National employee wellness month

4 cost-effective ways Houston startups can champion employee health and wellness

Here are some ways to encourage health and wellness in the workplace without breaking the bank. Tom Merton/Getty Images

Apple and healthcare provider Aetna announced earlier this year the two industry giants are collaborating on a new app, Attain. The wellness app, available both for the iPhone and Apple Watch, rewards users who achieve certain health-focused goals such as getting more sleep, meditating, or even receiving their annual flu shot.

Today, companies are increasingly leveraging similar health and wellness goals and reward programs, if not this very initiative. In fact, the United States' workplace wellness industry is valued at nearly $8 billion.

This hefty price tag encompasses massive corporate health and wellness programs such as that of Google, which offers its employees benefits such as massage services, physical therapy, onsite health care, community bikes and even guitar lessons to promote mental health. However, for most companies, building an onsite health care facility or having your own personal masseuse at the ready to release the knots in your neck and back is a bit out of the price range, we'd say.

For those companies, including startups operating on a tight budget, most just want employees to experience less work-related stress and live happier, healthier lives. In honor of National Employee Wellness Month this June, here's how startups can implement budget-friendly health and wellness programs into their companies.

1. Utilize tech in wellness challenges

Fancy equipment is not necessary for an effective corporate health and wellness program. Instead, try offering employees Fitbits, a budget-friendly option, as part of their benefits package, which they can then use to track their daily activity. To leverage the Fitbits to create intraoffice challenges, offer employees incentives for health goals such as the most activity or the most seven-hour nights of sleep each month.

My company that I coach for, Orangetheory Fitness, also features its own brand of wearables, the OTbeat, which tracks workout activity such as calories burned, steps, distance and splat points (Orangetheory lingo for when you achieve excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). I see friends, coworkers and even complete strangers compare splat points — something employees could also use as a friendly form of competition.

2. Hand out workout passes that give employees an hour off work to exercise

This is the real-life version of Monopoly's "Get Out of Jail Free" card. One of the major reasons I see people fall out of touch with Orangetheory is because they don't have enough time to work out. An extra hour or two out of the workday could be all it takes to motivate your employees to get active.

In fact, most gyms and fitness classes offer corporate discounts to employers. I'm seeing more and more companies sign up for a corporate membership, especially since health and wellness in the workplace is becoming much more important.

3. Host group health and wellness events

Another initiative idea that's cut from the same competition cloth: Cooking contents. Host a lunch where staffers bring their favorite healthy recipe. Then, have employees vote on the most delicious option.

You can also implement health and wellness in other company events such as employee 5Ks and team-building exercises such as weekly team outings to a local fitness class. These would be ideal opportunities to dole out those workout or lunch passes.

4. Try "deskercising"

Like most successful companies, it takes a lot of sweat, blood, tears — and often countless hours at a desk — to see the fruits of your hard-earned labor. Today, a sedentary or inactive lifestyle, which most likely consists of sitting at a desk with little to no physical activity, has been linked to a number of chronic diseases, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, as well as increased feelings of depression and anxiety.

While deskercising (i.e. the combination of sitting at your desk and exercising) doesn't quite measure up to a full-on workout, it has similar effects, including improved health, physical and mental. Squats, chair dips, shoulder raises and even frequent walks or breaks from the desk can have a significant impact on employees' health and work productivity.

Whether you implement one or all these programs, it's important to remember companies — whether they're a small startup of five or an established corporation of many — can implement health and wellness initiatives.

It's not the program or the money invested that makes corporate health and wellness initiatives effective. At the end of the day, the efficacy of any health program comes down to the company its willingness to prioritize the holistic health and wellness of its employees.

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Charlotte Morales is Orangetheory Fitness's San Felipe head coach.

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Building Houston

 
 

Houston-based Sportlo is shooting for a one-stop-shop platform for sporting programs in Houston. Cade Martin/Getty Images

In virtually no time at all, Sportlo has built its reputation on the simplest of foundations: community.

Thilo Borgmann and Sebastian Henke founded the local hub for sports parents earlier this year as a tool for sports moms and dads to stay connected with local leagues, sports clubs, coaches, and other parents with children involved in youth sports in the greater Houston area.

"We make it easy for sports parents to keep up with what's happening in their local youth sports community," says Henke. "With our platform, they can discover tryouts, camps, and sports clubs. They can also join and create groups, find private coaches for their kids, and more."

Borgmann and Henke are both former NCAA Division 1 soccer players who starred while they were student athletes at Houston Baptist University, then went on to become well-known private coaches.

The sports-loving duo saw a dearth of useful information for sports parents on popular social media sites, so they created the platform to give users a central place to communicate with each other, join and create groups, discover tryouts and camps for their children and find private coaches across the city to help their young athletes reach their goals.

"We were both involved in sports for most of our lives and then got into private coaching," says Henke. "Overall, what we saw was that there is an entire ecosystem of youth sports and it was very much unorganized."

Henke says sports clubs weren't able to reach potential members and their parents. He says they envisioned a one-stop-shop approach to the sports ecosystem.

"So, Sportlo is focused on sports parents, but within the community, we try to connect persons with coaches, with clubs, with colleges and so on," Henke says. "That's the vision behind it, so people will have a place to have a community, to get advice and tips and then they will have access to certain services and information."

The plan for Sportlo has already evolved in its short life. Originally the platform was going to support just private coaching.

"After we got more feedback from parents and first users, we started to adapt the product and rebuilt the product," Henke says. "Based on the surveys we collected online, parents wanted us to find ways how to connect them with each other, so that's why we started building it as a new page and that's how we realized where it needed to go."

The biggest lesson in listening to their users was understanding that any initial vision to help a community must also be focused on or include what's intrinsically valuable to the users.

"Too often, people get focused on their own ideas and forget that feedback offers surprising moments," says Henke. "Users gave us a whole new path, which kept us from going in the direction where users wouldn't want the product to go."

Feedback from users is key, Henke says, and he recommends startup founders prioritize user experience and constructive criticism.

"All of the ideas that we had in our head, at some point we had to stop and reevaluate them and then focus on the most important thing first and then go from there," he says.

Still, the launch of Sportlo was not without its own unique challenges. Its March go-live date coincided in point of time with the spread of COVID-19, which ultimately turned into a worldwide pandemic.

"We haven't had to make any major changes," says Henke. "But groups on the platform have focused on that topic because there are no sports happening at the moment and they are eager to get them back. But other than that, it's not something we've had to focus on. But for parents, they've focused on related topics, like how to keep their kids busy at home doing exercises, things like that, or when discussing when their kids' clubs are starting back up and how to keep kids safe."

In addition to forming groups and sharing a variety of sports-related topics, parents can post pictures and videos of their child's latest tournament or game, get access to useful articles shared by fellow parents and find recommended sports products for themselves or their child.

"The main reason we added that social component was because we wanted to have a user timeline so when they log in, all the users can see something sports related," says Borgmann. "There's so much noise, with politics and posts that are only about the coronavirus and all that, so we wanted to focus on sports and have parents be able to show how their kid is doing, see other kids in action and support each other with a focus on sports without seeing all the other distractions that might be on other platforms."

For now, Sportlo is focused solely on keeping Houston informed, but it will look to expand to other cities and states when the time comes.

"We are focused right now only on Houston, because we know Houston and Texas and we've experienced different levels of sports in this area, so we want to stay local," says Henke. "Then, the next step is we intend to take it to other cities within Texas. And at some point, our vision is to have the entire youth ecosystem of the United States."

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