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

 
 

Cheers Health has expanded its product line as it evolves as a wellness-focused brand. Photo courtesy of Cheers

Houston-based startup Cheers first got a wave of brand devotees after it was passed over by investors on Shark Tank in 2018. In the years since, Cheers secured an impressive investment, launched new products, and became a staple hangover cure for customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses, the company rose to the occasion and experienced its first profitable year as drinking and wellness habits changed across America.

Cheers initially started its company under the name Thrive+ with a hangover-friendly pill that promised to minimize the not-so-fun side effects that come after a night out. The capsules support the liver by replacing lost vitamins, reduce GABAa rebound and lower the alcohol-induced acetaldehyde toxicity levels in the body. The company's legacy product complemented social calendars and nights on the town, providing next day relief.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures, the days of pub crawls and social events were numbered. Cheers founder Brooks Powell saw the massive behavior change in people consuming alcohol, and leaned into his vision of becoming more than just a hangover cure but an "alcohol-related health company," he says.

When the pandemic first hit, Powell and his team noticed an immediate dip in sales — a relatable story for businesses in the grips of COVID-19.

"There is a three day period where we went from having the best month in company history to the worst month in company history, over a 72 hour stretch," he remarks.

He soon called an emergency board meeting and rattled off worst-case "doomsday" scenarios, he says.

"Thankfully, we never had to do any of these strategies because, ultimately, the team was able to rally around the new positioning for the brand which was far more focused on alcohol-related health," he says.

"We found that a lot less people were getting hangovers during 2020, because generally when you binge drink, you tend to binge drink with other people," he explains.

He noticed that health became an important focus for people, some who began to drink less due to the lack of social gatherings. On the contrary, some consumers began to drink more to fill the idle time.

According to a JAMA Network report, there was a 54 percent increase in national sales of alcohol for the week stay-at-home orders began last March, as compared to the year prior.

"All of a sudden, you have all of these people who probably aren't binge drinking but they're just frequently consuming alcohol. Their drinks per week are shooting up, and they're worried about liver health," explains Powell.

Outside of day-after support, Cheers leaned into its long-term health products to help drinkers consume alcohol in a healthier way. Cheers Restore, a dissolvable powder consumers can mix into their water, rehydrates the body by optimizing sodium and glucose molecules.

For continued support, Cheers Protect is a daily supplement designed to increase glutathione — an antioxidant that plays a key role in liver detoxification — and support overall liver health. Cheers Protect, which was launched in 2019, became a focus for the company as they pivoted its brand strategy and marketing to accommodate consumer behavior.

"The Cheers brand is just trying to reflect the mission statement, which is bringing people together through promoting fun, responsible and health-conscious alcohol consumption," says Powell. "It fits with our vision statement, which is a world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy and happy lifetime,."

At the close of 2020, Cheers had generated $10.4 million in revenue and over $1.7m in profit — its first profitable year since launch.

During the brand's mission to stay afloat during the pandemic, the Cheers team was also laying the groundwork for its entry into the retail space. When Powell launched the company during his junior year at Princeton University, bringing Cheers to brick-and-mortar stores had always been a goal. He envisioned liquor and grocery stores where Cheers was sold next to alcohol as a complementary item. "It's like getting sunscreen before going to the beach, they kind of go hand in hand," he says.

"When we spoke with retailers, specifically bars and liquor stores, what we learned is that a lot of these places were hesitant to put pills near alcohol," he says. Wanting an attractive and accessible mode of alcohol-support, the Cheers team created the Cheers Restore beverage.

Utilizing the technology Cheers developed with Princeton University researchers, the Cheers Restore beverage incorporates the benefits of the pill in a liquid, sugar-free form. The company states that its in-vivo study found that the drink is up to 19 times more bioavailable than pure dihydromyricetin (DHM), a Japanese raisin tree extract found in Cheers products and other hangover-related cures.

"What we figured out is that if you combine DHM — our main ingredient — with something called capric acid, which is an extract from coconut oil, the bioavailability shoots way up," says Powell. He notes the unique taste profile and the "creaminess" capric acid provides. "Now you have this lightly carbonated, zero-sugar, lemon sherbert, essentially liver support, hangover beverage that tastes great in 12 ounces and can mix with alcohol," he explains.

The Cheers Restore beverage is already hitting the Houston-area, where its found a home on menus at Present Company. The company has also run promotions with Houston hangouts like Memorial Trail Ice House, Drift, and The Powder Keg.

Currently, the beverage is only available in retail capacity and cannot be ordered on the Cheers website. As Powell focuses on expanding Cheers Restore beverage presence in the region, he welcomes the idea of expanding nationally in the future to come. While eager customers await the drink's national availability, they can actively invest in Cheers through the company's recently-launched online public offering.

Though repivoting a company and launching a new product is exciting, the process did not come without its caveats and stressors. While Cheers profited as a business in 2020, the staff and its founder weren't immune to the struggles of COVID-19.

"I think 2020 was the first year that it really became real for me that Cheers is far more than just some sort of alcohol-related health brand and its products," says Powell. "Cheers is really its employees and everything that goes into being a successful, durable company that people essentially bet their careers on and their family's well-being on and so forth," he continues.

"It really does weigh on you in a different way that it's never weighed on you before," says Powell, describing the stress of the pandemic. The experience was "enlightening," he says, and he wants others to know it's not embarrassing to need help.

"There is no lack of great leaders out there that at long periods of their life they needed help in some way," he says. "For me that was 2020 and being in the grinder and feeling the stress of the unknown and all of that, but it could happen to anyone," he continues.

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