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How to Create a Work-at-Home Health and Wellness Program

Office workers aren’t the only ones with perks

Employers want their employees to be safe and healthy. Wellness strategies also add to productivity and boosts company profitability. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that productivity losses linked to absenteeism cost employers $225.8 billion annually in the U.S., or $1,685 per employee.

Being in good health is key to avoid illnesses like COVID-19, or be able to successfully manage the disease if you should get it.

Much of the country’s workforce had been working from home during COVID-19, and the trend is expected to continue for many workers once we are past the pandemic. There has been more investment in telecommuting technology, businesses are seeing potential financial benefits of not having on-site staff, and many appreciate working from home. Companies must consider how to encourage wellness for their telecommuting staff.

For large companies, it may mean adapting current programs to fit the needs of teleworkers. For smaller organizations, a little DIY program creation, combined with online resources, may fill essential needs.

Here are some suggestions on how companies can create a wellness plan for telecommuters.

Physical Wellness
Physical wellness encompasses a variety of healthy behaviors, not just exercise. For the physical body to be healthy, we also need to get enough rest, eat a variety of healthy foods, abstain from smoking and overindulging in snacks and alcohol. It is especially important now to learn to recognize signs of illness and take action.

Here are some physical wellness suggestions to add to your plan.

Exercise. During COVID-19, employees may have become less active as a result of gym and park closures and other social restrictions. However, exercise is more important now than ever.

Fitness guru Stephanie Mansour suggests starting with a few stretches or yoga poses. “Simple stretches that open up your chest, hips, and lungs are amazing for improving circulation and even for detoxing the body,” Mansour said. “Instead of stagnant energy, you’re getting things moving first thing.” From there, you can move on to a short workout.

While you can find a plethora of free workout videos on YouTube, here are some ideas to get you started:

Man cooking a healthy meal at home

Add to your plan:

+ Stretching: This very short series of stretches will get your body ready for exercise.
+ This 20-minute workout on YouTube is suitable for beginners and nearly all fitness levels. It has a timer so you can see your progress and know when the trainer is going to change to the next exercise.
+ A great afternoon break is to do the quick stretches, then walk or run in place.
+ For an easy cardio workout, try these dance moves, which also has a timer.

All of the above exercises can be done without any equipment.

Nutrition. The “Covid 15” refers to the weight many of us have gained while working at home. Healthy eating is just as important as exercise to get that pandemic pudge under control.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a well-balanced diet and plenty of hydration to maintain a strong immune system and lower the risk of chronic illnesses and infectious diseases. This means fresh, unprocessed foods and water. Avoid sugar, fat and salt.

Fad diets come and go, but there is one easy to follow nutrition plan recommended by Mayo Clinic and other top medical facilities. It’s called the Mediterranean Diet, which is associated with reduced risk factors for cardiovascular disease and cancer. The plan also shows promise in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s. WHO endorses it as a sustainable, healthy diet. You can learn the basics of the diet plan here.

Add to your plan:

+ In addition to adding notes on why the Mediterranean Diet Plan may work well for most employees, you can include this Sample 7-Day Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan from “Eating Well”.

Other physical wellness resources to add to your plan:

+ Help quitting smoking
+ Improve your sleep habits
+ Limiting alcohol during COVID-19

Emotional Health
Emotional health is the ability to control our emotions, express our feelings and deal with stress and anger. More people are feeling the emotional toll as COVID-19 wears on across the U.S. It is important for employees to have resources to know how to deal with difficult circumstances now and ongoing.

Facilitate a supportive company culture. Host a companywide webinar meeting, if you haven’t done so already, to address how the ongoing pandemic can impact mental health. A mental health professional or your health care provider may provide some resources for your team that you can include in your plan.

In response to COVID-19, state agencies in Minnesota have developed and shared resources to support mental well-being for children and adults. Some of the current resources include:

+ Supporting Mental Promotion during COVID-19
+ Mental and Behavioral Health Resources During COVID19
+ Supporting people who have disabilities during COVID-19

In addition, this Minnesota Mental Health Support page has a wealth of national and state information.

As a manager or owner, try to stay positive and optimistic. Your positive attitude helps create a healthy work environment. Don’t forget self-care for yourself or managers—everyone needs mental health resources.

Here are some other things you can include.

Add to your plan:

+ Create a virtual open-door policy. Employees should know who they can reach out to in the company if they are feeling overly stressed at work. Managers, HR, or the owner in a small company should do some self-training to recognize the signs of mental distress, and know what resources are available so the employee can get help. Include a personal check-in with employees at least once a week, or encourage managers to do so if your company is larger.
+ Include this article on stress management tips.
+ Include this article on coping with stress related procrastination to help employees that may be feeling a lack of motivation for their work.
+ Make sure employees know where they can get immediate help in a crisis.

+ Call 911
+ Add your company health care plan mental health contact information
+ National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish, or Lifeline Crisis Chat
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522
+ Veteran’s Crisis Line: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Crisis Chat or text: 8388255
+ Treatment Services Locator 

Social Wellness
Social wellness is our connectivity to others and the role we play. For those new to telecommuting this year, leaving a brick-and-mortar workplace can be disorienting. We’ve all had to learn new communication tools and have suffered from fractured support networks, being physically separated from co-workers.

Even as businesses reopen and some employees head back to the office, recognize individual contributions, make personal connections and encourage involvement to build a sense of belonging.

Add to your plan

+ Recognition and service anniversary. At a global company, our work team would “meet” two remote employees at the start of each monthly meeting. In just a few minutes, we would learn about where they were from, their family, pets, hobbies and the job they did at the company. Service anniversaries, retirement and other company milestones were recognized. These actions helped underline the organization’s culture and values, that we were people first, and amazing employees second. Humanize your remote work staff and recognize those achievements and life events that make your organization thrive.
+ Social Interaction. Provide employees a place where they can connect socially and express themselves. This can be as simple as a private Facebook group or channel on Slack to share ideas. Here’s the hard part—don’t monitor the group. You can assign a moderator from among the employees, but otherwise let the group have the freedom to communicate and brainstorm without big brother listening in.
+ Praise. Each team member has value, even if you have to reach a little deeper sometimes to find it. Try and share the love equally, and come up with authentic praise consistently. Communicate each employee’s impact and value to the organization.
+ Rewards. Create positive project experiences to keep your people connected, and reward them for their achievements. Dr. Craig Knight from advises giving employees what they want—ask them for ideas for meaningful rewards in the future. The top requested reward at my husband’s company was an extra personal day off. His engineering team worked diligently for that reward, and were excited their idea was adopted by the company. They felt listened to.

Final Notes
Make sure to advise employees to check with their doctor before starting any diet or exercise program.

None of these ideas, or what you might create in a wellness guide for telecommuting staff, should be a mandate. The plan is a resource. You might also consider sharing your plan with furloughed staff. Keep in mind the prime objective of happier, healthier employees, and you will be rewarded with greater involvement, productivity and less absenteeism.

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