“Employee wellness” has been a buzzword in business circles for some time now. Companies have a significant financial interest in keeping their employees healthy, as not only does it reduce insurance costs but healthy employees take less time off from work and tend to be more productive when they are on the job.
That being said, many companies struggle to create a healthy environment for their employees. Most people associate “workplace wellness” or employee health initiatives with weight loss challenges, encouragement to take the stairs, or “lunch and learn” sessions on healthy eating, exercise, or relaxation. That’s not to say that these initiatives are bad things, and they do create some awareness of wellness, but when the breakroom is packed with junk food and employees who take a 20-minute walk in the afternoon are viewed as wasting time, the company culture isn’t exactly supporting healthier lifestyles. Combine that with the stress inherent in most workdays, and it’s not always easy for everyone to stay healthy.
As healthcare costs continue to rise, and younger employees demand more work-life balance, employees are starting to improve their employee wellness efforts. In fact, making worker health and wellness a priority is one of the biggest workplace trends of 2019, as employers look to trim healthcare costs while also maintaining a motivated and productive workplace. Offering incentives like discounts on health insurance premiums for engaging in healthy behaviors like losing weight or quitting smoking are making a measurable difference. There is more that can be done, and that begins with creating a healthy work environment.
Let’s Get Physical
The typical office job makes it challenging to get enough physical activity throughout the day. Most people spend the majority of their days sitting and don’t always have the opportunity to get a workout in.
Therefore, the first step to encouraging a healthier workplace is to foster an environment that supports physical activity. This might include:
- Investing in desks that can be used either sitting or standing
- Allowing employees to replace chairs with exercise balls
- Encouraging employees to take breaks throughout the day and take a walk
- Creating and distributing maps with local walking routes that take 15-30 minutes
- Implementing team activities that have a physical component
- Adding an on-site gym or creating partnerships with local gyms and fitness studios to offer discounts to employees
The idea is to offer multiple ways in which employees can become more active and make it easier for them to do so. Consider the benefits of a brisk 15-minute walk: Not only does it get the heart rate up, but getting some fresh air and exercise can improve mental clarity and focus, improving energy and productivity for the rest of the day.
Say Goodbye to Breakroom Calorie Bombs
Nothing gets employees moving faster than an announcement of cake or donuts in the breakroom. But all of those sugary snacks take a toll on waistlines. To help your employees stick to their healthy eating goals, overhaul your food options. That might mean replacing items in vending machines with healthier options or adding new healthier menu items to the company cafeteria. Some companies have even opted to provide snacks for workers, offering fresh fruit and veggies and other options to help keep their energy up and calorie intake down.
You can also help your employees eat healthier outside the office by providing cooking workshops as part of the wellness program or offering discounts on healthier foods through a local market. Consider subsidizing a portion of a share of a farm co-op, for example. Encourage employees to share healthy recipes and snack ideas with each other, and skip the pastries and junk food.
Foster Work-life Balance
Finally, creating a healthy working environment means understanding that work isn’t the only part of your employees’ lives. Encourage your employees to balance their work and personal lives by allowing flexible working hours — even the option to telecommute — and providing adequate vacation and sick time to help them rest and recharge. Even just providing longer lunch hours and more break throughout the day can help your employees stay focused and more productive throughout the day. Don’t forget to model work-life balance yourself. When employees see you burning the midnight oil every day, they may feel obligated to do the same, which contributes to burnout and health issues in the future. Model healthy expectations and others will follow.
Creating a healthy work environment doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. It boils down to treating your employees as people and helping them make good choices. When you do, your business will reap the benefits.