As an employer, you may wonder what your role is in maintaining or improving the health of your employees. Can’t they take care of themselves? Is it even appropriate to intervene in their lives? Is this appropriate in the workplace? Will people be interested?
Should you take an active role in their health and wellbeing? The answer is YES. You should at least provide an opportunity for your employees to better their health. Employees generally spend over half of their waking hours working and the most commonly cited reason we see for not taking positive step towards health is time. Coupled to that is knowledge (or lack thereof) and insufficient resources to gain knowledge.
So what if the workplace is also able to provide time, knowledge, and support towards bettering the health of their employees? What do you have to gain as an employer? As a direct reflection on your business, wellness programs have been shown to reduce absenteeism (days absent from work) and also presenteeism (days present at work but unable to function at full capacity) as well as reduce health care costs. On a softer note, we all know that happy, healthy employees make for a much more enjoyable workplace; and happy employees work hard and stay put!
No more junk food in the break room
Now, I want to focus a bit on nutrition and the impact a bit of knowledge can have on long term health conditions. Chronic diseases are the leading cause of death and disability in the US. Obesity, type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease, cancer, and arthritis are the most common and preventable of the lot. About half of all Americans have one or more preventable chronic diseases and many of these conditions can be prevented with proper diet and physical activity. For example, nearly 2/3 of adults are obese or overweight in the US. The risks associated with obesity are considerable; heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and even some cancers.
So what can be done in the workplace to combat some of these chronic diseases? Firstly, education. Providing high quality, scientific proven information to your employees 1. saves them time from having to research themselves, and 2. ensures they are obtaining quality information, not some of the million gimmicks and quick-fixes floating around the internet today.
Secondly, I feel strongly that the workplace should facilitate healthy eating. Cheap (if not free) healthy snacks should be available to fuel busy minds with little time to break. How many times have you ran to the vending machine only to find there is nothing but chips and chocolate? Or worse, found the fruit was twice the price of a bar of chocolate? Everyone is always looking for a deal- it’s hard to choose the more expensive apple over a bag of chips. As an employer, you can fix that and I guarantee your employees will be grateful.
Lastly, I have to mention the importance of creating an environment conducive to healthy living. Make your employees comfortable taking a bit of time to do something for themselves. This may be taking an extra 30 minutes to enjoy a healthy meal, a quick lunchtime run, or a 10-minute meditation break mid-afternoon when the stress starts mounting. Be an example, set the tone, and encourage your employees to take care of themselves.
What does your company do for nutrition in the office? What kind of foods are available in the break room?
CDC Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic Disease Overview.
Cancelliere et al. Are workplace health promotion programs effective at improving presenteeism in workers? a systematic review and best evidence synthesis of the literature . BMC Public Health 2011, 11:395
Baicker et al. Workplace Wellness Programs can generate savings. Health Affairs 29-2. 304-311. 2010
Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 2015-2020. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/
Written by Dr. Tara Coletta, PhD
Tara's research focused on obesity and metabolism. She studied exercise science (MS, UMass Amherst) before earning a PhD in nutritional biochemistry (Tufts University). Wellness remains an integral part of Tara’s life as she works to balance being a mother of three.