Veronica Marsden – Published in Contact Management February 2015

Workplace wellness programs are sustainable interventions in the workplace that inform, involve and inspire your employees to adopt and maintain behaviours that reduce health risks, improve quality of life, enhance personal effectiveness, and benefit the organization’s bottom line.

According to Statistics Canada and the World Health Organization (WHO) 70 to 75 percent of health care costs are due to modifiable risk factors including smoking, poor nutrition, obesity and physical inactivity. With employees spending over 50 percent of their waking hours at work, employers have a significant opportunity to positively impact overall health including employee physical, emotional and social wellbeing.

Fostering a culture of health and wellness is seen as a key strategy for enhancing employee engagement. It makes business sense that healthy, happy employees take fewer sick days, have more energy and are more engaged at work. Whether you have 50 employees or 5,000 employees, wellness programs can have a long-term impact on driving a healthy workplace culture and business success.

There are unique challenges associated with developing a wellness strategy for call centre employees. Barriers such as inflexible work schedules and the inability to step away from call desks make it difficult to engage this group in wellness activities. The following steps are important to consider in developing an effective wellness strategy for call centre employees.

Engage the employees in establishing the focus and direction of the program. Ask them what they are interested in and how they would like to participate in a workplace wellness program. This will ensure that programs are aligned with their needs and work schedules while fostering a sense of employee ownership. Form a wellness committee including strong representation from the call centre team to plan the program and ensure it stays on track. These program ambassadors should be encouraged to continually look for ways to engage fellow employees.

Assessing employee health risks is also an important building block for success. Many Canadians do not get regular check-ups. Biometric screening is a valuable tool for getting a pulse on the health of your employees thereby helping to set program strategies. Also ensure that wellness interventions target employee health and organizational cost pressures.  For example if your drug utilization for controlling blood pressure is high, target your programs to promote physical activity, healthy eating and weight management. If anti-inflammatory drugs top the list, focus your efforts on MSI prevention and back health.

For a call centre program to be effective it is important to bring wellness to the employees in “baby steps” by focusing on one small habit at a time. For example spend time walking around the call centre catching employees between calls and encouraging them to take a mini stretch break at their desk. Feature a weekly stretch such as a shoulder shrug and encourage employees to add other exercises as time permits.

Another approach is to promote a “Healthy Habit of the Month” initiative whereby employees are encouraged and supported to make small changes on a regular basis such as eating healthy snacks and drinking more water.

Distribute “desk drop” wellness flyers for employees who may have missed your visit so they still benefit from the information provided.

Install a wellness board in the call centre that features a wellness tip of the week or month. One week for example the tip might feature the sugar content in sweetened beverages and healthy alternatives. Make sure that the tip is topical, brief and colourful to capture people’s attention.

Highlight ways employees can “sneak” exercise into their daily routine. Organize lunch time group walks, promote use of stairs, encourage employees to stand during calls and provide on-site yoga classes. Many organizations also support fitness by providing subsidized fitness memberships or negotiating group rates at a local gym. The most effective subsidies are ones that are flexible and allow employees to claim a variety of expenses such as dance lessons, home fitness equipment and community exercise classes.

Whether you have an on-site cafeteria service, a lunch room with fridge and microwave or vending machines, there are a number of ways to promote good eating habits at work. For example we know that healthy eating starts with a good breakfast. An inexpensive and fun way to support healthy breakfast habits is to have the wellness committee whip up breakfast smoothies for employees to sample before they take their first call. Frozen berries, natural yogurt, unsweetened fruit juice and a little protein powder will have employees “talking breakfast” for days to come.

Replace the weekly donut tradition with Fresh Fruit Fridays or designate a regular Healthy Snack Day where employees have the opportunity to sample healthy snacking alternatives such as trail mix, dried fruits and “good for you” bars. Offer healthy snacks at your next company meeting and change the way you celebrate special events and milestones at work. Substitute cake with a fruit and veggie tray.
Wellness challenges organized at strategic times throughout the year are effective in keeping employees on track with their health goals. A ‘Winning @ Losing’ weight loss challenge in the New Year or a Holiday Health Campaign in December are ways to keep your program top of mind. Award points each time an employee practices a healthy behaviour and provide draw prizes for reaching preset goals. Pedometer challenges are a popular way to encourage walking. To keep employees engaged and on track throughout the challenge hold weekly random prize draws   for participants who are regularly documenting their progress.

There are various ways to promote work/life balance and relaxation at work. Consider designing unused space as a Quiet Room where employees can take a mini nap, practice their faith or meditate.

Encourage your employees to set realistic wellness goals and celebrate each small win. Share their success stories by posting them on your intranet site and the call centre bulletin board. Feature healthy role models in the company cafeteria. By catching employees doing something “well”, everyone wins!

To run your program cost effectively tap into resources that may be available free of charge from your external partners including benefit and EAP providers.

Creating a healthy workplace culture is more than a menu of programs and services. It is about creating spaces, norms and traditions in your organization that revolve around health and overall wellbeing. It is not something you push on people and it doesn’t happen overnight. Wellness has become “the right thing to do”, like providing benefits, even though you can’t always put a dollar figure to the Return on Investment, by keeping wellness program initiatives simple but ever present you send the message that “the company cares about you.”