5 Straightforward Ways to Build a Wellness Program at Work

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Wellness programs are often essential for those companies that aim to create a high performance environment without also fostering a burnout cycle. According to Sarah Kalamchi, who focuses on employee experience/wellness at Airbnb and has built wellness programs for startups and corporations, people perform better when they feel they’re taken care of. “Allowing employees to look after their health and well-being is a big benefit that improves performance,” she notes. “It also fosters feelings of loyalty and connection to the company. While corporate wellness used to be associated with gym reimbursements and smoking cessation programs, programs have broadened over the past few years. It’s exciting and encouraging to see.”

So what’s different nowadays? According to Kalamchi, it all stems from the realization that wellness encompasses many facets and is unique to each employee who works for the company. “Traditional perks like gym memberships are great to have, but the programs that recognize there is not just one standard path to wellness are the ones that are most successful,” she offers. “Current programs think about the whole person and how to help individuals maximize their potential inside and outside of the office. Stress reduction, time management, and personal growth programs have finally found their way under the ‘wellness’ umbrella.”

How to Build A Wellness Program From Scratch

1. Evaluate your employee population. “Surveys are a great place to start when it comes to understanding your team — gather information about what people are interested in but might not be doing already,” Kalamchi offers. “For example, many people find a way to complete cardio, but meditation is something we know we should do but some help getting started. Opportunities like this help employees expand their wellness toolkit.”

When formulating questions for your evaluation survey, Kalamchi suggests considering:
    - your team size and population demographics.

    - activities teammates are interested in, already do, and don’t do.

    - employee commutes.

    - external factors that influence schedules, such as childcare pickup.

2. Just start. “The best way to start is to just start,” Kalamchi affirms. “Many companies feel intimidated at the thought of building a wellness program. In reality, you don't need a huge budget, an onsite gym, or even a dedicated wellness team or a full-fledged ‘program’ right off the bat; just a few events or group gatherings is a solid place to begin.”

3. Support employee-hosted events. One of the most effective and low-cost ways to build a wellness program is through employee-to-employee hosted activities. “Employees are often an untapped pool of talent and love the opportunity to share their extracurricular interests with others,” Kalamchi notes.

Have teammates who love to run?

    See how the company can support them in organizing a running team.

Know a Soul Cycle enthusiast or have a colleague who’s a regular at Barry’s Bootcamp?

    Check in and find out if they’d be interested in organizing a team event.

Are there any teammates who are training for fitness certifications?

    They’ll likely welcome an opportunity to practice what they’re learning.

“I’ve met colleagues who were working towards yoga teacher training certification and wanted an opportunity to practice teaching classes with a group they were comfortable with (and had little-to-no risk involved),” Kalamchi remembers.

4. Bring practitioners on-site. “Bringing practitioners like yoga teachers, massage therapists, and acupuncturists onsite only requires booking a conference room and communicating to employees that the service is available,” Kalamchi reminds. “Most practitioners will offer discounted rates if they don't have to pay overhead for space which can make sessions that much more affordable for employees who opt in! And, employees benefit from discounted rates and time saved by having a practitioner onsite.”

5. Re-evaluate and formalize your program. Once you’ve hosted classes, events, or introduced practitioners and experiences to your team, it’s time to check in to re-evaluate. “Each class, event or practitioner session is a data point to show what employees are interested in,” Kalamchi acknowledges. “To evaluate success, keep track of attendance, collect feedback, and measure against your objectives. Focus on engagement and employee satisfaction, rather than following into an ROI trap;even though you might be able to calculate returns immediately, you should look to see decreased sick days, better employee engagement, and higher retention rates in the long run.”

Once you know what’s working, you’ll be in great shape to present your findings, forecast a budget, and build out a regular calendar of offerings your team will love.