How to Incorporate Health into Company Culture

08/01/2016 06:00 pm ET

With people’s lives becoming more personally and professionally intertwined, health and wellness can no longer be just an after work project. Unfortunately office culture doesn’t always translate to healthy, active culture, and alarmingly, that trend may be on the rise.

A study published by the journal PLoS One links increasing obesity rates in America to the decline of physical activity in the workplace. Using employment data from the past five decades, the study found that 80% of jobs in the country are virtually sedentary and require minimal activity as part of the average work day. Much of this can be attributed to the decline in service and industrial jobs, careers that required employees to be on their feet and moving.

This is bad, especially since Americans are working more. Data from the American Bureau of Labor show that employees aged 25 to 54 spend an average of 8.9 hours a day on work and work related activities. Compare that with the time spent on leisure and sports: about 2.5 hours a day. That may seem like an impressive amount, but that hour count is broken down still to narrow in on the time spent on physical leisure activities. That time? An average of 17 minutes per day. That’s well below the minimum 30 minutes of physical activity recommended by health professionals.

It’s not all physical health, either. One in five Americans experience some sort of mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The most common articulations are depression and anxiety, and mental illness accounts for a loss of more than $192 billion in the workforce each year. Yet 60% of American adults still do not have access to mental health services.

What Can My Company Do?

The shift towards physical and mental wellness can start in the workplace, and one way for that to happen is to incorporate healthy practises into the fabric of company culture.

Provide Free, Healthy Food

This is one tip that can improve employees’ physical and mental wellness. Many big companies such as Google and Bloomberg offer unlimited healthy meals and snacks for their employees. An infographic from Entrepreneur shows offering food is an excellent unsalaried bonus to offer employees. Those numbers say free food increases an employee’s loyalty by up to 70%, with half of employees reporting increased productivity levels to match.

When it comes to food for the workplace, even if you’re not offering it every day, think of meals with whole grains and colorful vegetables. Snacks should be energy restoring but healthy. Mixed nuts and fresh fruit do the trick quite nicely.

Free food can also be used as a tool to boost workplace interaction, something that can lead to less isolation and thus increased mental health in the workplace. While many critics accused Google of doling out free food so employees would work longer hours, the real reason according to Laszlo Bock, Google’s Senior Vice President of People Operations, is that getting people away from their desks increases interaction with co workers, which in turn inspires creative thinking.

Bring the Workout to Work

Gym passes are so old fashioned: workplaces today are going to the next level to instill healthy habits and goals in their employees. From onsite group workout sessions, to workplaces with their own sports teams, to corporate yoga, companies can encourage health and wellness by promoting workouts on the job.

Physical activity in the office doesn’t have to be all play and no work. Try installing standing desks, replacing chairs with yoga balls, and implementing a policy of walk-and-talk meetings to encourage healthy behavior that will seem like second nature.

Create a Safe Space

One of the main contributors to workplace depression is employees not feeling as though they have an outlet to discuss their feelings.

Creating a safe space can be achieved on two levels: first, by opening the lines of communications between staff and management, and second, by providing third-party employee assistance programs where people can share their thoughts without fear of retribution.

Employee-employer meetings should happen on a proactive basis and should be scheduled consistently over a set period of time (for example, weekly or monthly check-ins). By creating an environment where confidential sharing is welcome, openness will be a value more deeply entrenched in the workplace.

Employee assistance programs create opportunities for workers to talk with counselors or psychologists about what they may be facing at work, in their personal lives, and beyond. Linking employees with this out-of-work resource as well as ensuring benefits cover adequate mental health days will go a long way in bringing a culture of health and wellness to the office. Ensure all current and new employees are briefed on these benefits, to prevent a stigma from developing around the accessing of services.

Healthy Workers, Healthy Workplace

Before you worry about justifying the bottom line of your new employee health plan, consider this: healthier employees are more productive workers.

The research into employee wellness is well documented. One survey from the Health Enhancement Research Organization shows employees that eat healthy while on the job are 25% more likely to have higher job performance indexes. Meanwhile, a whopping 93% of organizations that participated in this Willis Survey say healthier employees are more productive.

Likewise, happier employees are better workers, too. A British study found that following some sort of happiness inducing activity in the workplace (think snacks, drinks, and comedic YouTube videos), employees reached productivity levels up to 20% higher than their normal rates.

With the economics of the situation worked out, there’s no reason to put it off any longer — get started on incorporating these healthy tips into your company culture today.


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