Global Employee Health and Fitness Month: Tips for Leaders

Global Employee Health and Fitness Month sets aside a specific month of the year to help organizations focus on physical fitness and healthy lifestyles.  Encouraging active living, quality physical education and health programs can have long term benefits for individuals, teams and organizations.  This article focuses on providing tips for leaders for promoting health and fitness – during this special month and all year long.


Linking Health and Fitness to Workplace Stress – and Success

As leaders, we are responsible for the people we supervise and manage – sometimes, this includes gently coaching them towards making better decisions that will support their own health.  This must be done carefully and with sensitivity to avoid an employee shutting down or feeling like the leader is going far in managing their lives.

Systematically assessing and evaluating workplace stress can also help you determine when a larger focus is needed on health and wellness.  Here are some indicators that stress levels may be unhealthy:

  • People are making avoidable errors and missing deadlines
  • People are arguing or complaining more than usual
  • Attrition, absenteeism or sick leave is going up
  • Customer service complaints are increasing
  • General problem solving and critical thinking is poorer than usual

Here are some tips for talking and showing action with respect to health and wellness in a way that links to workplace success in a safe way:

  • Start with something small, like offering to help an employee upgrade their workstations to support better ergonomics – this directly impacts health, but isn’t too personal for most people. Check out the latest in computer equipment ergonomic design – you may be surprised at the options available at a reasonable price. You can also share this checklist from OSHA so people can do their own evaluations.
  • Provide the space for people to talk about the environment – lighting, temperature and layout if you have flexibilities there. For example, your team may welcome the change to negotiate the thermostat settings at different times of the year. One office we worked with agreed to keep the ceiling fluorescent lights off, and use floor lamps instead.  It was a small investment, but decreased reported headaches tremendously.
  • Be clear on the workplace flexibilities that may be available to both people working in the office and teleworkers. This may include late arrival or early departures for doctor’s appointments or wellness checks, or schedule flexibilities for planned mid-day appointments. You may want to talk with the team on setting aside a day when meetings will be minimized to allow for people to schedule personal appointments when needed on those days.
  • Model saying “no” or “not now” to non-essential tasks and projects and explain why you are doing so in terms of work-life balance and stress management. Talk about tradeoffs and opportunity costs.   Avoid sending emails late into the night – Actions speak louder than words!  Log off, and support your health with a good night’s sleep.
  • If someone has shared a health and fitness goal with you, gently ask how they are doing and if there is anything you can do to support their work. Follow their lead from there – it should soon be clear whether they welcome the conversation or not.

Part of a manager’s job is to evaluate and act on signs of excessive workplace stress ­– regularly objectively assessing and evaluating stress levels and taking small steps quickly can help recalibrate and realign.  You can also consider offering Pryor’s seminar on How to Handle Stress at Work to give your team new tools!

Modeling Your Commitment to Health and Fitness

Showing your employees that health and fitness is important in your own life provides a model for others. Taking actions that support your own physical and mental health signals that you really do take this seriously and that it is safe for them to do so as well. Here are some examples of how to make your commitment both real and visible.

  • Take breaks during the day and talk about doing so. “After this meeting, I’ll be taking a quick walk around the block – the break helps me think better.”  Invite others to join if you feel comfortable doing so.
  • Talk about any changes you have made to your work schedule and environment that has had a positive impact on your health. For example, maybe you cleaned up your workspace to decrease stress and clutter, adjusted your computer configuration or placed a soft mat on the floor to stand on.
  • Drink lots of water and eat healthy food in front of your team – instead of bringing in cady and chocolates, consider a bag of tangerines or a pack of bananas.
  • Encourage people to talk about productivity tools or work-life balance tools that they have found useful in increasing their own self-awareness and self-management of health and fitness, like walking apps on phone, break alerts and monitors or calendar tips. This can be built into staff meetings or other more casual social hours.
  • For new employees, provide information about the organization’s wellness programs if offered, nearby or on-site fitness centers, health care or urgent care centers, health food options and good walking areas as part of their welcome materials. This will show that you care about these health and fitness services.
  • Acknowledge the fluidity of work-life balance and how sustained overwork can lead to stress and adverse health effects. Sometimes, workplace demands and projects require increased focus – other times, family life needs to take center stage. Set ground rules for communicating when breaks or a different pace is needed.
  • If stress is a problem on your team, actively talk about how you could make certain projects smaller or delay non-essential tasks. Talk about whether customer or client needs can be met in a different way with the same impact.
  • Keep family pictures at work and exchange stories that support empathy. Displaying family pictures or personal art can invite the conversation. In turn, if you see another person’s family photos or art, ask about them. Exchanging family stories builds personal connection at work, which supports mental health

In sharing your own experiences, you are providing ideas to others, without pushing too hard or being judgmental of others’ choices.  Simply being a role model can drive real change.

Have a Plan For Assessing Your Health and Fitness

At the beginning of a week or month, pause and reflect on your own health and fitness levels.  Categories may include:

  • General physical health – how do you feel?
  • How much have you exercised in the past two weeks? How did that feel?
  • How well or poorly are you sleeping?
  • How well or poorly are you eating and drinking?
  • How stressed are you? How would you describe your own mental health?
  • How many glasses of water have you drunk today? Drink one now.

Consider the answers to these questions in a broader work-life picture and look ahead to the next week or month. Are you facing an increased workloads due to project deadlines or timing (e.g., end of fiscal year, end of sales quarters, product delivery dates)?  Do you have greater than unusual demands at home (e.g., more appointments than usual, visitors or back-to-school nights)?  To the extent possible, try to balance “surge demands” at work and home to avoid conflicts.

Action Planning: Steps To Take This Week

  1. Post information about how to contact building services when there are problems that impact health – like broken lights, non-functional temperature systems or filter replacements.
  2. Drink a glass of water. Now, drink another one.
  3. Decide on one thing you will share with your team this week about your own health and fitness goals or activities.
  4. Post information about any organization wellness programs, like Employee Assistance Programs, fitness programs or on-site health and exercise resources.
  5. Take two walks on your own – and if you do not already have a routine (like walking around the building twice) – commit to one to develop a habit over time. Even a 10-minute walk can help you save 10-minutes later by helping you clear your head, regain energy and reprioritize.
  6. Take your team out for a group walk or try selected walking meetings where feasible.
  7. Start at least one meeting with a breathing session, where everyone present is invited to take 10 breaths in and out together. While it can feel a little awkward at first, most people admit that they enjoy and benefit from the process more than they expected.
  8. Honestly assess your own performance. If your performance is always stellar at the cost of your health, consider where you might take your “foot off the gas.” If your performance or health is suffering, consider what adjustments you can make.

As a leader, we are responsible for our own health, fitness and for coaching those around us.  How we manage ourselves sends signals to others – one glass of water and one walk at a time.