How to Change Your Office -- and Your Life -- for the Better

Gone are the days when annual health fairs for blood pressure checkups were enough. Today's definition of wellness encompasses body, mind and emotions, and companies are beginning to notice.
01/27/2016 10:53 am ET Updated Jan 27, 2017
informal team meeting
informal team meeting

With practices like yoga and meditation in the spotlight for helping people find mind-body wellness, the corporate definition of "wellness" is shifting. Gone are the days when annual health fairs for blood pressure checkups were enough. Today's definition of wellness encompasses body, mind and emotions, and companies are beginning to notice.

It makes sense that wellness expectations are changing. Many tech companies and startups promise fun benefits like in-office yoga and meditation. In more traditional workplaces, making such changes in programs can present a real challenge. Creating a budget in an office that isn't familiar with this expense can be difficult to initiate. How can someone build a successful, sustainable office wellness program?

No matter the space or budget of your office, it is possible to start your own program. As the founder of an office yoga company, I've been lucky to meet inspiring people who have helped to make wellness work in their offices. Below, you will find useful advice from real people who have helped create wellness scenarios that work in their work lives!

Start Small

The first step is realizing a wellness program is possible. Talk about ideas with colleagues, and figure out whether there is a budget for the activities you want at work. Tom Trocola-Barone, the Office Manager at KIND headquarters in New York, shared how wellness programs created by team members outside of HR are very well received. A cross-functional "Fun Committee" brings together representatives from each department to brainstorm unique activities structured around KIND's motto: "Do the kind thing for your body, taste buds and world." They have dedicated multi-purpose spaces at their office to make space for group activities like yoga, and team members enthusiastically participate.

No budget? No problem. Is there someone at work that has some kind of fitness training experience? At Hinge's New York City office, CEO Justin McLeod teaches a monthly yoga class, and has found it is a great way to build community among the team. At many offices, a colleague with a passion for fitness is a huge asset to a blossoming wellness program. Although it is recommended to work with a certified fitness professional, there may be someone in your office willing to lead group runs before or after work. What about a sports club? John Cline, Engineering Lead of the Homepage Team at eBay shared how New York's office has a weekly morning pickup soccer game at a park near the office. Activities like these are easy to organize, and you won't need to ask for a budget.

Make Wellness Social

Diageo, a multinational alcoholic beverages company, is setting an example for bringing wellness to a social workplace in their New York City office. The company has always encouraged employees and consumers alike to live well and celebrate responsibly. Culture & Partnerships Manager Alisa Jacobs took wellness offerings to the next level in 2015 by spearheading their Fitspo workplace wellness club, which offers an inclusive social atmosphere that people at the office love.

She described a renewed commitment to increasing educational resources and access to industry innovators and experts for in-office and offsite fitness programs. "As former athletes and closet health nuts, like-minded colleagues partnered with me to create the community and culture we desperately desired."

The most important part of making a wellness program sustainable for the long term is participation. The Fitspo club appeals to a wide variety of people by offering office yoga and meditation, group fitness classes, health and wellness demonstrations, and informational seminars. In addition to the wellness club, Diageo has company-wide fitness challenges and sports leagues.

Ask for Healthier Options

Many companies offer treats like coffee, soda, and snacks at the office. With a place already in the budget for treats, it is easy to start your wellness initiative by asking for healthier foods at work. Seltzer is an easy substitute for soda, and fruit can help overcome cravings for candy. Often, starting a conversation about healthy food options can be the first step in starting an effective and sustainable wellness program at work.

At Pivotal Labs' New York office, mornings begin with breakfast at 9am. There are bowls of fresh fruit at every table in the staff eating area, and plenty of healthy options. This is incentive for people to gather, share a meal, and get organized before the work day begins. In addition to healthy snacks, the company offers weekly yoga, and regular ping pong tournaments.

Create a Space for Fun

It is no longer rare to see a ping pong table in an office. Commonly found in startups, game rooms have been popping up in more traditional workplaces, as well. These fun rooms are great spaces for wellness activities like yoga, pilates, and other group fitness classes. My company teaches yoga at a large insurance company in New York City where there is a room dedicated to taking a break, complete with game tables, a big tv, and a comfy couch. Folding up the ping pong table makes the perfect amount of space for some lunch time yoga. In fact, many office fitness classes take place in multi-use spaces like game rooms or sitting areas.

But don't be discouraged if your office doesn't have a dedicated fun space. There are many ways to transform unconventional spaces at the office for wellness purposes. At many offices, just moving a table and chairs turns the conference room into a private space where employees can unwind from the week with yoga or meditation. This is exactly what happens at Alex and Ani's New York office, where the marketing team takes advantage of this space for a lunchtime yoga break.

Make It Authentic

At eBay, Cline makes a point to encourage his team to take advantage of weekly massage, yoga, and other social activities, like monthly game nights. "Having benefits at work that help people take care of themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally will pay huge dividends." He emphasizes the importance of taking into account what your team actually wants or needs.

Make wellness offerings approachable for office staff. From starting Fitspo at Diageo, Jacobs discovered that the best programs are customized to the needs of the corporate population, because there is an authentic, organic element that invites discovery and participation. The best way to find out what people at the office would want to participate in? Just ask!

Send out a survey to your office mates. Doodle is an easy scheduling tool that can help you track people's preferences. Gather evidence to show to HR why the wellness program of your choice is worth investing in.

Keep People Coming

Reminders are key. At my office yoga company, we encourage clients to hang posters or flyers in plain view so that staff are regularly reminded of when sessions take place. A shared Google Calendar is another easy way to keep everyone in the loop about the wellness schedule. Don't be discouraged if your wellness activity has lower than expected participation in the beginning. As it becomes a more regular part of company culture, people will make wellness part of their normal routine.

Most importantly, keep a commitment to yourself to bring wellness into your work life. Often, simple changes can do wonders for your mind, body, and emotions. Learn easy ways to do yoga in your office. Take just a few minutes a day to connect with your mind and body, through meditation, or maybe just a break from your desk for a drink of water. Find what works for you. Maybe you will be the one to spearhead a wellness movement in your office!

This post is part of an editorial series produced by The Huffington Post as part of our monthlong "Work Well" initiative, which focuses on thriving in the workplace. The goal of the series -- which will feature blogs, reported features, videos, and more -- is to present creative solutions you can use to take care of yourself as you take care of business. The effort is also part of The Huffington Post's "What's Working" solutions-oriented journalism initiative. To see all the content in the "Work Well" series, visit here.