9 Wellness Questions You Never Thought to Ask HR

When most people think of human resources, they likely think of things like training and orientation, payroll, benefits and perhaps the occasional employee complaint. But you might be surprised to learn that HR can also help you achieve your health and wellness goals.

 "In many cases, employees are intimidated by HR because they are a dual advocate for both the employee and the company—but an HR department should be constantly working toward improving the quality of work life for employees," says Nina LaRosa, Marketing Director of Moxie Media, a workplace safety, health, and HR online training company. "The HR field has been moving more toward wellness programs that are useful both at work and at home."

Whether you’re starting a new job or you’ve been in your position for years, running some of these questions by your company’s HR representative could help you boost your health and productivity while achieving a better work/life balance.

1. Does our company offer any kind of reimbursement for gym memberships, classes or wellness seminars?

With the growing focus on employee wellness, many companies offer reimbursement for gym memberships, which can reduce employees’ healthcare costs. In addition to covering fitness fees, some businesses also allow employees to attend wellness events or seminars, and may even cover the costs of attending, says Summer Tissue, human resources administrator for Spark360.

2. Does my benefits package include an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)?

In the U.S., most larger employers offer EAP services, notes Sam Crowe, Ph.D. at Evalia Consulting. "These services allow you to contact a professional counselor when under duress or stress to get support for a wide range of topics, such as workplace conflict, mental health, care-giving stress, grief assistance, and legal and financial issues," notes Crowe.

3. Does our company offer any programs related to smoking cessation?

Quitting smoking is one of the best things employees can do for their health, but it’s also one of the most difficult. As Tissue points out, there are many options to help employees achieve success. "HR may have resources available or may be able to connect employees with a smoking cessation coach," she says.

4. What options does the company offer for remote work or more flexible hours?

Maintaining a healthy work/life balance is one of the most important components of most employees’ wellness. Although it’s best to discuss this prior to accepting a job, the topic can be broached by current employees as well. As Matt Erhard, managing partner of the Summit Search Group, points out, the advantage of asking HR as opposed to your direct supervisor is that there may be other positions within the company that do offer remote or flex hours, and HR would know more about those. "Even if you don’t want to change departments, seeing that it’s working successfully elsewhere in the company could make your boss more amenable to the idea," Crowe points out.

5. Does our company allow the use of workday time for community service?

Wellness programs can be more than just fitness and mental health activities—for many companies, building social awareness is just as important. Tissue points out that some firms allow employees to use workday hours to volunteer at a non-profit organization while still earning their salary. Meals on Wheels is one example of a favorite community service activity that also gets employees moving and away from their desk.

6. Can the office get new chairs, better lighting, etc.?

One of the most important functions of any HR department is making sure employees have a safe, healthy workspace. "If your workplace environment forces you to hunch or squint, that’s not good for your long-term health," warns Erhard. Rather than suffering in silence, discussing the issue with HR is the first step in getting a more comfortable and productive work environment.

Tissue adds that standing desks and alternative seating have become a workplace staple in the past 10 years. "Some companies are paying for their employees’ workplace preferences in an attempt to increase productivity and health benefits," she says. "The idea of standing desks is a relatively new concept, but some research shows that standing lowers the risk of obesity and back pain."

7. Do you have any resources or training for managing stress on the job?

Workplace stress is an inevitable part of virtually any job, but the key is managing it in a healthy way. Ask your HR representative if your company offers any stress management programs, such as on-site meditation or yoga sessions, personal days and out-of-office team activities.

8. What coaching support is available?

As Crowe points out, some companies have internal coaches or programs to access external coaches, which can address issues that significantly affect employees’ health and well-being. "Goals around conflict resolution, stress reduction, boundaries, habits, work-life integration and other common coaching topics can help employees not only thrive professionally, but also thrive personally," he says.

9. Does our insurance provider offer wellness incentives or perks?

Most people are well aware of standard employer-provided perks like health coverage, but some companies also offer preventative care services and wellness incentives. "If your company provides you with health insurance, it’s good to understand your plan’s offerings," says Crowe. "If your HR person isn’t sure, they can provide you with contact information to speak directly with your insurance carrier."

Your HR department can be a valuable resource for wellness and training. And even if your company doesn’t currently have what you’re looking for, your questions could inspire them to expand their offerings.