You see it splashed across social media— #selfcare. It’s one of the hottest buzzwords in wellness. (The hashtag appears more than 21 million times on Instagram.) Hashtags for #corporatewellness or #workplacewellness aren’t as sexy, but don’t let that mislead you. Corporate America has been in the self-care game for years.
Whatever moniker you want to apply to the concept, workplace wellness is defined as the company-sponsored practices that support and aim to improve overall employee health. Most employees spend at least a third of their life at work (or more than 90,000 hours, according to the book Happiness at Work), so it makes sense that many businesses and organizations are seeking ways to create a culture of health—both mental and physical—for workers.
Examples of workplace wellness programs include nutrition counseling, stress management resources, smoking cessation, health fairs, preventative screenings, workout challenges, walking clubs, on-site gyms, and employee assistance programs. It can even include offerings like in-office yoga classes, healthy snack and lunch options, nap rooms (Ben & Jerry’s, Zappos, and Nike have snooze-friendly on-site rooms and policies, according to the National Sleep Foundation), well-being days, dog-friendly workplaces, and office vegetable gardens.
Improved worker productivity, reduced absenteeism and “presenteeism” (when a worker is there, but not really there because they don’t feel well and are thus unproductive), morale boosts, higher employee engagement, a more connected work culture, decreased health care costs, and of course, healthier employees, are among the hoped-for outcomes of workplace wellness programs, as is, ultimately, an improved bottom line.
A wealth of research backs up the purported benefits of such programs, as well as their prevalence in the workplace. According to a “2017 Employee Benefits” report from the Society of Human Resource Management, roughly one-third of organizations surveyed “increased their overall benefits offerings in the last 12 months, with health (22 percent) and wellness (24 percent) benefits being the most likely ones to experience growth.” The main reason for increasing work wellness benefits (or benefits overall) per that SHRM report? To attract and retain top talent.
Another 2017 report, from Aflac, found that “employees who participated in wellness programs offered at their workplaces had higher levels of job satisfaction.” And a majority of millennials—the largest generation of workers in the U.S. labor force, according to the Pew Research Center— say they value workplace wellness. Nearly six in 10 say both “work-life balance and well-being in a job are ‘very important’ to them,” per Gallup.
C’ville area organizations are no stranger to workplace wellness, with some setting the bar when it comes to developing opportunities for employees to live their best, healthiest work-life.
Crutchfield’s holistic approach to workplace wellness
Creating a “safe, comfortable and challenging” work environment is a top priority for Crutchfield Corporation, says Chris Lilley, chief human resource officer, as is one that supports wellness.
“We look at wellness holistically and include mental, physical, emotional, and financial health in our approach,” Lilley explains.
The consumer electronics retailer— which employs 615 people at locations in Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, and Wise County—offers such workplace wellness benefits as fitness event registration and Weight Watchers membership fee reimbursements, gym membership discounts at ACAC, Brooks Family YMCA, and UVA Wise Gym, seasonal wellness challenges, free annual flu shots, and standing desk or ball chair options, to name a few.
According to a 2017 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, dog-friendly workplaces have been shown to reduce rates of absenteeism and boost worker morale and productivity. Crutchfield—like many other companies such as Amazon, BISSELL, and Etsy— is on board with that policy, with dog-friendly workspaces at its Charlottesville headquarters and its southwest Virginia and Charlottesville contact centers.
“We have installed and actively maintain wooded walking trails on our headquarters property, where we also have a fenced dog run to support our employees who choose to take advantage of our ‘Dog Pawlicy,’ which allows them to bring their dog to work,” adds Lilley.
Employees can also take advantage of Crutchfield’s employee assistance program—EAPs are typically designed to help individuals with personal and work-related concerns, including mental, health, emotional, financial, legal, and other issues that could impact job performance. EAPs, in general, are employer-paid, and offer confidential access to a range of programs and services like eldercare support, health coaching, marital counseling, and substance abuse treatment.
In addition, the company offers a voluntary “Live Longer, Live Better” wellness program, created in consultation with the University of Virginia’s Medical Center, which further incentivizes and rewards good health. When employees visit their primary care physician for a physical exam, “depending on the level of wellness achieved as determined by the employee and the physician, the employee will receive a monetary award,” says Lilley.
