take a short break. Then, hyper-focus on your second most important task for 25 minutes.
  • Whenever possible, schedule meetings for the afternoons, so you can get your most important work done first.
  • Need to sustain your energy for hours? Drink bulletproof coffee.

But why a productivity talk at a corporate wellness conference? It’s all tied into the idea of “bringing your best self to work,” McDonough said.

6. The ultimate goal is to help employees ‘bring their best selves to work’

We’re at a point now where many corporate wellness programs have moved beyond prompting employees to get 10,000 steps a day or monitor their sleep. Some incorporate meditation, stress reduction even financial planning.

Going forward, the focus will be on “connecting all the dots” of various health metrics, such as heart rate and sleep, and “understanding how they impact each other” to give employees a more holistic view of their well-being, said McDonough. In turn, that will help employees be the best they can be at work, she added.

McDonough’s statement resonates with me. To achieve success and career longevity, it’s always been important to be sharp, vital and fully engaged on the job. But in the future, could ‘bringing your best self to work’ also help protect you against increasing automation in the workplace? 

A lot of people are worried about losing their jobs to technology. A recent Gallup poll found that one in four U.S. workers believe it’s “at least somewhat likely” their job will be eliminated by artificial intelligence, robotics or automation.

The jobs less likely to be negatively affected by automation are those that involve creative work, planning and strategic decision-making, according to Fortune. So, it stands to reason that if you’re consistently taking good care of yourself — whether you’re in an employer-sponsored wellness program or not — you’re more likely to be fresh, sharp and alert at work. And as a result, you’ll be in a better position to be creative, decisive and strategic. You’ll be the kind of employee, in other words, that robots may have difficulty replacing.

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