The benefits of nature-based employee wellness programs by Dr. Cristina Allen

Integrating employee wellness programs with nature-based activities has been proven to reduce stress, enhance moods, and increase psychological well-being. You can incorporate nature into your workplace by expanding office plants, encouraging outdoor meetings, and organizing nature walks and retreats. Employers who invest in employee wellness programs reap numerous benefits beyond improving the health of individual employees. By fostering a culture that values health, employers contribute to the overall success of their organizations by improving morale and reducing stress.

Stress causes inflammation, one of the most notable contributors to diseases such as arthritis, allergies, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (shortness of breath), cardiovascular disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, eczema, and psoriasis. Signs of acute inflammation include redness, swelling, heat, pain, and loss of function e.g., stiff joints.

Employers can introduce access to voluntary, confidential testing for employees through tools that can be used to measure inflammation including blood work of biomarkers such as C-reactive protein (CRP), and functional diagnostic testing such as food sensitivities, microbiome, and organic acids testing. Environmental testing may also be implemented to determine the health of the building including the identification of mold. These tests will help your employees determine contributors and causes of inflammation.

By recognizing symptoms of inflammation, and determining the cause, individuals can remove, treat, and/or optimize the body’s ability to cope with it. Not only will this improve symptoms, making for a happier, more productive workforce, but it also reduces the risk of chronic disease for your employees, which in addition to causing pain to them and their families, leads to high rates of absenteeism and loss of productivity in the affected employee’s team.

Employers can play a vital role in helping their employees incorporate nature-based solutions into their lifestyle to manage and prevent chronic inflammation by providing access to the following lifestyle improvements.

Healthy snacks: Employers can provide access to anti-inflammatory snacks such as organic fruits, nuts, and seeds. Catering selections should focus on anti-inflammatory meals made with whole foods with a focus on vegetables and proteins, which can include omega-3 fatty acids.

Green spaces: Employers can create a small garden or green area for employees to relax during breaks or conduct meetings. These spaces can be on the roof of urban buildings. If space is a challenge, simply adding more plants around the office can reduce stress.

Physical activity: Employers can engage in insurance supported physical activity programs, subsidize gym memberships, or organize team activities around sports, walks, or yoga.

Flexible schedules: Flexibility doesn’t necessarily mean increasing work from home days but can simply accommodate different working hours to suit employees’ individual productivity schedules. Accommodating late start times so employees can start their day with sunlight, or longer lunches for workout classes are examples.

Stress management programs: Mindfulness, relaxation, and ergonomics techniques need to be taught. Employers can facilitate sessions on meditation, tai chi, or silent walks, and informational sessions to help educate employees to recognize the impacts of stress on their mental health and bodies.

By integrating one or more of these initiatives, employers can help create a workplace culture that values and actively promotes health and well-being. This support not only helps employees manage chronic inflammation but also contributes to a more vibrant, productive, and collegial workforce who can recapture many of the benefits of in-person collaboration in an office.

See my Earth Month Insights at the Global Climate Finance Accelerator to learn more about lifestyle changes you can make on your own to protect your health in a changing climate.

Dr. Cristina Allen is a Naturopathic Doctor with over a decade of experience, owner of lifestyle medicine brand FIELD GUIDE, and co-founding partner of creative consultancy Home Planet. She provides workshops and speaks on the impacts of climate change on health, permaculture, seasonal and healthful eating, and foraging wild spaces in North America.