10 Tips for Thinking Outside the Wellness Box

June 25, 2018

When most of us think of the word, “wellness”, images of yoga mats, massages and FitBits are typically what come to mind. While fitness, stress relief and exercise are all important components of wellness initiatives at companies, there’s more to being well than what we eat and how we exercise. We are more than our physical body.

In early June, several hundred employers from the greater Chicago area gathered together at GCG’s annual symposium to discover how to think outside of the wellness box and expand their understanding of what it means to be well.

I shared the story of my own burnout experience last year and how even the “wellness person” isn’t immune to the consequences of demanding work. It’s difficult for most of us to find a sense of work/life integration that works for us and keeps us feeling rested and also restored. The same is true of the people who work for us.

We explored how our current approach to wellness is limited and focuses too much on telling people what they do wrong rather than celebrating them for what they do well. It focuses too much on programs and not enough on the people we are serving and what they want. If we want employees to be engaged, we must involve them in the process because people only support what they help create.

Many of us limit ourselves when we think the only value to promoting health and wellbeing in the workplace is to “move the needle” and generate a return on investment (ROI). Fortunately, quite a bit of data exists to back up that point. It’s important to help companies contain costs, but that can be done through a variety of methods, including care coordination, functional medicine, telemedicine, pharmacy programs, and other benefit plan design modifications.

The new business case for wellness – what is now more commonly referred to as “wellbeing” – is to engage, recruit and retain top talent, to help organizations be seen as employers of choice. According to research by Quantum Workplace, when employees feel like their employer cares about their health and wellbeing, they are more likely to be engaged, stick around, perform better, speak well of their company and less likely to be hostile. The term wellbeing is most commonly used by Gallup and includes five dimensions of who we are as human beings – our career wellbeing or sense of purpose, social wellbeing or quality of relationships, financial wellbeing, physical wellbeing, and community wellbeing or volunteerism and give back initiatives. Very few people are thriving in all five areas, but those who are thriving in career wellbeing are twice as likely to be thriving in all other areas.

During the session, one of the activities we did was to reflect on what our organization is doing to support employees in each of those five areas. This was an eye-opening exercise for some, as we have a tendency to silo different aspects of our organization rather than thinking about bringing them together and connecting them with a common theme.

We collected and compiled everyone’s top ideas and are sharing with you the top 10 ideas that were submitted. We hope at least one of these ideas resonates with you and that you bring it back to your organization to foster a workplace where people are excited to come work:

  1. “We have a new program encouraging employees to ‘dream and explore what things they’d like to accomplish in life.” I love this idea. It draws on the most important dimension of wellbeing – a sense of purpose. To learn more about what it could look like to invite employees to dream big at your company, I encourage you to read the book, The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly.

  2. Community service policy that matches 1 paid day off for each vacation day taken to work at a non-profit or missions. This is a great way to show your employees your commitment to the community and to giving back. It’s also a triple hit because it impacts community wellbeing, physical wellbeing (volunteers experience less depression than non-volunteers), and career wellbeing because it could be used as a recruitment tool.

  3. Improving our onboarding process and leading a committee to share ideas and develop a better program. In an HR study of over 1,000 workers, 31% reported having quit a job within the first six months. This highlights the importance of being strategic and intentional about onboarding new employees and creating memorable experiences for them in the first few months on the job. Bringing together groups of new and tenured employees to share ideas and develop a better process shows that this organization is serious about making employees’ first impression the best impression. If new hires feel valued, wanted and supported, it’s more likely they will stay.

  4. Monthly volunteer opportunities at a food pantry where one of our executives will sponsor. Great way to give back and get face-time with leadership. It’s important for employees to see that their leadership is willing to get their hands dirty and humble themselves to be a servant leader. Combining teambuilding with giving back is a wonderful idea because it invites us to be humans who care first and our roles or titles second.

  5. Have meetings around the neighborhood to unite with our neighbors and to enjoy their businesses. When we think of supporting our employees’ wellbeing, most of us think of what we can do within our organization, not how we can reach out to other organizations in our community. Strong social connections are crucial for thriving employee wellbeing and are correlated with greater happiness, health, and longevity. Is your business so impactful and intentional that the community around you would notice if you disappeared tomorrow? If the answer is, “no,” I encourage you to brainstorm how your company can intentionally connect with and support the businesses and neighborhoods around you.

  6. Management and HR cook breakfast for employees. What a neat way to bring people together. One of the companies I work with is in the construction industry, and they have a monthly lunch cooked by one of their leaders. It’s a great way for him to show off his cooking skills and do something he loves while also bringing people together over a meal. Servant leaders are the best kind of leaders.

  7. Forgivable home loan of up to $10,000 for down payment/closing costs that is interest-free and 100% forgiven after 5 years of employment. Many employees dream of being homeowners, but the process of saving enough money to be able to make a down payment is a roadblock for many. I can only imagine how many dreams this company has made a reality by so generously facilitating the process of home buying for their employees.

  8. Thrive pass wellness reimbursement program: each employee gets up to $50 per month to spend on wellness activities of their choice. For employees who may not have the financial means to invest in their own physical wellbeing, offering monthly or annual allowances to support them could be a valuable benefit. Whether it’s a gym membership, coaching, cooking class, yoga class, new pair of running shoes, or partial funding of a massage, employees appreciate having funding to pursue the wellbeing activities of their choice.

  9. Register for any fitness event (5k, bike, swim, marathon, etc.) and do it with at least one coworker to build community and meet fitness goals. At most organizations, there are select groups of employees who regularly participate in walking / running / biking events. Rarely have I seen companies encourage those employees to buddy up and bring at least one coworker into that event with them. This is a great way to encourage connection and community within your employees while also promoting movement. It hits on three of the five dimensions of wellbeing.

  10. Fun committee with a participant from each department to bring more social events to culture and foster a sense of friendship among employees. With loneliness on the rise and suicide rates escalating, it’s more important than ever to intentionally foster community and friendship in the workplace. Focusing on fun as the motivator makes it more likely that employees will take part in whatever is planned because they want to, not because they have One idea you could take back to your organization is to ask your employees to complete this statement, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we…” and let their imaginations run wild.


Thank you to all of the organization who joined us and submitted such creative ideas for how to engage, recruit and retain top talent by focusing on and prioritizing employee wellbeing.

For more ideas about how to foster a thriving workplace culture and employee wellbeing, follow our Director of Wellbeing, Rachel Druckenmiller, on LinkedIn.