A few years ago, I began down the complicated road of creating a wellness program for The Wilbert Group. Everybody loved the idea of a wellness program and it took us about five minutes to coin the name – Wilbert Wellness. Cute huh? We immediately envisioned #wilbertwellness under pictures of us wearing Fitbits or eating organic almonds.
Creating a program that was meaningful proved more difficult. I made the mistake of trying to copy other companies, as well as letting enthusiastic and well-meaning employees implement one-off ideas. We divided into teams and had a contest to see who took the stairs more. We invited in a nutrition expert and a yoga teacher for lunch and learns. One vice president on our team spoke about how to choose healthier snacks. We got juices delivered to a staff meeting. We replaced office candy with fruit. While none of these ideas were bad, we were just throwing out tactics without a clear objective. It felt forced and silly. People rolled their eyes. Sometimes I rolled my own eyes.
At the start of 2016, we took a step back. I started asking the bigger questions. Why should a company have a wellness program? What does wellness mean in the context of an office environment? How do you create a program that is truly meaningful for employees with diverse needs and wants? I continued to read books and case studies and ask questions to friends and mentors, but I stopped trying to copy what other companies were doing. I now wanted to create something uniquely suited for our firm.
My journey toward WilbertWellness 2.0 was in parallel with my own journey into meditation, mindfulness and yoga. I was trying to become the person I wanted to be, and create the company culture where I wanted to work, all at the same time. I have landed on some working answers to the big questions, some basic beliefs that are the foundation of our program. From there, we have together slowly started to implement policies and programs.
The basic tenets for Wilbert Wellness 2.0:
- A good wellness program should make people better at their jobs – more motivated, more focused, more creative, more willing to take risks and work hard.
- A wellness program is about helping people be their best whole selves at work, so it must have tentacles that stretch into physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellness.
- People need breaks. People need breaks in the course of a day (e.g. a walk around the block at 3 p.m.) and they need breaks in the course of a year (i.e vacations). Nobody who has been staring at a computer underneath florescent light for 12 straight hours is going to be his or her most creative.
- Most people enjoy working hard, as long as there are opportunities to recharge and renew. People like to be challenged; a certain level of stress can feel good, as long as it isn’t overwhelming and relentless.
- People want others to notice when they do excellent work.
- People crave connection and an understanding of how their work contributes to the company’s larger goals.
- It is possible to be kind and empathetic, even when giving tough feedback.
- If people exercise, eat well, get enough sleep and take care of themselves physically they likely will be more energized and creative than if they do not do those things.
- Programs must be customized. A journey of wellness is going to be different for everyone. A company should support and encourage the journey but not dictate the path. (e.g. Just because I practice yoga doesn’t mean I should require the entire team to practice yoga together. That would be annoying.)
- You need buy-in at every level. That means the boss needs to walk the walk, and it means that employees at every level should have decision-making power in the wellness program.
What we have today:
- A Wilbert Wellness stipend. All employees receive a $100 monthly stipend to spend on their own wellness journey. It can go to ClassPass or a membership at a Pilates studio or massages or Weight Watchers or a life coach coach or running shoes. Again, we encourage a journey but don’t dictate the path.
- A refreshed office that includes new, creative spaces so people can get away from their desks, whether to be alone or to be together in a cozier, more informal way. We turned an office into a cool den with a sofa, chairs, rug, lamps and we added a large, inviting table to the kitchen.
- Commitment to Excellence awards. We regularly hand out cash bonuses to employees who demonstrate their commitment to excellence by working together, building relationships, generating results and/or thinking big. Again, this is a way to acknowledge when people do a good job.
- A culture that encourages balance. There is no way to guarantee a PR professional won’t have to work long hours occasionally or manage a crisis on a weekend. Our jobs are inherently busy, stressful and unpredictable. But we strive for a culture that strives for balance. Take breaks. Leave on time when you can.
We don’t have all the answers but I certainly have learned from my mistakes. Our program is not a gimmick. Our beliefs about wellness provide a framework to make decisions, invest resources and manage employees. And I am committed to doing my best to create a program — and company— that truly helps people be successful at work in a sustainable way. I am grateful for the people who work here, profoundly grateful, and I want to keep them here as long as I can.