As you look around your office,
take a moment to observe (without judgment) your colleagues and
employees. Are any of them overweight, out of breath, and exhausted?
Do any of your coworkers smoke, eat constantly, or snack on
unhealthy foods? Do they often complain, call in sick, become angry,
or appear depressed?
Chances are, if your workplace is
like most, there will probably be at least one representative from
the behavioral categories above. The truth is, Americans are
overworked and under-rested. We are over-stressed and
undernourished, overloaded and undernurtured. These are the human
trade-offs that enable companies to continue to make money in an
increasingly competitive global marketplace. Couple this issue with
the fact that a large segment of the working population would rather
be doing something other than the job they have and you have the
quintessential recipe for an unhealthy workplace.
Another important factor to
consider is that the American workforce is aging. According to
research compiled by Cianbro, a Maine-based company that has
instituted a comprehensive employee wellness program, employees over
age 55 will increase 42% in the next 6 years and the population over
65 will increase 8% by 2025. Heart attacks, stokes, cancer, and
other debilitating diseases are, unfortunately, rather common and
obesity is expected to overtake tobacco use as the leading cause of
preventable death in America in the next few years. Additionally,
health care costs have soared to $1.45 trilion per year. From 1990
to 2000 healthcare costs doubled from $700 billion to $1.4 trillion.
The cost of a family PPO medical plan was $8,173 in 2002 and will
rise to $17,980 in 2012. (www.cianbro.com/wellness)
So what is a socially responsible
organization to do? My best recommendation: Become proactive.
Institute a company-wide wellness initiative that encourages
wellness and eliminates at-risk health behaviors. Some of our client
companies have balked at this suggestion, fearing high cost, minimal
documented health improvement, and lackluster program performance.
However, when faced with the rising costs of health care,
absenteeism, decreased productivity, low morale, and workplace
injuries, company executives quickly begin to see the value in
promoting wellness as part of their culture.
If you are contemplating
instituting a workplace wellness program, congratulations!
As a starting point, your
initiatives should address the most common causes of employee
illness: sedentary lifestyle, smoking, poor nutrition, stress,
obesity, high cholesterol, and hypertension.
According to the Wellness Councils
of America (www.welcoa.org), an effective wellness program guides
participants toward optimal health behaviors by identifying risks
and providing the education and coaching necessary to achieve a
healthy lifestyle. Team members meet with a health educator to
complete a health risk appraisal, then interviews are conducted at
the worksite and over the telephone. Health educators discover one
or two health issues important to the participant that they would
like to work on changing. Action is then based on setting benchmarks
that are reasonable, attainable and sustainable.
Following are ideas you may want
to include in your company’s wellness program that will empower your
employees to become healthier and more productive:
Movement / Meditation
If you have any unused worksite
space, consider designating it for movement classes and/or
meditation. Fifteen minutes of yoga, Pilates® or meditation will
reduce stress, increase focus and mental clarity, and improve
overall wellbeing. Encourage employees to take quiet time away from
their desk for 5-10 minutes throughout the day. Sitting for extended
periods can cause strain in the neck, shoulders and low back, and
can also cause edema (swelling) of the feet, ankles and legs.
Massage therapists routinely make
office calls for 10-15 minute massages. This is not only a terrific
perk for your employees, but a real boost to their health. Studies
show that, following massage therapy, clients feel refreshed,
relaxed, more focused, and also report a reduction in pain symptoms
commonly associated with sitting and computer work.
Blow the 5:30 Whistle
Today’s wellplace is about working
smarter, not harder. It used to be that fast-trackers racked up
brownie points by putting in long hours, taking work home, and
coming in on the weekends. I bought into this mindset myself early
in my career. Then I realized if I’m not home taking care of my mind
and body, who is? And when my mind and body burn out, who will go to
work for me? No one. This is not a trade-off any of us should be
making. Responsible, humanistic companies embrace the concept that
health, wellness, fitness, and family come first - then the job.
This is the only mentality that will ensure long-term success for
corporate America. If you expect your employees to behave like
machines, they will eventually break down. Frequent “tune ups” keep
the human machine healthy and productive.
Mental Health Days
Boy, have these gotten a bad rap.
