Easy wellness ideas for small companies

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When people think of a tech start-up, they often have visions of software engineers hunched over computers late at night, slurping energy drinks, their faces reflecting the bluish glow of a computer screen. Tech start-up A Thinking Ape, which employs just over 50 people, is looking to change that perception by encouraging a culture of health and wellness.

Read: 5 pillars of health and wellness for any size company

At their office in Vancouver, B.C., Sonia Ryan is working to ensure employees are at least introduced to healthy lifestyle options. Ryan's title on her business card is 'troublemaker.' As she describes it, her job involves various duties from talent acquisition and retention, to PR, to spearheading initiatives that help promote company culture.

"When I joined last year, one of my responsibilities was to implement a healthy food program, so we just started to experiment with initiatives around healthy eating," says Ryan.

Read: Poor eating habits increase risk of employee chronic disease

This included ordering in fresh, organic fruits and vegetables for the staff to munch on in the kitchen and implementing a healthy office lunch every Wednesday. The company also added physical activity to the mix, starting a hockey team and organizing a group that participates in boxing classes a few times a week.

Wanting more ideas and a plan, Ryan enlisted the help of WellnessFits, a program set up by the Canadian Cancer Society of British Columbia and Yukon, which offers employers free resources to help create active, healthy workplaces.

"I have a lot of great ideas, but it's great to partner with someone who can help execute my ideas and provide me with some ideas and educational materials," says Ryan.

That someone is Sue MacPhail, the WellnessFits coordinator who offered her consulting services to Ryan. One of MacPhail's suggestions was tailored to A Thinking Ape's employee demographics—software engineers who are mostly under 30 years old. She suggested having a chef come in to the office to teach the staff how to cook healthy meals. "It's taking healthy living even outside the work environment that translates into behaviour changes," says Ryan.

While it's too early into this program for Ryan to offer any hard data on the impact these changes have had at A Thinking Ape, she says that employees have been receptive. "People in the office are looking for ways to do something active,'" she says. To this end, it has encouraged workers to brainstorm other activities to engage in at work.

Read: Wellness programs help SMEs control costs, U.S. survey

"One of the pieces we're trying to get across and educate in our promotions of the program is that a healthy workforce really does help with lower absenteeism, higher employee morale and greater employee productivity. Ultimately that's a smart business strategy," says MacPhail.

Read: Wellness equals lower group insurance premiums

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