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Change Your WorkPlace to a “WellPlace”

2005: Volume 2, Number 2

Debra Davenport, PhD

Debra Davenport, PhD, is a Master Professional Mentor and President of DavenportFolio, a licensed firm with offices in Phoenix and Los Angeles that mentors entrepreneurs and professionals. She is a licensed career counselor, the creator of the Certified Professional Mentor® designation and certification program, and a Diplomate of the American College of Wellness. Reach Debra at or (310) 552-0710.


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. (

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 (, 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.

On-Site Massage

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 kills.

Stress Reduction

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.

Healthy Fuel

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 vegetation.

Tranquil Sounds

 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.

Fresh Air

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.

Feng Shui

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 program:

  • Begin with a good old-fashioned spring

  • Freshen up every corner and desktop.

  • Throw away files that aren’t useful.

  • Organize storage areas.

Look at safety within the environment.

  • Are there sharp corners in traffic areas?

  • Loose carpet or extension cords?

  • Unstable shelving?

  • 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 the environment.

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!


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(C) 2006 The Medical Wellness Association