Optimize Your Workplace with the Latest Trends in Workplace Wellness in 2019

How has corporate wellness changed throughout the years? Adopt the latest and greatest wellness trends for a healthy and productive work environment.

Hanna Kim - January 29, 2019

The Emergence of Work-Life Balance
We could consider Henry Ford’s decision in 1926 to reduce the past norm of work six days a week to the five-day workweek for his automobile manufacturing plants as a sort of corporate wellness initiative. However, bluntly put by Ford himself, these measures in place with the intention of moving the economy forward through capitalism, as "people who have more leisure must have more clothes,...eat a greater variety of food,... [and] require more transportation in vehicles."
Ford also expected higher rates of productivity from his employees - while they would be working fewer hours, they were expected to work harder and more efficiently during their shortened shifts. Still, most employees were happy to do so in exchange for additional free time to shop and take vacations on the emerging notion of the weekend.
This was a key point in history where work-life balance began to emerge for the average American worker. Ford said, “It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either ‘lost time’ or a class privilege.” Manufacturers across the country began to adopt the Monday-to-Friday workweek, which almost a hundred years later, is still the norm for many US employees.
Health is Wealth for Employees and Employers
Physical health was an important focus for workplace wellbeing. The creation of safer working conditions was the primary objective in the 19th Century, followed by a shift to appropriate interventions against work-related illnesses or injuries. These safety measures (many which had to be fought for) are now standard practices. This was followed by sick pay and employer-based medical insurance, which at first was only a reactionary measure for when employees were in the
direst conditions.
Slowly, workplace benefits became more preventative in nature, starting with programs for smoking cessation, weight loss, and exercise created to stop employees from reaching a crisis point. What we know as corporate wellness today began with employers starting to realize considering employee health actually improves the work environment as well as saves money on healthcare costs.
The Focus is on Proactive Wellness

Healthcare policy expert and past governor of Oregon Dr. John Kitzhaber presented on the factors that influence your health at the World Healthcare Congress. As you can see from one of his slides, the largest factors we have control over are not the healthcare we receive, but our behavior and the social context in which we live, which may come as a surprise. Most of us spend a good portion of our waking hours at work and consider work as part of our identity. Healthier habits can be encouraged at the workplace, which makes up a big part of the social context for many of us.
As the public continues to recognize and grows more comfortable with the idea that mental, emotional, and behavioral factors are linked to physical wellbeing, experts are noticing companies have begun to follow suit in offering wellness benefits that focus on total well-being. In the past five years, we’ve begun to see a larger shift of workplace wellbeing expanding to more than just physical aspects of health.
Corporate wellness has become an important pillar of many successful businesses to encompass the many factors of employee health, including programs for mental and financial stressors to improve wellbeing and work performance in the long term, according to one HR Director, Liz Walker. Proactive wellness program ideas like the ones below help employees build resilience, boost morale, and help people lead happier and healthier lives so they can thrive at work.
  • Champion Mental Wellbeing
For a long time, mental health issues were a source of shame and largely hidden in the workplace. 84% of employees today experience symptoms of poor mental health and many individuals wait between 6 to 8 years before receiving the proper mental health treatment needed, according to the Center for Discovery. Employers can do their part to break the stigma of mental health by championing mental health as part of a workplace wellness program.
  • Spotlight on Sleep
Sleep impacts everything including learning, memory, emotions, cardiovascular health and immunity. Getting a good night’s rest helps employees be more productive. Conversely, sleep deficiency leads to diminished performance, costing employers over $400 billion each year, according to one 2016 study. Employers have been promoting better sleep by educating employees on the negative impacts of sleep deprivation, creating spaces for rest at the office, or offering flexible hours that work with individual’s sleep schedules. 
  • Prevent Workplace Burnout
A workplace survey by Gallup found 44% of employees reported feelings of burnout at work, leading to reduced engagement, increased error, and safety incidents, and lost productivity, affecting employers across all industries. Employers can prevent employee burnout by creating regular opportunities to relax and recharge by making room for mid-day breaks, managing proper workloads, allowing for flexible schedules, and inviting regular use of PTO.
  • Encourage Mindfulness and Self-care
Self-care was one of the top mobile app categories of 2018, with downloads for apps like Fabulous, Shine, 10% Happier and Headspace on the rise. Mindfulness practices help us become more aware of how our bodies react to stress so we can better manage our lives day-to-day as well as deal with unexpected events with more tenacity. Many top companies are working to cut workplace stress and boost productivity with mindful practices like workplace yoga.
Corporate wellness has continued to evolve to accommodate the changing values of the public, and companies have benefited from creating more positive work environments and nurturing successful employees. A focus on employee wellness is more pertinent now than ever, as younger Millennial and Generation Z workers continue to enter and advance in the workforce.
Younger employees already spend more on self-care measures compared to older generations and are more knowledgeable on the impact of workplace stress on their personal well-being. In order to stay an employer of choice for current employees and new recruits, companies must cater to these important needs and go beyond traditional corporate wellness into the future.

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