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Corporate culture

Workplace strategies for physical and mental health

Anakaren Collantes
May 03, 2017 ∙ 7 mins
Osedea's members promoting physical and mental health

“ Don’t eat this. Eat that. Eat more of this. Eat less of that. Do more of this, but never do that. ”

It’s no secret that health is an important aspect of our life (or at least it should be); but why is it that when we think of starting a journey towards healthier habits, we tend to think of things we can do before and/or after work?

What about the many, many, hours we spend at work? Is it possible to not only create a health-friendly office, but also an environment that encourages healthy habits?

Finding useful and inspirational information online is tough.

Most of the content about how to improve health at work is vague, unoriginal, and addresses physical or mental health as two independent things.

It’s hard to find concrete examples of how to actively move in the right direction.

And, as they say, the rest is history.

What you are about to read is the story and implementation of a health initiative we successfully implemented in our workplace. We truly believe it will inspire you.

The Wellness Challenge: the backstory

To give you some context: We are a crew of developers, graphic designers, and marketing savvy based in the beautiful city of Montreal. We happen to spend a lot of time in the office.

We did the math. Considering each of us spends at least 40 hours a week at our office, it works out to 2088 hours a year per employee!

The nature of what we do every day forces us to spend hour after hour in front of a computer, which means the vast majority of those 2088 hours are spent in “sedentary” mode.

Our work is also based on time-sensitive deliverables, and there’s stress that comes along with that. Plus, we operate in a saturated industry. We have to keep up to date on technologies that change on a daily basis. Customer experience is one of the things we do best, making it crucial that we maintain speed and flexibility across all our projects.

Under these circumstances, it’s all too easy to let health fall by the wayside. Greasy fast food for lunch often sounds like a good idea. Cookies and chips make welcome companions during stressful moments. The crunchy sound is almost therapeutic.

This is the inspirational story of how the Wellness Challenge came to be and the importance it continues to have for Osedea. It’s a story about a competition involving lots of fruits and veggies, laughs, physical movement, and ultimately, some pretty impressive results.

Here is the concrete example you were looking for. You’re welcome.

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The month-long challenge was based on the rule of thumb which states that to get a new habit to “stick”, you’ve got to perform it for 21 days in a row.

On Slack, our internal communication tool, we created a bot that could handle challenge entries and score keeping. To learn how we constructed the challenge (and to get some inspiration in case you want to do something similar with your own team) you can read the blog post located here.

How it works?

Our team is divided into smaller teams. Each team has the name of a different fruit or veggie to increase team spirit (banana, broccoli, carrot, apple, etc.). The challenges are explained to everyone, and it is their job to perform them as indicated. Every time they do, they would enter it on Slack and be able to see how far their team is in comparison to others. It becomes a true competition for who gets to be healthier! At the end of the challenge, a winner is announced and they are rewarded with a prize.

After the first time we ran the Wellness Challenge, we did a fresh round of research which showed us that developing new positive habits would be easier if we took advantage of our existing routines at work, instead of trying to fight them.

We wanted to incorporate various aspects of health into the challenges (physical, mental, and social), so the main elements of the challenge turned out to be:

  1. Stretching once every hour. According to research, stretching relaxes your muscles, increases oxygen levels in the brain, gives you an opportunity to fix your posture, and encourages movement.
  2. Eating fruits and veggies once a day. We wanted our team to substitute unhealthy snacks with a better option for their bodies.
  3. Play at work. A fun, team-based activity, once a week for 10 minutes. Studies show that laughing and developing social connections relaxes your brain, improves creativity, reduces stress, and strengthens team productivity.
  4. Meditation once a week for 10 minutes. According to Michael Mamas, a leader in personal development, meditation relaxes the brain, improves mental health, reduces stress, and even improves your immune system!

All activities had to be done during working hours in order to get team points, but, we also encouraged our team to continue these activities outside the office.

160 hours later we’re feeling slightly healthier

We asked our team to weight in on what they liked most about the Wellness Challenge. Here’s what they had to say:

  • “It allows you to try different health-related initiatives.”- Ivana, Marketing This type of activity offers many different options for exploring healthy habits.
  • The challenge creates a venue for brainstorming ways we can improve, start, and/or develop a healthy lifestyle- even at work.
  • Being part of a team is a major motivator. Group motivation is key for a lot of people when it comes to being persistent in performing healthy activities.
  • “ Meditation is something I‘d been wanting to do for a while, but until we did the first Wellness Challenge, I never managed to start practising.”- Adrien, Developer A wellness challenge can be the push your team members needed to kick off a healthier lifestyle.
  • “Some of the Wellness Challenge activities were great for calming the mind. I feel like most of our team members would never try them otherwise, so it was a great opportunity.” — Ezequiel, Developer We’re all different, with different preferences and needs. If by the end of the challenge you know what works for you individually, you’ll be more likely to continue with your new health regime!

Yet, not everything was a bed of roses.

We realized there are a few things we can probably improve on as we begin planning for the next edition of our Wellness Challenge:

  • Make sure the activities you’re encouraging your team to participate in don’t negatively distract them from their priorities. Adapt the challenges to your team’s dynamic and job descriptions. The last thing you want to do is create more stress.
  • Explain, teach, and share your research. This was the most important lesson for us. Make sure that before starting the challenge, you explain to the team how each activity and habit will benefit their health. Make sure to mention these are habits you will continue to encourage in the workplace moving forward- even after the challenge is over. The more your team is aware of why the activities will improve their health, the more motivated they’ll be to participate, the better their performance will be, and the more likely they’ll be to keep their new habits as part of their routine — which is the end goal!

Time is money, and the Wellness Challenge is a worthwhile investment.

This initiative required a lot of planning and dedication to various resources. We needed to allocate a budget for the winning prize and assign team members to organize and develop the bot and the activities.

So, why do we keep investing in this challenge?

  • We clearly saw how it resulted in a healthier team and a healthier work environment. We know 21 days of focusing on wellness won’t have a permanent or significant effect on everyone’s health. However, the Wellness Challenge has certainly proven to be a step in the right direction. Today, we drink more water, bring fruit to the office more often, are more aware of our posture, and use humour as a stress reliever. Now, you see people walking and stretching around the office daily.
  • Team spirit. We connected even further as a team. We base our work on teamwork and collaboration, and the competition and team elements of the challenge enhance these values. After the first edition of the challenge, the team wanted to do another one, and now, we are ready for our third attempt!
  • Team engagement The Wellness Challenge is fundamentally based on feedback, encouragement, and acknowledgement of team and individual efforts. These are key aspects of developing team engagement. By addressing areas such as the team’s health and wellbeing, we’ve noticed that our employees have a new level of commitment to Osedea. For a full month, the challenges added a dash of excitement to each workday, giving our team members yet another reason to feel good about showing up to work. We continuously invest in our people, and the Wellness Challenge is a perfect example of how this approach pays off in the form of increased team engagement.

“In general, I think wellness initiatives are awesome and should definitely be encouraged. I certainly think any organization can implement a wellness initiative of some kind.”

— Nate, Developer

If you want to learn more about this subject, we provide further information about our tips to promote and encourage mental health in the workplace. I would love to hear more about what you do in your organizations to promote mental and physical health. Thanks for taking the time to read this, and cheers to healthier teams (inside and out)!