Making Your Workplace Fitness-Friendly Yet Inclusive

March 14, 2019

Young woman preparing to exercise at work
Jonathan Thompson

As a decision-maker for your company, you've likely worked hard to incorporate fitness perks in the office environment. These might include things like ergonomic furniture, fitness programs and other health-centric changes. It's important to consider, however, that these benefits may not be helping all your employees. In fact, some might feel excluded — a state that could lower morale and decrease their productivity, which is the opposite of what you're trying to accomplish. So, how can you use wellness programs to create a healthy and inclusive work environment?

Think Big

Before considering the smaller details surrounding fitness perks in the office, it's important to step back and understand a key principle in workplace wellness program design: culture.

According to a 2014 study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, which analyzed over 30 years of workplace wellness programs, successful efforts focused on a culture of wellness within the workplace. What does that mean?

Consider the standard approach to employee wellness taken by many companies. Typically, a broad goal like weight loss is set and some form of incentive is offered, but what if some of your employees don't need or want to lose weight? What if they can't? Would employees with eating disorders or other related conditions be emotionally harmed by the competition? The potential negative impact of these well-meaning efforts is so wide-swept that some legal analysts even consider them a form of discrimination.

Rather than expending resources on these problematic programs, try to think of ways that you can facilitate your employees' goals and encourage them to make whatever healthy changes apply to their circumstances. But this is just the principle behind creating an inclusive work environment. How can you actually accomplish it?

Practical Ideas

Fostering a healthy culture primarily means encouraging healthy habits and providing the necessary resources. One of the most effective and beneficial ways to do this is to facilitate social fitness activities.

You might, for example, encourage the creation of walking clubs or create other opportunities for employees to socialize and support each other. Not only does this provide chances for increased activity but it can also lead to enhanced social wellness and increased morale.

Similarly, offering free or discounted access to local gyms opens up the chance for employees to be more active on their own terms without the unintentional guilt or feelings of exclusion that can sometimes accompany incentive programs. While diet and weight loss can be a tricky subject to approach with incentives, simply providing healthy meal and snack options makes it easier for your employees to make better dietary decisions. If your office doesn't usually provide food, you may be able to strike up a partnership with local healthy eateries so that they offer discounts to your employees.

Another inclusive resource that you can offer is education. Opportunities to learn about financial wellness, stress management and mental health are all ways to improve employee wellness that nearly everyone can benefit from.

In reality, providing fitness perks in the office is just one tool that can be used for employee wellness. To truly create an inclusive work environment, try to think in terms of overall wellness and provide your employees with the knowledge and resources they need to succeed at their personal goals.

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