Photo: Erik Mclean

After COVID-19: Improving Your Employee Wellness Program

The impacts of COVID-19 and the measures governments and organizations are taking to contain it right now are unprecedented. The hourly breaking news headlines of outbreaks and cancellations have our heads spinning. They have also kept the wellness of our families, friends, and co-workers top of mind. Companies like Google led the way in implementing work-from-home policies to keep their employees safe; now remote work is mandatory as part of stay-home, stay-safe policies.

Organizations should certainly follow CDC guidelines to keep their employees safe and prevent the virus from spreading. It’s imperative that companies stay cognizant of the risks the virus brings. We must also heed the short-term precautions that need to occur to keep employees healthy. But after this health crisis passes, think about how your company can keep employees healthy into the future.

Millennials — now the largest generation in the American workforce, and Gen Z are health-conscious employees who are choosing to work at companies that care about their well-being. That’s not going to change after the COVID-19 crisis is over; it will only intensify. These generations are more open and aware of mental and physical health: too many watched their parents sacrifice personal time, missing end-of-year recitals and Friday-night games due to job commitments.

Young professionals are willing to work hard, of course. But they want their employers to understand that there’s life outside of the 9-to-5 grind. They prefer to exchange their energy, education, and expertise for modern benefits — including company-based wellness programs. Organizations have taken notice, but many executives question which wellness program initiatives will offer the strongest return on investment.

Here are six possibilities that can have far-reaching positive effects.

1. On- and Off-Site Fitness Accessibility

Once we’re done with stay-at-home and social-distancing measures, everyone is going to need to move. Younger generations know that the couch potato lifestyle isn’t a winning choice. Businesses that offer on-site wellness centers or access to personal trainers or group fitness classes illustrate to young workers that they see them as people, not numbers.

If on-site facilities aren’t possible? Consider partnering with a local fitness center. Perhaps offer free or reduced-cost memberships for your employees. Or you can secure a corporate rate for ClassPass. That way, employees can choose the location and activity, such as spin class, yoga, boxing, and more. If you do end up partnering with a gym? Make sure it operates outside of traditional business hours. Otherwise, employees probably won’t take advantage of this corporate wellness program benefit.

And for a no-cost option, create a company walking club and set a day and time during the week for folks to participate.

2. Wellness Challenges

Most young workers are accustomed to socializing with coworkers , and wellness challenges allow them to collectively march toward a common goal. What’s more, according to a study of the Blue Zones, which are the world’s healthiest regions, feeling like you belong to a community is critical to long-term health.  We’re seeing that play out right now in an explosion of online exercise classes and social media challenges. A return to normal will mean a return to community wellness. 

Create wellness challenges around healthy living — for instance, ask participants to record how many ounces of water they drink each day or clock the miles that their walking group racks up in a week.

Make sure to publicize progress and give a shout-out to winners on your internal landing page, intranet, or other private communication channels. As you drum up excitement, you’ll see more people join in for upcoming challenges. Take it a step further and highlight employees who participate in 5Ks, marathons, triathlons, and other challenges in your monthly newsletter.

3. Flexible Hours

There are countless predictions about how we’ll return to work, and many posit that remote and flexible working will become the norm. Flextime should be considered part of a company’s wellness program. Research confirms that employees who are empowered to balance their personal and professional expectations are more productive, less stressed, and have a greater sense of well-being.

 Before you roll out flexible work options, however, sit down with your leadership team to develop an intentional strategy. This will ensure you address any questions or concerns beforehand. Together, you can construct clear guardrails around the initiative, including defining the boundaries of flextime for employees. If you’re still unsure about flexible hours, test it with a small group of employees first. This way, you’ll have time to work out any kinks before rolling it out on a company-wide level.

4. Healthy Snacks

Everyone needs to eat, and free snacks and drinks are a great benefit that employees can see and enjoy immediately. Perhaps that’s why 32% of companies already offer this benefit, according to a report by SHRM. The wrong foods, however, can lead to a workforce that’s prone to energy crashes and food comas.

Skip the soda and chips and, instead, provide treats that taste great but don’t include added sugars, saturated fats, or excessive sodium. Consider having fresh fruit, vegetables, and an assortment of nuts delivered to the office weekly and placed in the lunchroom. Offering free healthy food also dovetails nicely with other elements of your wellness program — like gym memberships or personal training.

