Reinventing the workplace
Companies shifting toward team building, wellness initiatives

By Chris Bucher - Freeman Staff

August 19, 2016

Team Canada competes for the gold in the Chair Rowing competition, the culminating Office Olympics event held Tuesday at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans in Brookfield.
Submitted photo

WAUKESHA - Over 100 employees gathered under the summer sun, exerting their energy and showcasing endurance levels in search of a career-defining achievement Tuesday.

No, it wasn’t an outdoor competition to find the fastest typer or top seller. Instead, employees at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans in Brookfield worked together in teams of four to find which would walk away with the top crown at the inaugural Office Olympics.

“It was a great success,” said Julie Stich, research director for the IFEBP. “Everyone had a lot of fun, there was a lot of laughter and people doing silly things. Different people got together and competed, and competition is always a fun thing.

“It brings out the good in all of us.”

Teams compete in an event called wasketball using recycled paper and wastebaskets Tuesday at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans' Office Olympics in Brookfield.
Submitted photo

Five events were held during the Olympics, all of which - except one - centered around office activities.

There was “boxing,” where competitors donned boxing gloves and attempted to stack as many cardboard boxes as possible while trying to beat the clock. There was “sharpery,” where teams played an archery-like game using Sharpie markers. Then, there was “wasketball,” where teams crumpled paper and attempted to defy windy conditions and throw a paper ball into a nearby garbage can.

The final event of the day was a team-oriented event that resembled rowing. Employees used their office chairs to form a line while moving as fast as they could across the office parking lot. Each participating team was given a country to represent, and the winner of the overall medal count was Madagascar.

It’s team-building activities like the IFEBP’s that help build a healthy work environment and camaraderie throughout the entire staff, Stich said.

“We really wanted to get people out and interacting with each other,” she said. “We structured teams so that nobody from same department was on the same team. We did that to get them to know one another better while figuring out how to be a team.”

Different departments from companies such as Generac Power Systems have also made strides in improving the atmosphere in the workplace.

From outings at Milwaukee Brewers games to charitable giving with healthy activities - such as cancer walks or runs - businesses are encouraging employees to have positive interactions with each other both during the work day and outside it.

“Through a triad of healthy living education - live healthy, work healthy, be healthy - Generac places a large emphasis on dynamic wellness programs for all employees,” Generac Health and Wellness Manager Christine Reichardt said.

No matter the company, Stich said it’s vital to organize some kind of activity for employees to build relationships with one another. Not only does it make for a positive workplace, but it can also improve some personal traits in employees, she said. 

“Team building is critical for a successful organization,” Stich said. “In order for team morale to be high and to have honest communication, team building is critical - it’s not only good for the organization, but also for the employee and their overall well-being. If we get through challenges and difficulties together, that’s critical for a place and makes things a little bit less stressful.”

A recent, growing trend

While the turn toward team-building activities isn’t quite new to the business world, such a growth in wellness initiatives is fairly recent.

According to data provided by the IFEBP, of the 479 international companies surveyed in 2015, 55 percent now have budgets devoted exclusively to wellness and more than four in five offer some type of wellness program. Flu shot programs are offered by 71 percent of companies, while smoking-cessation programs accounted for 54 percent of respondents. Of the different wellness initiatives, competitions (42 percent) and health coaching (39 percent) were the two most popular.

“We’re seeing a holistic approach to wellness,” Stich said. “Employers aren’t just focusing on physical stuff, but instead the total employee well-being. There’s other components like mental health and social well-being.”

At Generac, employees are rewarded for fulfilling steps within their wellness journey. Each one is encouraged to achieve their active living goals through wellness exams, prevention activities and knowledge-based education.

Some of the most popular programs which Generac includes in its wellness initiative are things like TED Talks, where employees are offered thought-provoking lectures to encourage taking steps to improve overall mental and physical health.

Walking breaks

Its wellness initiative also includes walking trails. Each Generac location in Wisconsin has a one-mile walking trail and employees are encouraged to take breaks throughout the day for walking meetings to increase blood flow.

“We want to make an easy pathway for every employee to engage in a lifestyle that benefits their health and personal well-being,” Reichardt said. “We offer bite-sized pieces of education in programs that accompany the quest. We’ve seen firsthand that wellness creates a positive work environment and how it innately strengthens teamwork. Our goal at Generac is to create a multi-dimensional program that promotes good health and camaraderie.”

Above all, Stich said company initiatives that benefit both the employee and organization begin at the top.

“If leadership at the company isn’t buying in, they don’t work,” Stich said. “But if leadership believes in it and encourages others to get involved, then employees will see that and will believe it. That’s one of the reasons our program was successful; management bought into it.”

Five tips for team-building activities

Have an objective: It’s important to define the goals and what you’re trying to achieve when formulating a workplace activity.

Include everyone: A healthy workplace is typically one where nobody feels left out. It’s important to include all employees in activities while also pairing different departments — employees who don’t typically interact daily — with each other.

Competition is vital: Being competitive is key to a successful, worthwhile activity. Most people enjoy being competitive, especially when it’s with and against those they see each day at work.

Make the activity challenging: Don’t organize anything too easy to accomplish. Most activities should be properly challenging in order for teams to work together using problem solving and other traits to reach the goal.

Work parties are good, but not essential: Parties outside of the workplace help employees socialize, but providing a worthwhile, active event can go a long way toward building camaraderie and rapport.