Lilley adds that for Crutchfield, workplace wellness has been integral to creating an engaged, high-performing workforce—so much so, the company plans to add to its menu of wellness initiatives and partnerships, including mental health, to further develop its culture of wellness.
“Eliminating real and perceived stigma and disparate treatment for those dealing with mental health is an important step in that process,” Lilley says, adding that overall, efforts like these “are known to support a reduction in absenteeism, presenteeism, apathy, and loneliness which all deteriorate the employee experience in corporate America today.”
CCRi customizes workplace wellness
Commonwealth Computer Research, Inc., a C’ville-based data science and software engineering company with almost 145 employees, has created a collegial work atmosphere where on-site grilling, food truck days, and movie and board game nights with co-workers are routine–activities that set the tone for the company’s approach to workplace wellness.
Other fun wellness perks: A communal massage chair, which is “in our library area, so you can go close the door and turn the light off and get a little relaxation time,” says Julia Farill, CCRi human resources and recruiting manager.
Access to a wooded park with walking trails also gives employees a break when they need it. “That’s been great for wellness as well, especially for the folks here whose job requires really intense thinking and they’re working on the computer and staring at the screen. Being able to get out and walk around on the trail is huge,” she says.
Customizing workplace wellness as much as possible, and creating an environment where employees are listened to and heard works best for a growing company like theirs, Farill adds, because employee wants and needs are constantly evolving and changing over time.
“I like to try to understand that before we make corporate decisions about where we’re going to invest,” says Farill, “Because I think that it’s really crucial to take a look at who’s here, what they care about, what matters to them, and then allocate resources towards those things based off of what their interests are.”
If CCRi’s employees are into biking as a health and wellness activity–like they are right now, for example–Farill says she tries to figure out how the company can support that even more.
“We have an area set up to be able to work on your bike, so if you ride in as a commuter you can bring your bike in,” she says. “And we have an indoor bike parking area and a little table set up that has a bunch of bike tools so you can work on it. We also have a couple of loaner bikes if people wanted to go out for lunch or something like that.”
Gym and yoga discounts with places like ACAC, FlyDog Yoga, and Formula Complete Fitness are also standard, but because wellness is different for everyone, Farill will make sure she explores other employee interests. “I’ll ask them: ‘Hey, if you have a different interest—if you have a different type of gym or place you work out and you want us to try and contact them to see if they are interested in setting up a corporate partnership, then I’m happy to reach out.”
Farill says the company offers not one but two employee assistance programs. “Those programs are great because they are kind of a one-stop-shop for employees if you are dealing with something that’s going on in your life,” she says.
“The idea is that everybody at some moment in their life has something come up that’s hard to navigate, whether your child care fell through, you have a parent that needs more support, or you’re dealing with a financial issue, you have to do a trust or will or something,” she says. “So the idea of the employee assistance program is that you can just go there and say, ‘This is my issue, and what resources exist?’”
Having a customized workplace wellness program at CCRi is important, Farill says, because ”our people are absolutely the most important thing about our company.”
Supporting wellness in the workplace—whatever that looks like—is in “everybody’s best interest” and is critical to creating an environment where employees can flourish, she adds.
“As a company, trying to individually understand what matters to our people right now, and how is that changing and shifting, and what are we doing as a company to help people not just feel that they’re supported and appreciated, but understand that they really are—this is a big deal to us,” she says.
Charlottesville City Schools gives a boost to teacher and staff wellness
Public school employees have rewarding–but stressful–jobs. A 2017 issue brief from Pennsylvania State University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported that soaring stress levels “are affecting teacher health and well-being, causing teacher burnout, lack of engagement, job dissatisfaction, poor performance, and some of the highest turnover rates ever.”
The brief suggests that “organizational interventions” designed to help reduce teacher stress can help. Charlottesville City Schools employee wellness program, for example, was created to help employees not only get and stay healthy, but feel valued and cared for, says Laura Floyd, the district’s human resources coordinator.
While CCS’ wellness program is “something that we’re constantly monitoring to see how we can improve,” Floyd adds, current offerings include fitness promotions like discounted gym memberships to area facilities, including ACAC, Brooks Family YMCA, and Smith Aquatic & Fitness Center and Carver Recreation Center. If an employee joins and visits one of those gyms at least eight times per quarter, the school division will pay $29.50 per month towards the membership, in addition to the already discounted corporate rate.
