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Healthier Holidays: Thinking Outside of the Gift Box

As early autumn rolls into mid-November and the year's end is looming, employers should seize the opportunity to promote a valuable resource for their employee population.

An employee health and wellbeing program can be a great tool that offers assistance at a very demanding time. As daylight dwindles, it’s tough to squeeze in outdoor activity, stress multiplies with each holiday task, and finally, we enter “the Eating Season”—the 6-8 weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, where the average American gains between 1-7 pounds.

The sum of each of these factors is a population eating less healthy foods, getting less activity, and coping with emotional and financial stressors. What can you do as an employer?

Use your employee wellness program as the perfect vehicle to manage stress and provide healthy solutions that will help your population (and your company) ring in a truly happy and healthier New Year.

Getting Started:

Form A Holiday Home Stretch Committee

This can be made up of your existing Wellness Committee or a few employees from your HR team–anyone who embodies a “wellness champion” and would like to promote healthier holidays. Develop a few simple initiatives (remember, we don’t want to add stress by having too many initiatives) that tackle one or two topics or stressors. The possibilities are endless!

Four Initiatives and Challenges to Try:

  1. Healthy Traditions Competition

    Promote diversity and encourage employees to have a potluck recipe exchange, where family holiday favorites are made healthier by swapping out ingredients. This is a great opportunity for employees to share religious or ethnic specialties which promotes understanding and appreciation of other cultures. Departmental challenges work well here!

  2. Fitness Events

    It can be tough to get outdoors once daylight fades, so encouraging active stress breaks during the day is important. Employees who sit all day can develop cardiovascular risk factors similar to that of tobacco users, according to recent research. The following are three ideas to help combat this issue:

    • Go Indoors: Paint a walking path line (marked by seasonal icons like snowflakes) through warehouses or up staircases. Promote with posters and flyers or on your company intranet and newsletter. Challenge participants to check off 10 minute intervals on a log sheet to be submitted for a holiday raffle. Encourage walking meetings through the holidays.
    • Encourage the “Return of “Recess”: Remind employees that they can walk to restaurants for lunch or walk10 minutes around the parking lot before sitting down to lunch. Try a “Countdown to Fitness”- encourage step counts of greater than 10,000 steps per day for a period of time leading up to the New Year. Hold a “Turkey Trot” at your location to promote unity and comradery. Teams can also be formed with a canned good as the entry “fee” for donations to a local charity.
    • Offer a Holiday Flex Schedule: This allows for increased time to exercise at lunch or flexible shifts of workers so that employees can sneak in fitness breaks.
  3. Nutritional Knowledge is Power

    Holiday meals and snacks are delicious reminders of traditions and are meant to be enjoyed, but many can come with a high nutritional cost and sabotage the best intentions. When these foods make their way to the office, in addition to gatherings and parties, employees can struggle to resist! All of the unhealthy food and drink can leave your employees lethargic and unproductive. They may also feel discouraged for letting their healthy habits go by the wayside. Setting company guidelines early will help your employees navigate the season joyfully and mindfully.

    • Create a Holiday Cheat Sheet: This is an informational flier to arm employees with knowledge to make smarter choices. The flier encourages employees to try smaller “sample” portions, and educates them about the nutritional content of some popular dishes.
    • Encourage vendors to donate healthy, nutritious food to a food bank or charity on your behalf instead of holiday “treat trays”: Ask employees to refrain from bringing in “extras” (usually the leftovers that no one wants at home) that will derail their healthy eating efforts.
  4. The Joy Brigade

    Sharing simple concepts such as “Give Back”, “Feel Joy”, or “Mindful Moments” in company communications and postings can remind employees of the goodness of this season. Research tells us that by sharing good news, participating in charity events, and “paying it forward”,individuals report feeling less stress, less depression and fewer negative feelings toward others. Here are some ways of sharing positive news:

    • Join Forces: Create a Joy Brigade, a group of volunteers who donate a few hours of time during the holidays to a local charity.
    • Encourage use of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or local mental health agency during the holidays: This time of year can be especially tough for employees who are alone or suffering from mental illness. Promote and encourage resources that are available to those in need.

As employers, we can seize the holiday season as an opportunity to impact employee health behaviors that may last long after New Year’s Day! For additional programming and resource ideas, check out, or or contact your OneDigital Health and Benefits representative.


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