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Building a Culture of Wellness Among a Virtual Team

CAVO blog


Dr. Carissa Smock

Arguably more important than the wellness benefits that an intuition or organization offers is the culture that empowers the employees to create, request, and use these benefits. Progress can be made in building this culture through educating employees with trainings and building awareness around the multidimensional value of wellness starting with how health is defined. According to the World Health Organization back in 1948, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. This means that while the traditional inclusions of physical activity, stress reduction, nutrition, well visits, and sleep are important, it is that social context or culture that is often missing. In addition to the need for a cultural shift, behavior change is hard, therefore it should not be surprising that compliance to wellness programs is poor.

Empower employees by building training and resources around the value of wellness

The value of wellness is far reaching and multidimensional. The National Wellness Institute identifies six dimensions of wellness: emotional, occupational, physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual (Figure 1). This means that all of these parts of our health need support to remain healthy at the organizational and individual employee levels - and that these levels connect. The more the value of wellness is communicated and upheld, the more likely employees will understand how priceless and encouraged investing in their own wellness is both for themselves and for their institution or organization.

Figure 1: National Wellness Institute’s six dimensions of wellness

Dimensions of Wellness

Let the data speak


Linking employees to wellness data through interactive platforms and interpreting this data for them enables employees to see the measurable difference wellness makes. At least just as many people register for wellness programs as drop out. Share Prochaska, DiClemente, and Norcross’s (1992) Transtheoretical model of behaviour change (Figure 2) with employees. Help them understand that behavior change is a process and not a single decision; that they will probably relapse in their progress. Help them understand that they are not alone but they can make changes. Help employees accept where they are right now and provide trainings on self compassion and grace as well.

Figure 2: Prochaska, DiClemente, and Norcross’s (1992) Transtheoretical model of behaviour change

Behavior Change

There are also the traditional biometrics (body composition, blood glucose, blood pressure etc.) to include in these platforms as well as risk reduction (focusing on reducing risk of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure over just weight loss) based on changes in biometric numbers. Validated instruments including self-report of behavior change including physical activity, stress reduction, nutrition, well visits, health related quality of life, and sleep should also be included and resulting risk reduction should be provided. The economic benefit of wellness should be communicated in trainings including reduced health care spend/utilization, reduced sick days, increased productivity, and morale.

Encourage flexibility for employees to create their own wellness routine

There is no one size fits all in that enables one person to adjust to their personal mental and physical well-being and reach their highest level of wellness and resulting productivity. In addition, the routine that enables wellness changes over time. Need for sleep, physical activity and nature breaks, nutrition, mental stimulation, and other stress reduction strategies need to be flexible around changes in childcare, health, or say; a pandemic. Identify barriers to wellness activities or productivity and work to break them down. Trainings and resources on meal prepping, planned snacks, exercise and nature breaks are shown to be helpful. Flexibility not only allows employees to engage in wellness activities and work when they are most productive, it is shown to reduces stress and help achieve better work-life balance.

Let employees get to know and be honest with themselves

Research shows that virtual employees can be more productive than office employees with 77% of virtual employees reporting greater productivity, 30% accomplishing more in less time, and 24% accomplishing more in the same amount of time compared to working in an office setting. There is some evidence that those who are successful at working virtually can apply this discipline to being successful in wellness activities. This ability to work virtually is shown to include a high level of autonomy in conjunction with a high level of emotional stability. Some employees may struggle with loneliness, and in fact, not having traditional, in person interactions causes some employees to cite loneliness as the biggest struggle of working virtually. Opportunities to connect with colleagues both internally and externally whether through synchronous video conferencing, messages, or calls or through asynchronous photo and experience sharing is important.

Communicate in both directions

Get to know your employees langue for appreciation and help them be self-aware of what really translates with them. Virtual employees report feeling pressure to work more because their bosses do not see them working each day. Ernest Hemingway’s advice is helpful here: “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” So communicate trust to your employees to give employees confidence, calm them down, and build psychological safety. Additionally guidelines from the Office of Human Resources Management offer a helpful outline of details to clearly communicate and includes recommendations for mangers as well.

Wellness = Balance = Job Satisfaction = Productivity

While improving work-life balance in many ways, virtual work can also can make it difficult to unplug and blur the line between personal time and work time. In fact, almost 40%  report often working longer hours compared to 24% of office employees. To create a virtual culture of wellness it is important to address this through frequent communication and trainings about how to unplug and transition out of work mode. It is shown to be helpful to finalize a calendar and tasks for the next day, plan for the most challenging task first thing, and then change their physical setting. This may mean exercising or a loop around the block but it definitely means leaving screens behind.