“So it’s an incentive to not only join but to make sure [they’re] actually going,” says Floyd. The school system’s hike/ bike-to-work program similarly incentivizes employees with an extra stipend to get and stay active.
Like many other organizations, Floyd says a key element to workplace wellness is access to an employee assistance program; CCS offers theirs through a partnership with the Faculty and Employee Assistance Program at the University of Virginia. “That’s important to let people know if they need to talk to someone, they can do that. [FEAP is] completely confidential. It’s free of charge,” says Floyd.
Some of the best workplace wellness programs are ones that are derived out of an understanding of your employee population and what motivates and incentivizes them, adds Floyd.
“You have to get to know what works, and understand that there is not necessarily going to be a one-size-fits-all—you need to have some sort of combination of things that you can do to suit the needs of your entire population,” she says.
“Wellness programs are very costly, so you have to be willing to invest,” she adds. “But you are investing in your employees, and what better thing is there to invest in?”
Apps for workplace wellness
Yes, there is an app for that. If you need an extra nudge—or maybe even an assertive push—to motivate you to adopt healthy behaviors at work, look no further than your mobile phone. While these apps are for living well in general, they have useful applications for on-the-job wellness.
Headspace: “A few minutes could change your whole day.” (Subscription)
Who wouldn’t want to be Zen AF at work, ready to blissfully and mindfully handle any challenge that comes your way? The Headspace app just might be able to get you there. Headspace features meditation exercises designed to address things like personal growth, anxiety management, work productivity, and creating a performance mindset. In addition to a more focused mind and less stress, Headspace purports to help you sleep better, so you can wake up feeling refreshed for another day at the office. Try the free, 10-day beginner’s meditation and mindfulness course.
MINDBODY: Book a local fitness class, spa appointment, or wellness treatment. (Free)
MINDBODY may be one of the more ubiquitous wellness mobile apps out there. With MINDBODY, you can sign up for a wake-up-your-brain, pre-work “Rise and Shine” yoga session from Common Ground Healing Arts, an early morning motivational running class set-to-music from Tread Happy on Eighth Street, a mind-and-body strength-building barre class from barre.[d] on Water Street, and plenty more wellness options to fit your busy work-life schedule. (Note: The app is free, not the classes.)
MyFitnessPal: “Fitness starts with what you eat.” (Free)
Weight loss challenges and nutrition counseling are common components of many workplace wellness programs. MyFitnessPal, routinely listed as one of the best calorie-tracking apps available, is a solid app that can help you be more mindful of your dietary needs and jumpstart your physical fitness journey, especially if your work-life is all-consuming. Tap the app’s massive food database and document your daily food intake into the food diary, monitor your nutrition stats and weight loss, and access other food tools and insights.
Mental health in the workplace
While physical health is often the centerpiece of workplace wellness programs, a focus on mental health is equally important to fostering a happier, healthier, and productive place to work.
Experiencing mental health issues on the job “is the norm, not the exception,” according to a recent report that surveyed more than 1,500 U.S. employees. With depression-related absences alone costing employers about $44 billion a year, helping employees address these issues makes business sense, says Elizabeth Irvin, executive director of The Women’s Initiative in Charlottesville.
In the workplace mental health report, 61 percent of those surveyed said their mental health impacted their productivity levels, and in general, employees were reluctant to talk about the topic at work, especially with human resources or senior leaders.
So how can employers create a more resilient work environment that supports mental health?
First, businesses and organizations can create a culture where workers feel safe to reach out to their supervisors or co-workers if they need help, suggests Irvin.
“So often, peers in the work setting are the ones that are going to notice changes in people’s ability to perform their daily tasks…so having those relationships where there’s a culture of being able to ask for help or ask how colleagues are doing [is important],” she says.
Second, basic training, like mental health first aid (which teachs skills for how to help an individual in crisis) can help prepare employers and supervisors to support staff who are struggling when they do come forward.
“That being said, there are going to be situations that would be outside of basic training, and so that’s where your supervisors or your HR folks would just want to know local resources and know that they wouldn’t have to go through the situation alone,” Irvin says. “They can actually get on the phone with a crisis counselor and walk through the steps that they need to take for an employee.”