5. In-Office Preventive Health Screenings

Too many people put their personal health on the back burner so they can juggle busy work schedules and family obligations. A 2019 poll found that nearly 40% of American adults weren’t planning on getting a flu shot, and a national survey of 1,200 adults found that 45% of those between the ages of 18 and 29 did not have a primary care physician — an alarming issue when it comes to getting care during a health crisis. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. To streamline preventive measures that may be covered by your corporate health insurance, invite medical professionals into the office once or twice a year to give flu shots and perform biometric screenings. Not only will doing so make life easier for employees, but it will also reduce the likelihood of employees getting the flu — which will save you a lot in illness-related lost productivity costs.

6. Mindfulness Meetings

Teaching your team members meditation techniques — such as how to breathe deeply and clear their heads — can have widespread corporate wellness program benefits. Practicing mindfulness can help workers lower anxiety and remain more present. One study even discovered a connection between meditation and how willing people are to help others. 

If you’re unsure where to start, check out YouTube, where you’ll find hundreds of beginner tutorials and walk-throughs. After some simple research, you can reasonably self-direct mindfulness workshops. Or you can have a brown bag meeting and bring in a yoga instructor to teach people about breathing techniques and meditation. Additionally, there are numerous meditation apps on the market, including Calm and Headspace.

The popularity of wellness programs continues to rise among companies of all sizes — probably because more employees expect their employers to respect and care about their well-being. Of course you are doing everything right now to keep employees safe. But once this crisis is over, commit to offering long-term solutions to help your people stay healthy.

#WorkTrends: The Mind of the Leader

If you’ve ever wanted to know how to handle pressure and build great relationships as a leader, keep reading.

This week on #WorkTrends, we’re talking to Jacqueline Carter about mindfulness. Jacqueline has been researching mindfulness for more than 10 years. She’s also the author of two books, “One Second Ahead” and “The Mind of the Leader.”

You can listen to the full episode below, or keep reading for this week’s topic. Share your thoughts with us using the hashtag #WorkTrends.

Understand the Benefits of Mindfulness

While Jacqueline has spent over a decade researching mindfulness, she’s actually been practicing it for over 20 years. When she started out in her career with Deloitte, her aim was to be a high performer. Jacqueline noticed that, due to her personal practice of training her mind to be more calm, more focused and more clear, she was well-equipped for whatever happened in that fast-paced environment. “It was something that was a real personal advantage for me, as I saw myself rising up through the ranks and continuing to experience more complexity and more demands in my role,” she says.
She realized that mindfulness wasn’t just something that was beneficial to her on a personal level. “This is actually something that I think can be so beneficial for all of us in the workplace.”

Practice Simple Mindfulness Strategies

Mindfulness isn’t a complex process that requires extensive training. In fact, Jacqueline suggests one simple mindfulness strategy to practice: “Turn off all notifications.” She admits that may be a daunting task for most people, who may worry that they’ll miss an important text or email. That’s because we think it’s beneficial to receive notifications in real time to stay abreast of whatever is happening. However, the opposite is true. “Every time we are distracted by a pop-up message, it takes away our focus. It makes it more difficult to get back to what we are doing, and it actually increases our stress levels.”

Be Present

Jacqueline’s book “The Mind of the Leader” is the result of a two-year research study of 250 C-suite executives and 35,000 leaders at different levels in 72 countries. The research reveals three qualities that leaders need to survive and thrive, and to create more engagement and productivity. “It was more than just mindfulness. It’s so critical for leaders to be able to be present. And if you, as a leader, are not present with your people, you’re wasting your time and you’re wasting theirs,” she says.

In addition to mindfulness and presence, leaders need compassion. Look at ways you can be beneficial to your team and colleagues. Most leaders believe that they do this. But when leaders are under pressure, they might ask, “How are you today?” without really even wanting an answer.

That’s why it’s important to really make time to listen to and demonstrate care for others. And this does more than just build trust and engagement. “The research shows that it actually helps us be more creative,” she says. “We get more from each other when we’re together, when it’s about the team and when we really care about each other.”

Continue the conversation. Join us on Twitter (#WorkTrends) for our weekly chat on Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. Eastern, 10:30 a.m. Pacific or anywhere in the world you are joining from to discuss this topic and more.

