Those "cushy" desk jobs, while nice to have, especially during this time of sustained high unemployment, may be slowly doing us in. Yes, while we're all probably happy to be employed, we can't ignore that many of today's sedentary work environments can produce "heavy" consequences. Overall, workplace safety has pretty steadily improved during the past 100 years. But, there are new, unintended consequences to today's work habits. Here I'm talking about the rise of obesity and the link to NCDs (non-communicable diseases -- e.g., cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc.).
Don't get me wrong... I'm very glad that accidents and infectious diseases (the other two main causes of death) are on the decline globally. While that means, inevitably, most of us will instead die of an NCD, the problem is that the onset of NCDs is happening much earlier in life. That results in a lose-lose-lose proposition where we suffer lost productivity and reduced quality of life while society suffers a much higher burden in terms of health care and other costs.
This is bad news for everyone and it has rapidly become one of the most pressing problems in the world - both among developed and developing nations. So much so that the United Nations held a high level meeting on NCDs this past September - only the second time in UN history that it has held a summit on a health-related issue. Yes, it's a huge problem. And it's getting worse. Obesity. Smoking. Stress. Sedentary lifestyles. These are all contributing. But what can we do? Well one thing employers can do and that I'm proud to say Kraft Foods (my company) and more than 100 other member companies of the World Economic Forum are doing is promoting workplace wellness. Yes, from gyms at work to weight loss support and stress management, to smoking cessation programs and free health screenings, a new WEF report released this week demonstrates the power of workplace wellness. The Workplace Wellness Alliance - Investing in a Sustainable Workforce
Workplace wellness programs are the unsung heroes in the fight against NCDs. I know from personal experience that even when the work day is long, having a gym on site is a huge positive in terms of fitting in regular exercise. And when things get so crazy there isn't even time to get down to the gym, sometimes we have walking meetings - even just that 20 minutes of walking the halls while talking about pressing work can be enough to make a positive difference.
So, my message is this: we need all big companies to follow the lead of these 100. Combined, our workforces number in the millions. And if we can find ways to support employees to get healthy, this will not only help our own bottom lines in terms of reduced costs and increased productivity, but it will also take some of the burden off already squeezed public coffers. Regardless of the industry, I bet there is something each company can do to make a meaningful difference. And when you help one person, that can have a multiplier effect - eg, one female employee may also be a wife and mother of three so when she takes her new knowledge and better lifestyle habits home with her, the impact if even greater.
What have we got to lose after all - a few extra pounds, some nasty and costly habits? We can turn this lose-lose-lose into a win-win-win... if employers and employees work together. So, I encourage everyone who is employed by a large company today to speak up. Suggest cost-effective ideas that will make a difference. And then share your tips about what works - with co-workers, with family members, and even maybe by commenting on a World Economic Forum site. Together, we can reduce the personal and economic burden of NCDs. We owe it to ourselves, to our families, to our companies and to our countries.
And now I've got to do my part by heading to the gym...