Locally, employers can rely on resources like HelpHappensHere.org or emergency services from Region Ten, which also offers mental health first aid training.
Nationally, Irvin recommends the American Psychiatric Association Foundation’s Center for Workplace Mental Health as a resource. “Just knowing that professional help resources are available [is helpful]. And then the Women’s Initiative offers walk-in clinics and support groups as well,” she says.
Unique local workplace wellness resources
Local Food Hub and 4P Foods: While the occasional doughnut or pizza order for the office is a nice treat, healthier, locally cultivated delivery options are available.
In 2015, the Local Food Hub launched its Fresh Farmacy Fruit and Veggie Prescription Program, created to provide community participants with more equitable access to free, fresh, healthy food.
“But we very quickly realized that lots of people out there would benefit from seasonal shares of local produce,” says Portia Boggs, associate director of advancement and communications at Local Food Hub. “And a lot of workplaces were interested in providing those shares as a way of supporting their employees, because there is so much data out there that supports [outcomes like] reduced health care costs that come about from eating healthy.”
Later, a workplace wellness program—paid for by the participating companies themselves—was added to the Fresh Farmacy fruit and veggie prescription initiative.
In June 2019, Local Food Hub merged its distribution operations with Warrenton, Virginia-based food hub 4P Foods. Now, Charlottesville-area employers who want to sign up for a locally- and regionally-sourced seasonal fruit and vegetable share and have it delivered to their office need to go directly to 4P Foods.
Meanwhile, Local Food Hub continues the original mission of Fresh Farmacy by working with organizations like the University of Virginia’s BeWell program, where they provide free, fresh fruit and veggie shares to UVA employees most in need of health support services.
“Along with that food, participants get nutrition information, information on where the food comes from, recipes, and storage and preparation tips and all sorts of things that are designed to give participants confidence when working with whole produce, and ensure that they have the skills that they need to carry on those healthy lifestyle changes after the program ends,” says Boggs.
PivotPass: Richmond, Virginia-based PivotPass—originally founded in Charlottesville but now available in both RVA and C’ville and anywhere in the U.S. and internationally—offers corporate wellness solutions to organizations. In Richmond and Charlottesville, that includes discounted access to a network of participating gym and fitness studios. Through a custom app, PivotPass is also able to collect anonymized fitness data and insights that enable employers to better measure employee wellness and engagement levels, and reduce company health care costs.
Participating local gyms and fitness studios include Bend Yoga, Hot Yoga Charlottesville, Iyengar Yoga of Charlottesville, Solidarity CrossFit, and The Yellow Door (yoga and fitness).
Local PivotPass clients include Apex Clean Energy, GreenBlue, and Fringe (“the world’s first fringe benefits marketplace,” based in Richmond).
Whether you want to try Crossfit, or spend more time practicing yoga, co-founder April Palmer says PivotPass not only gives employees the option and variety to do what they like when they like, but it also layers in an “accountability factor” to help keep them on track.
The best thing [about PivotPass] is it’s so versatile,” says Palmer. “It’s a wellness program that meets me wherever I am at the moment.”
Common Ground Healing Arts: Common Ground Healing Arts, a nonprofit community wellness center located inside Jefferson School City Center, offers a workplace wellness program dubbed “Ground Work,” consisting of services designed to help employees de-stress, improve focus, and enhance productivity.
Services include yoga, chair massage, auricular acupuncture, and mindfulness workshops, the latter covering such workplace-relatable topics as “overcoming challenges,” “eliminating overwhelm,” and “dealing with change,” among others. To participate, employees can visit wellness practitioners at Common Ground, or the nonprofit can come to your office.
Common Ground executive director Elliott Brown says the benefits of workplace wellness are well-established. “Studies show, and most everybody you talk to will say, that the less stress they have, the better they can work, the more productive they can be, the happier they are, the longer they want to stay,” she says.
Brown adds that because they are a nonprofit, accessing workplace wellness—or wellness services in general—from Common Ground is not overly costly. Plus, providing access to wellness services like these can have a big impact on the employee, “which ultimately comes back around and makes it worth your cost because you get it back in productivity,” she says.