The Power of Practicing Mindfulness at Work and in Life

I’ve been given a lot of thought to the development and understanding, not of others but my own self for forever it seems. My days are packed and filled with meetings, conference calls and a sea of emails. It’s hard during the workday where I can even find a moment to myself let alone think about mindfulness or even self-care. When I do find myself a free hour or two without the grind of calls and meetings, those minutes are filled checking my social media, listening to music or running errands and driving from meeting to play date.

I’m a maximizer. From the moment I wake up at 5:30 AM, my day is full until I finally have a moment to sit down which is usually at 8:30 PM with forty-five minutes or so before I make the decision to crawl into bed and end my day.

This cram it all in lifestyle has been wearing on me. I sometimes feel like I can’t breathe.  I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with a feeling of anxiety which leads to insomnia and tiredness and more anxiety. I feel like I have no time left for me. And I can feel it in my work, in my passions, with my family, and my writing.

How Stress is Hurting Our Lives and Work

I know I am not alone with these feelings. It’s the American way. We take less vacation than anyone else in the world and business leaders are revered for working 120 and 130 hour days. Numerous studies show that job stress is far and away the major source of stress for American adults.  A 2017 Attitudes in the Workplace Study found that 80% of workers feel stress on the job. And nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress and 42% say their coworkers need such help too. We are in desperate need of training and resources in addition to permission from ourselves and our bosses to take a break.

For the longest time, I thought this feeling of being off was mine alone but I’ve learned that most of us at any given time feel a little lost and yet there’s this expectation of exuding perfection that we feel we need to be. This feeling of stress, anxiety, and anxiousness has a major impact on how we work with our collaborations, performance to our ability to juggle multiple tasks and responsibilities. I’m no longer willing to sacrifice my life, my health, and my work performance because I feel guilty taking time for me. There needs to be another way.

Enter in Workplace Meditation and Mindfulness

Over the years I have tried different tactics. I’ve outsourced my email and administrative responsibilities to a virtual assistant. I have taken a vacation from social media and Facebook. I’ve changed jobs, worked with coaches and even went to therapy. It hasn’t been enough. What I thought I needed was to be perfect, to get everything done and most importantly, more hours in the day.

In 2005 when I first began practicing yoga, I had a personal awakening and for a period of two years, I had a daily practice where I spent time focused on me and most importantly made time to get to know, recharge, refresh and work through my busy and hectic days. In 2005, I had the luxury. I was a single woman who was kid-less and had time to make time for me. I didn’t have the hectic work schedule I do now, the responsibility of being a parent, a spouse and the stress that comes with financial responsibility. While I acknowledge these reasons are excuses, they are my and maybe your reality. I have been treading in a sea of anxiousness, feeling overwhelmed and like I wasn’t doing enough. Something needed to change.

I began with simply committing to 10 minutes of mindfulness and reflection at the beginning or end of my day. I set my intentions, acknowledged my anxiety and just listened to myself. When I couldn’t shut off my mind, I just simply focused on my breathing. The results have been small but I am sleeping better, feeling less anxious and am more creative, focused and inspired. It’s the best therapy I could have possibly given myself and it was 100% free.

We Need to Teach Mindfulness and Stress Coping Skills at Work

If work is the biggest stressor in our lives and has immediate and real implications not only in terms of productivity but also employee health and wellbeing, I wondered why schools, institutions, and employers aren’t providing their students and employees with the skills to learn how to be more mindful and help manage stress in their lives.

The change doesn’t have to be a big one but it has to be a purposeful and intentional one to really drive behavioral and personal change. That behavioral change helps when we as people have a gentle nudge from our co-workers, friends, boss and workplace. Practicing mindfulness at work could be as simple as tapping into fitness wearables and Apple watches the majority of your employees are already wearing and encouraging employees to simple breath for a minute in their offices, cars, and cubicles. Employers can use existing employee recognition programs or invest in a manager meditation and mindful program for managers or a small group of employee ambassadors to encourage a mindfulness practice across an office, department or company.

Mindfulness As a Jumping Off Point to Employee Health and Well-Being

Mindfulness and reducing stress are just as important if not more so than encouraging employees to complete their personal benefits assessment. It’s a small change that might be more important or achievable than getting every employee to participate in a step challenge. We all have at least a minute to breathe and be mindful of ourselves. We deserve that, and it’s a behavior that has life-long benefits.

