In the Know

Work Healthy, Live Healthy: Promoting Healthy Habits in the Workplace

10.03.2017 Regina Chinsio-Kwong, MD

A healthy work environment is intrinsically good for employees’ job satisfaction and overall well-being. But a healthy workplace is also a boon for employers. Study after study has shown that healthy employees are:

  • Absent less often—saving employers enormous costs in sick pay and health care expense
  • Happier, more engaged, and therefore more productive
  • Motivated to recover more quickly from illness
  • Less likely to leave for “greener pastures”

By creating a healthy working environment—as well as actively communicating that commitment—employers can increase morale, productivity, and overall organizational performance—not to mention reduce overall health care costs.

But how do you actuallydo it?

Creating Healthy Work Environments

Employers can reap enormous benefits by enabling and promoting simple, healthier behaviors in a few key areas:

  1. Activity & Variety:

Encourage employees to move often by standing up and walking around every 30 minutes, going to visit a co-worker instead of sending an email, taking stairs instead of elevators, scheduling walking meetings, exercising during lunch, performing simple stretching exercises at their desks, and generally avoiding sitting in front of a computer in the same position for hours at a time. Fresh air opens the lungs and the mind. A change of scenery stimulates productivity and creativity. And nothing is more re-energizing in the middle of the day than 30 minutes’ vigorous exercise, followed by a shower.

Many employers offer fitness classes on campus—or negotiate preferred programs with local gyms, racquet clubs, and yoga studios. Encouraging your employees to engage in extracurricular activities before, during, or after work can be one of the best ways to promote health and wellness. And don’t limit this to just physical activity or “fitness” classes. Cooking, gardening, origami classes—anything that provides your employees the opportunity to switch gears for a while—will help them come back to their main tasks, rejuvenated and refreshed.

  1. Hydration & Nutrition:

Make sure your employees drink enough water throughout the day. It may sound simplistic—but chronic dehydration is an under-appreciated drain on worker productivity and general well-being. Water helps workers remain alert, clear-headed, and engaged. Water flushes out toxins, energizes the muscles, and helps reduce caloric intake. Conversely, dehydration causes artificial hunger cravings, headaches, and mental confusion. Make it easy for your employees to stay hydrated. Provide everyone with a (branded) water bottle and install water coolers throughout your buildings.

Ditch the donuts! If you provide complimentary snacks in breakrooms and meetings, consider healthier alternatives like fruit, vegetables, nuts, granola bars, and microwaveable, fat-free popcorn. Same thing with the vending machines and menu planning for on-site cafeterias. Also, make it easy for your workers to bring their own healthy foods to work by providing ample refrigerators, microwaves, eating utensils, and picnic tables.

  1. Work/Life Balance:

Help your employees manage stress and avoid burnout. Yes, it’s a competitive world, and it feels like every minute of every employee’s time counts. But if you encourage workers to take short breaks between tasks, you will find that they are much more focused, more productive, and more effective. And if you teach them simple stress management techniques—conscious breathing, meditation, even simple yoga techniques—you will be amazed how much better your employees will perform.

Helping your employees adopt healthier behaviors at work is vital to the success of your organization—but it’s only half the battle. How can you help them develop healthier habits at home—so that they come to work, ready and able to perform at their best?

First, encourage them to get sufficient sleep. Most American are sleep-deprived—meaning they sleep less than 7-9 hours per night. Insufficient sleep causes cognitive impairment—whereas fully rested workers are calmer, more alert, and more able to focus on complex tasks—exactly the kind of capabilities high-performance organizations need to succeed.

Equally important, you should encourage employees to leave work at work. Taking work home has become standard operating procedure in many organizations. Even more troubling, so has taking work on vacation. These behaviors may seem like “model-employee” dedication and loyalty, but they are ultimately counter-productive. People need rest and respite. To be effective, employees need to “unplug,” precisely so they can come back the next day—or after a vacation ready to perform at their best. Even a seemingly benign habit like checking email in bed at night can interfere with an employee’s family life, not to mention creating unnecessary stress before they even show up at work the next day.

Obviously, employers cannot prohibit these kinds of behaviors. But if you care about your employees’ health and well-being—and if you care about maximizing your employees’ productivity and your organization’s opportunity for success—I would urge you to do everything possible to intervene in a positive way.

Your employees spend half their waking hours at work. Focusing on health and well-being isn’t something they should only do on weekends—or when they have time. Ultimately, your employees are responsible for making their own health and wellness decisions. However, smart employers understand that they can also play a role in their employees’ health and well-being—a role which helps both employees and employers.

To learn more about scheduling a “Work Healthy, Live Healthy” Lunch & Learn, contact us at foremployers@stjoe.org. Our health and wellness experts will customize an on-site lunch and learn program for your employees to start creating a healthier work-life balance.

Categories: Worksite Wellness