In fact, it’s a smart wellness choice to take a mental health day.
We all need them every now and then. Don’tmalign your employees for
needing a day to get their lives back in balance. Encourage rest,
rejuvenation, and relaxation whenever possible. Remember: Stress
What does your company do to
instill peace of mind in your employees? Constant layoffs, pay cuts,
shifting priorities, ongoing restructuring – these all add enormous
amounts of stress to your human resources. Equanimity starts at the
top. As much as possible, keep your company communications on an
even keel. Panic and havoc only serve to make your workforce unwell.
Stress management classes, coaching, employee assistance programs,
and open-door policies are terrific ways to manage workplace stress.
By the same token, if you have toxic employees whose behaviors,
attitudes, and values are incongruent with your culture, either
counsel them or assist them in moving outside of your organization.
If your company provides a
cafeteria, snack bar, or vending machines are there healthy choices
or junk? Proper nutrition is a critical factor in employee
productivity and “healthy fuel” will keep your workforce operating
at peak performance. Healthier vending machine alternatives include:
nuts and seeds, naturally sweetened graham crackers, trail mix,
fresh and dried fruit, carrot and celery sticks, fat-free popcorn,
nonfat yogurt, 100% juice (unsweetened), pure water, snack-size
canned tuna, and nonfat or 1% milk. Encourage your employees to
consume lean protein, fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and
plenty of water throughout the day to maintain blood sugar levels
and proper hydration. Often, headaches, forgetfulness, crankiness,
and fuzzy thinking are the result of dehydration – the brain needs
adequate water in order to function properly. Make sure your
employees have access to plenty of fresh water.
The Power of Green
No, I’m not referring to money; I
am referring to plants. According to Monique N. Gilbert, B.Sc.,
“Living plants create a peaceful atmosphere, improve the ambiance
and air quality of indoor environments, and induce positive energy
around them.” Bring plenty of live plants into your office and ask
employees to care for them – watering and tending to plants is a
terrific mini break and will keep your wellplace lush with soothing
It’s amazing how sound
affects our mood. Just as a leaf blower blasting outside your window
can set your nerves on edge, the peaceful sound of a desktop
fountain, soft music, or sound machine can relax and de-stress even
the most harried.
Recycled air in office buildings
and enclosed work areas can be very unhealthy. If you have the
option of opening windows, let the fresh air in! Otherwise, use air
purifiers, natural deodorizers, or other natural aromatherapy scents
to lift spirits and freshen the air.
The ancient Chinese art of Feng
Shui focuses on the energy of an environment to ensure comfort and
success. It has become an increasingly popular and effective
modality in residential and workplace transformation.
According to Feng Shui expert,
Barbara McNary, “In the workplace, Chi (or vital energy of al
things) can be harmonized for success or ignored and allowed to run
chaotic — usually ending in failure. The work environment should
support and reflect the hopes, dreams, goals and intentions of the
business, thereby carrying that energy into the conscious minds of
all employees and clientele.”
In addition to placement of
furniture and artwork, Barbara offers these tips to start your
Begin with a good
Freshen up every corner and
Throw away files that aren’t
Organize storage areas.
Look at safety within the
Are there sharp corners in
Loose carpet or extension
Not only should you look for
real threats of safety, but be aware of what the subconscious
might consider threatening.
Floor to ceiling windows in a
high-rise building might produce feelings about being
unprotected or unsupported.
Remedy all safety hazards and
another portion of stress is removed.
Whatever thoughts and feelings a person has adds to the energy of
Other elements of Feng Shui that
can contribute to wellness include proper and safe arrangement of
office furniture, filing cabinets, and artwork. Symbols of nature
help bring the outdoors inside and create a sense of serenity.
Finally, don’t underestimate the
psychological impact of color in your business. Greens and blues
create a sense of calm, ideal for a medical office reception area.
Reds, oranges, and yellows are stimulating colors that might be
perfect for your “war room” or other areas where you want to
increase creativity and solution-oriented thinking.
Creating a wellness-focused
workplace doesn’t have to be a costly or time-intensive project.
Implementing a few simple initiatives will let your employees know
you care about their health and productivity, and this goodwill will
do wonders for your business.
The bottom line: Wellness works!