3 Things I Learned About Well-being Working at A Wellness Startup
In 2014, I worked at a company that delivered well-being programs for Fortune 500 Companies. We designed and tracked fitness challenges, delivered onsite health screenings and let people track their own health on an interactive wellness portal. This company put a lot of fun into its own work environment. Inside our office, we had ping pong tables in the break room, a massive on-site gym, and daily company-wide walking breaks. It was common to see someone floating from reception to the call center on a skateboard and dogs snuggling under desks.
This whimsical environment came with a mission to change people’s lives by improving their health. Sounds like the perfect recipe for a health utopia, right?
Well get this — while working at this wellness company, my personal health suffered. If fact, I actually gained weight. Why? Because along with this fun environment came a lot of stress, which was natural at a fast-growing startup.
And the stressful environment wasn’t because the company didn’t offer enough healthy programs and perks. It was despite those programs and perks.
In reflecting on this experience, I learned a few important lessons all companies must embrace to ensure they truly foster the health and well-being of their workforce.
Workplace stress impacts physical health
Stress is more serious than many employers realize, and it’s a major contributing factor to the 6 leading causes of death in the United States.
So, if a company wants to foster a culture of health, a first step is minimizing workplace stress.
But at my former company, even though we were a test kitchen for corporate wellness best practices, we did not factor in how frequent meetings, sitting for long hours, and frequent travel increased pressure on staff and led to high-stress levels. This was a key factor in the decline of my own health.
Every week I faced new client issues that put me on the next flight across the country. And constant travel meant anxiety about not being present for my onsite team. These demands quickly took a toll on my ability to live a healthy lifestyle.
It would have been better if my company spent more time and resources addressing our high-stress culture instead of investing so much energy into creating a fun office environment because when employers don’t consider stressful work environments, it can lead to burnout and physical illness.
Well-being Encompasses the Whole Person
Well-being is a state not just of a person’s body, but also their mind.
The problem for our company was that living in hyper-growth mode disrupted the delicate balance of our employees’ physical and mental well-being. And while we were fostering “holistic well-being” for our clients, we did not see the toll stress was taking on our own team.
Hence, companies must consider the entire employee experience, including how internal teams communicate, how team members spend their time, and how issues are resolved. This ensures that well-being initiatives are not derailed by dysfunctional processes or unduly stressful schedules.
Employers should also conduct regular company culture evaluations to identify sources of stress that can negatively impact physical and mental health. This helps foster whole person well-being — body, mind, and emotions -which is how employees bring their best selves to work.
Design a workplace culture that enables well-being
Too many companies mistake creating “positive work environments” for building Zen spaces, adding foosball tables to break rooms, or instituting BYOP Fridays (Bring Your Own Puppy), instead of developing leaders who lead with integrity and ensure that organizational values are congruent with what employees care about.
A wellness program should never be seen as a proxy for healthy workplace culture. Workplace cultures go much deeper than any program. There are three important ways to ensure that workplace cultures support employee well-being:
1. Define and design your organization’s corporate culture. This step helps leadership to understand and communicate company values. When employee well-being becomes a cultural core value, it virtually ensures that workplace stress will not emerge as a hindrance to leading healthy lifestyles.
2. Understand the employee experience at your company. Survey your people and listen to feedback. Identify areas where the overall employee experience matches or clashes with your company’s values and employee well-being. From here, reinforce or build a new employee experience that affirms your culture and values.
3. Consider how well-being initiatives complement your culture. Building a culture of holistic well-being can strengthen your corporate fabric by engaging employees and improving their productivity. It becomes “how things are done” and the secret to crafting a culture where people thrive.
Well-being should be a company benefit or perk. And when done correctly, well-being initiatives are not only effective at improving health; they also strengthen employee engagement and company bottom line results.