Why You Want to Create a Healthy Workplace
Is your company a healthy workplace? It should be.
In 2010, the Harvard Business Review reported on an interesting study: A sample of 185 employees received advice and exercise training to improve heart health. Afterward, 57 percent of those classified as “high-risk” for a cardiac event were reassessed as low-risk. More importantly from a pure business standpoint, “medical claim costs had declined by $1,421 per participant, compared with those from the previous year. A control group showed no such improvements. The bottom line: Every dollar invested in the intervention yielded $6 in health care savings.”
The HBR authors found similar results at other workplaces, and also noted that a strong wellness program can seriously help with employee retention — employees get a real material benefit from being in a healthy workplace every day, and don’t want to lose that. Sounds promising, right? Today, to mark National Employee Health & Fitness Day, we’ve collected four tips on creating a healthy workplace.
1. Make Healthy Snacks Available
Writing for Forbes, William Arruda notes that “snacking accounts for half of all eating in the U.S.” Obviously, a lot of that snacking will take place at work, where too often the options on hand are processed foods and beverages coming from vending machines. Arruda notes that there are companies that will put together and deliver boxes of healthy snacks. You can also experiment with bringing in fresh or dried fruit, vegetables, and nuts for the break room.
Consider surveying employees about their preferences, put the food in a visible, accessible place (maybe en route to the vending machines?), and check in with employees to gauge and engage their interest. Ask them to track how they feel — in terms of mood and alertness — when they have fruit and nuts instead of their regular candy bar in the afternoon.
Many will notice a real, positive difference, and calling it out will make it concrete in their minds. Changing eating habits is tough, but gets easier when employees realize they’re choosing between paying for candy that dulls their brain or enjoying a free banana and almonds that leave them with energy to spare.
2. Get Employees Up and Moving
Standing desks have been all the rage over the last few years, ever since a study found that sitting for hours at a time — as many employees do — contributes to real health problems. But the truth is complicated: Standing for hours at a time comes with its own share of problems, including discomfort and swelling of veins.
Some employees may still have good reasons for wanting a standing desk. But if you want to create a healthy workplace, a better option than shifting everyone to standing desks, as one researcher told Popular Science, is to encourage employees to take walks. By taking one or two walks during the day, they’ll stretch their muscles, burn far more calories than if they were just standing, and also have a chance to rest and clear their brains, so that they can dive back into work afterward with renewed focus.
To encourage walks, you could make step counters available and start a companywide competition, or just encourage employees to make at least one walk part of their day. Depending on your location and climate, consider investing in a few treadmills, too. Whatever you do, though, you want to make sure no one feels guilty or sneaky for leaving their desks to take a walk. Which brings us to point three…
3. Model the Healthy Workplace Behavior You Want to See
Too often, employers start wellness initiatives but don’t really expect employees to make them a priority — they want to talk the talk, but won’t walk the walk when it comes to creating a healthy workplace. In these cases, a wellness program is actually detrimental: You’re just adding one more thing to your employees’ to-do lists, and they’ll feel resentful that they’re being offered a “perk” they don’t have time to enjoy.
To avoid this, your leadership needs to lead. As HBR puts it:
If the CEO makes time for exercise, for instance, employees will feel less self-conscious about taking a fitness break. When MD Anderson initiated its wellness program, president John Mendelsohn took walks throughout the building with wellness coach Bill Baun. For many, it was the first time the president had been in their work space or had shaken their hand, and he tended to start conversations with “How’s your wellness?”
When your people know they won’t be penalized for spending time on it, they’re more likely to take advantage of a wellness program. When they know they’ll be praised — well, that’s when you’ve really started building a healthy workplace!
4. Thankful Living Is Healthy Living
Last of all, here’s a tip from Arruda’s Forbes article that’s really close to our hearts: Practice gratitude. He approvingly cites a Time article about the health benefits of gratitude, and suggests:
Create a shared doc where team members across the organization record one thing for which they are grateful every day. Challenge your team to do it for three weeks straight. At the end of the three weeks, have your team reflect on their mood and productivity.
If you do this, we’d love to hear the results. Here’s to healthier and happier workplaces for all!
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