Creating a Healthy Workplace for Your Employees
In today’s competitive staffing world, employees are no longer content with the “same old, same old” workplace environment and practices of years gone by. If today’s employees don’t feel that their company actively supports them in terms of their sense of being appreciated, supports their physical and mental wellbeing, includes them in important company concerns, devotes resources to their professional growth and development, and treats them with dignity and respect, they’ll quickly move on to greener pastures.
This is extensively researched and well-documented. For instance, the Fellowes Workplace Wellness Trend Report reported that a huge majority of employees (87%) prefer to work in a workplace environment that offers healthier workspace benefits. Virtually all tech workers (93%) would stay much longer at companies that offer benefits like in-house workout rooms, fitness benefits, healthier lunch and snack options, ergonomic office designs, and the like. This is just a smattering of the research findings, which are wide-ranging in their workplace implications. This article discusses several of them.
On-site amenities that foster wellbeing
Workers strongly prefer to work at companies that offer a range of on-site amenities to make their lives healthier, simpler and more convenient. This includes offerings such as an on-site gym/workout room (including on-site showers), an on-site dry cleaning or pick-up service, an always-open cafeteria offering healthier food options (including gluten-free and other food-allergy-sensitive options), clean, open, fun and attractive break rooms (that might offer games such as ping-pong tables, foosball and similar options), and other services. The more amenities, the better.
Personalized, attractive, livable, ergonomic offices
Today’s workforce is no longer content to sit for hour after hour in old-fashioned, unattractive, depersonalized, uncomfortable, one-size-fits-all “corporate-looking” rabbit warrens. They want to spend their 8 – 10 hours a day in a safe, clean, healthy office space that they regard as an attractive and personal “home away from home”. They want their office space to be bright, clean, attractive, personalized, and ergonomically designed.
This means allowing each employee to personalize his/her desktop with meaningful items such as family photos, mementos, small plants and the like. It means painting the walls with bright, cheerful colors, and potentially hanging attractive works of art (that the employee likes). Research has shown that natural light sources (from a window or skylight) are greatly preferred over fluorescent lights, and improve productivity, reduce eyestrain and result in fewer headaches. Windows that open and allow for natural (not recirculated) sources of air also improve productivity and wellbeing. Employees also prefer comfortable, ergonomically designed office furniture, including sit-stand desks that promote increased levels of movement and physical activity.
Eating a balanced, nutritious, healthy diet keeps employees focused, energized and productive (not to mention reduces overall healthcare costs). Eating junk food produces the opposite results. You can foster healthier eating habits by following practices like these:
- Making healthy food such as vegetables, fresh fruit and unprocessed meat and other offerings easily and widely available
- Stocking break rooms with healthy snacks, including fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as coffee and water.
- Reducing or possibly eliminating junk foods and other heavily processed, non-nutritious food items
- Putting up posters providing information and tips for good, healthy nutrition practices
- Offering food options for vegetarians and people with food allergies and sensitivities, and labeling them clearly and visibly
- Putting nutrition information labels on food offerings
- Instituting formal programs that promote healthy eating and reward employees for healthy eating practice
Encourage break (non-work) times
Let’s be honest: in today’s corporate world, all-too-often the unspoken cultural message permeating the workplace is “all work and no play makes Jack/Jill a good employee.” As a matter of course, employees skip lunches, breaks, and vacations. The message is that if you’re away from your desk at all, you’re in danger of being replaced. Employees are effectively chained to their desks. They are anxious and fearful all the time and will not endanger their employment or advancement opportunities by doing anything that even remotely suggests that they may not be valuable, loyal, hardworking employees.
Time and again, however, research has demonstrated that this type of workplace attitude and culture is totally counterproductive. The results are higher levels of employee burnout, increased workplace illnesses, significantly reduced productivity, higher levels of employee resentment and turnover, and even employee breakdowns.
The message is clear: the current cultural climate of “all work and no play” is destructive and must be completely changed. The new message for a healthy workplace is also clear: companies must actively encourage employees to take several breaks throughout the day. Regular breaks help to relieve muscle fatigue and eyestrain, and restore productive levels of concentration. Companies must strongly encourage employees to take their vacation time away from the office. Companies must actively encourage workers to take their lunch break away from their office and eat (a healthier lunch) in the cafeteria, where they can forget about work for a while, socialize with co-workers, and just plain relax. Companies also need to send the clear message that taking time away for relaxation and vacations will have no career-limiting consequences, and back up this message in actual practice.
Promote healthier lifestyle practices
Today’s employees want to be healthy in body, mind, and spirit. And research has shown that employees who actively pursue a healthy, active lifestyle exhibit higher levels of concentration and productivity. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, increasing energy and alertness. To support them, companies should promote healthy practices such as offering free meditation classes together with a dedicated meditation room, offering free yoga classes, building outdoor walking paths through wooded or garden areas, offering exercise classes and a gym, and related programs.
Team building activities
Today’s workforce feels a strong need to “belong” and to be active, involved members of something that they personally support and believe in. They are no longer content to work at just any old job or go through the motions of nine-to-five, meaningless drudgery. Companies need to actively support the new workforce with a wide range of meaningful, inclusive team-building practices that help build a positive, meaningful, and healthy workplace environment. Start by having more informal employee get-togethers, both during work hours and after work. Start including entire work teams in high-level strategic planning sessions that meaningfully and honestly include their input and ideas. Step up internal communications sessions by a factor of ten or more. Provide every employee with very frequent feedback and make that feedback session two-way. There are literally hundreds of other team-building practices that you can choose from.
In summary: Do everything you can to actively create a healthier, more meaningful, supportive and inclusive workplace. The positive dividends of doing so far outweigh the challenges. Become a leading light in the twenty-first century workplace! You won’t regret it!