Welcome to Benefits on the Fringe, a column from writer Jason McDowell. Every month, McDowell covers the most unique benefits that today’s employers are using to woo talent, as well as advances and innovations in the employee benefits realm.

Oh no. The dreaded four-o’clock meeting. Your employees have worked hard all day interacting with clients, implementing ideas, and responding to countless phone calls and emails. It’s only ten minutes into the meeting and you’re already losing them. Someone is nodding off in the corner. At least two more aren’t hearing a word you’re saying. Everyone at the table is watching the second hand on the clock tick by.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Bringing wellness initiatives into your meetings can help employees feel more alert, feel healthier, and focus through the end of the work day.

“We know from research presented in The Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) Wellness in Meetings and Incentive Travel Study that the most commonly implemented food and beverage practices are water and reduced calorie drinks, healthy snacks, lean meats, and offering gluten free alternatives, with [more than] 70 percent of planners using these as standard or when they feel that circumstances allow,” says Melissa Van Dyke, president of the Incentive Research Foundation. “As far as healthy meeting design, smoke-free hotels, free access to on-property gyms, and frequent breaks to encourage movement are top of the list. It’s not surprising that most of these – except for gluten-free and access to gyms – happen to be the most budget-friendly items as well. At the bottom of the list are gamification – such as fitness trackers, like Fitbit –and nutrition guides for attendees, both of which currently take extra time and/or dollar resources to implement.”

At many companies, meetings tend to interrupt usual daily activities. This interruption can adversely affect employee wellness initiatives.

“Organizations today are spending millions of dollars on wellness programs to help their employees develop healthy habits,” Van Dyke says. “One of the biggest triggers for individuals to go off the great progress they have made in developing these healthy habits is to break their day-to-day routine and attend a meeting.”

Getting a Meeting Wellness Program Started

For anyone looking to bring healthy choices into the conference room, getting started may be easier than you think.

“The first step is to gain a solid understanding of the wellness goals for the organization,” Van Dyke says. “Once those are in place, schedule a discussion with the wellness representative in your organization to see where there are synergies. For example, if the organization is already running a fitness tracker program, holding a step-count contest during the meeting is a natural extension.”

Additionally, a wellness program for meetings doesn’t have to break the bank.

“For budgetary concerns, there are a number of options in the research that show healthy options cost little or no additional money,” says Van Dyke. “For example, more than two-thirds of planners said lean meats, low-calorie drinks, reduced plate sizes, smoke-free facilities, casual dress to encourage activity, and frequent breaks to encourage movement could be offered at no additional cost.”

Worried your employees won’t go for it? Start slow and be subtle.

“Sometimes, it’s easy to offer ‘sneaky wellness,’” Van Dyke says. “By doing simple things – like offering frozen yogurt instead of ice cream, mocktail options as well as cocktail options, and facilitated stretch breaks during the meeting – wellness can be gradually incorporated into the overall meeting structure.”

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