Health Tips for the Holidays and New Year in the Workplace

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Health Tips for the Holidays

The holidays can bring a lot of joy, but they can also bring lots of stress!  An already over-stressed workplace can be even more hectic, with employees taking time off to be with their families, increasing the workloads for those left holding down the fort.  


Here are some tips to help get your employees through the holidays with good health, good morale, and encourage them to look forward to working for you in the New Year. Remember the wellness policy at your workplace.


If the policy has guidelines on the types of food that should be shared at work for meetings or other functions, make sure these guidelines are enforced throughout the holidays, too.  The holidays are often a time where unhealthy food selections are at every workstation. Employees bring in their children's Halloween candy to get it out of their homes.


Gifts from other corporate partners arrive to show their appreciation for your relationship in the past year, but they do not include the wish for cardiovascular disease, an increased waistline, and type II diabetes!


Gifts that do not necessarily promote health do not have to be eliminated, but they can be stretched out for special occasions to avoid the entire workforce finishing them until they are gone in a matter of a few days. Put some in the freezer for later in the year, or have designated employees take them home to decrease excessive caloric intake at one time (save for a later staff meeting).  


Having excess high-fat and high-sugar foods for your workforce during an already stressful time does nothing positive for productivity.  Overeating leads to unhealthy, tired, unproductive employees.  Well-meaning gift givers often think more of something is better or shows more appreciation in our society, but if you have a small number of employees, that excess food will not show appreciation to their waistlines and cardiovascular disease risks.  


Perhaps baggies or other containers can be brought in so the employees may each take a small treat home to their families, clearing the food from the workplace.  The gifts could also be donated to a soup kitchen or other place that feeds a large number of needy individuals (of course, not to encourage unhealthy eating in the less fortunate population, but to provide some calories to those that do not have access to nutrition at all).  


This promotes a sense of giving among your workforce and does not promote unhealthy habits.  Food safety regulations must be adhered to. Food options for the holidays can be healthy.  Have a chef come in and prepare a healthy meal for your staff during their holiday party.  


If your workplace enjoys Chinese food, have someone come in and prepare a healthy stir-fry for everyone, allowing the employees to have a choice between beef, chicken, or shrimp in their stir-fry.  If they enjoy Italian food, have a chef prepare a salad with olive oils, whole grain pastas, and various selections of healthy, tasty sauces.  


If selecting a particular cultural theme for your meal, include some interesting facts or traditions that these countries participate in during their holidays.  If you have a very diverse workforce, take a vote and choose the top one or two to provide variety.


If your employees enjoy cooking and you have the facility for food preparation, organize a meal to be prepared by staff for staff.  Healthy food preparation guidelines may be found on websites, such as The American Dietetic Association (www.eatright.org), The American Heart Association (www.americanheart.org), and various other health-related websites.


Preparing meals together is another way to foster camaraderie, and preparing a healthy meal can give employees a sense of accomplishment, knowing they are responsible for keeping their workplace healthy. A unique party or presentation for your workforce may include presenters on fun types of exercise, stress management and other ice breaker activities.  


Presenters can be located at many of your community organizations and may present for free or at a minimal cost.  The Cooperative Extension Agency or Health Department may have staff members to do cooking demonstrations.  The local YMCA or park district may have presenters on different forms of exercise.  


Even local gym owners may be willing to do a demonstration as a form of advertising for them and entertainment for your employees.  If an exercise presentation is selected, perhaps it can be linked to a wellness initiative that your company has after the New Year.  


A four week exercise class to help with a weight loss incentive can be a positive thing for your employees.  Exercise and laughter release endorphins and improves morale among employees.  Happier and healthier employees make a much more productive workforce.  Festive holiday music can be included to make the activities special.


If your budget is tight and you have employees with particular talents that are willing to present at other holiday parties, this can be a way to give a thoughtful gift without breaking your budget.  For example, if you employ a personal trainer, motivational speaker, someone with musical talent or some other interesting subject area, see if they would be willing to do a presentation for a valued customer's workforce.  


If someone has a special talent or area of expertise, they are flattered when they are asked to present for others and share their talent or expertise (provided it is not in addition to their normal job responsibilities).  I attended a group presentation where an instructor showed us an efficient way to decorate a Christmas tree, which I found to be quite interesting.


It was not related to my career in any way, but I enjoyed the presentation.  Every company offers something that is valuable to someone.  Humor can be added to many topics to pep up presentations.  Of course, you will want to show some extra appreciation to that employee, such as an extra day off or some other incentive.


If you are responsible for gift-giving, keep the health of those that you are giving to in mind.  Edible gifts are popular, such as fruit displays, vegetable trays, and whole grain baked goods.  Passes to area gyms or health clubs may be attractive to health-conscious individuals.  


Gift cards can be purchased to produce markets, health food stores, sporting goods shops, spas, and various other places that encourage health. Provide gifts or incentives that lead into the company's goals for the next year.  Many companies have weight loss challenges in January to kick off the New Year.  


Purchase a large gift that multiple employees may benefit from.  If your organization does not have a microwave or other cooking facility, consider buying a piece of equipment that employees can use for cooking at work, rather than going to the nearest fast food restaurant every day for lunch.  


This will likely save your employees money and very likely improve the nutritional quality of their meals, keeping the workplace healthy.  If you have a television in your break room with a DVD player, purchase some exercise DVDs that the employees can check out and possibly do on their breaks or at lunch.  


This helps show the employer's commitment to the health of their employees.  Provide your workforce with pedometers so they may start a walking program and track their steps.  Comfortable office equipment to aid in back problems or soothing music in the break room to aid in stress management can show employees you care.


An overhaul of the vending machines or cafeteria area may be something your organization can look into for your employees in the upcoming year.  If your vending machine is loaded with chips and other junk food, check with the vending company to see what healthier options are available.


If your cafeteria only serves high-fat lunches, set a goal to offer at least one day where the employees can choose healthy options.  It does not have to mean extra work for the staff.  A baked potato or salad bar may be something different to try.  


Making fruit trays with yogurt or vegetable trays with low-fat dip, cheese, or deli meat could be easy for the staff to prepare, and healthier for employees. If you don't have the facilities for your employees to prepare their meals at work and they do eat out often, check out restaurants with healthy selections and see if they will provide your employees with a buddy card.


For example, some chains have cards where you get the 11th meal free, after you have purchased 10.  If your corporation is large enough, you may be able to contact some large chains and see if they will consider allowing you to purchase the healthy option from their restaurant for a set fee (i.e., x number of baked potato coupons from Wendy's for x number of dollars).


Health is a challenge in our fast-paced society with the availability of low-cost unhealthy food selections and busy lifestyles.  We cannot control what happens at our employees' homes with their nutrition and physical activity, but we can provide tools and incentives with little effort to make our workforces healthy and productive.  


Showing appreciation to your employees and concern about their health and wellness is a great gift that will provide your company with a positive return on its investment.

About the Author

Sherri Hoffman is a Private Practice Dietitian and Independent Health Coach with Take Shape for Life.  Her specialties include weight management, where she holds a certification in pediatric and adolescent weight management and has several years of experience in teaching weight loss classes.