A few weeks ago, I picked up a book called 9 Secrets of Successful Meditation by Dr. Sarasad Vinod which I recommend. I’m expanding beyond my 10 minutes and making a commitment to practice at least 30 minutes of meditation and mindfulness a day. While I don’t think I’ll ever be a guru, I am working towards investing in more self-care and being intentional in my time whether it’s for work or personal reasons. I think ourselves and our employees deserve that much. We need to invest more in ourselves because we are always worrying and tending to others’ gardens forgetting our own. Let’s change that.

A version of this was first posted on

Jessica Miller-Merrell, is workplace change agent focused on human resources and talent acquisition. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer. She’s the founder of Workology, formerly Blogging4Jobs. Follow her on Twitter, @jmillermerrell.

How To Positively Impact Other People

“When eating bamboo sprouts, remember the man who planted them.” — Chinese Proverb

Do you find that your life is busier than it’s ever been before? You’re taking on projects, going more places and meeting the people, and trying to get more done than ever before? You know that you’re not taking time for yourself, but you don’t know how you can change your situation. Unfortunately, you have your blinders on and, as you struggle to get your “stuff” done, you simply fail to notice the world around you.

Practicing mindfulness is one way you can intentionally start to pay attention to and be aware of what is happening around you. Sound a little too “woo-woo” for you? There is not only a lot of research supporting mindfulness, you’ll find benefits including stronger relationships, better health, and less stress.

Think about the number of times you go into your favorite coffee shop and take your bad mood out on the barrista. Thankfully, employees at Starbucks are trained to deal with your foul attitude, but not everyone has received that level of training. Do you take the time to notice the person behind the counter at your favorite fast food restaurant? How often do you say “Hello” or acknowledge the cleaning lady in your office? Colin Powell shares how he recognized the cleaning staff that took care of his beautiful office while in the White House. On a regular basis he would tell them, “If you didn’t accomplish your purpose, I couldn’t accomplish my purpose as secretary of state. We’re all all in this together.” What a beautiful acknowledgement for doing a job most people simply ignore (unless it’s not done). By taking the time to notice the people that serve you on a daily basis, you can make a huge difference in their day and possibly, in their life.

Here’s what can happen if you take the time to be kind … There’s a restaurant I frequent because of the numerous networking organizations I belong to. A waiter named Darren took care of us on several occasions. His service was so good, it was noticeable. Always. Smiling, never missing a beat, Darren was the consummate professional. My Positive Thinkers Network group had its first meeting at this restaurant. Darren was our waiter. This was a good thing, because we didn’t realize the draw this event would have. Instead of the 25-30 people we expected, we had 89 people show up — with separate checks. Again, Darren was on his game and he was fabulous.

One evening my husband and I went to eat and were fortunate enough to have Darren as our waiter. His service was great, as usual, including giving us a bag of cookies to take home because we were too full for dessert. As I was walking out of the restaurant, I asked the maître d’ for the general manager’s card. (Of course she looked at me with some concern.) I took the card and we left.

I sent Darren’s manager a card letting him know about the exceptional service and how pleased he should be that someone of Darren’s caliber worked for the restaurant. I sent the card and didn’t think too much about it again. The next time I went to this restaurant for my networking event, I found an envelope with my name on it. Here is what I found inside:

A Poem to Lisa Ryan

Positive thinking is a life raft to the soul when you feel like your ship is sinking…

A positive Outlook each day invites God’s special blessings to come your way…

Lisa, I can say with all positivity your act of kindness to my heart has forever inspired me…

My way of thanking you will to be to pass on that beautiful positive vibe and all you say and do…

It’s amazing how one person’s sunshine can incredibly change another’s life and it makes me proud to say, you’re a friend of mine.

God bless you, Darren

This beautiful poem was written by a waiter and was given to the person who took the time to notice the difference he was making. You have the power to make someone’s day just by acknowledging them.

If you want some more ideas on how to bring joy to someone else today, check out this article by Sophia Elias, “12 Simple Ways to Make Someone Else’s Day.”

Sometimes, the best friendships start with a simple, “Hello.”

About the Author: Employee engagement expert and motivational speaker Lisa Ryan works with organizations to help them keep their top talent and best customers from becoming someone else’s. For more information, please connect with Lisa at her website: or email her at

photo credit: slightly everything via photopin cc